Fear and Control in Winter Soldier and Bill C51

The Winter Soldier (poster)

The movie poster with the titular Winter Soldier, who I’m not actually talking about here.

On Friday night, I rewatched the movie Captain America: Winter Soldier. It’s a fantastic movie in many ways, but perhaps no more so than the central theme it forces us to consider.

Hydra, the evil organization founded in World War II, operates on the basic principle that humans cannot handle freedom. Unfortunately for them, they realized with their defeat in WWII that humans won’t just give up that freedom. Their solution is to scare people into giving up their freedom in the name of security. They help fuel wars and whatever else they can to spread this fear, while acting within SHIELD.

Now they are finally ready to act with a plan called Insight. They launch self-sustaining airships into orbit, armed with thousands of guns and advanced targeting systems. They use an algorithm drawing from people’s pasts – on social media or otherwise – to learn who would fight for freedom, and then they eliminate them a few million at a time.

One of the really interesting points I noticed in this rewatch is how many people who have good intentions nevertheless are essential in allowing this to happen, precisely because they think in similar ways just in a smaller scope. Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is the greatest example. As also seen in Avengers, his modus operandi is similarly to pre-emptively stop the enemy through force or threat of force before anything bad happens (to those on his side). He wouldn’t support the kind of scale of Insight, but his thinking goes in the same direction: always have the biggest weapons, rely on fear to keep others in line, and some loss of innocent life is worth it for the greater good. It isn’t too surprising, then, that he is accidentally essential in allowing Insight to happen.

The movie resonates because it feels like that is what has happened at least since 9/11 (I was a teenager then, so maybe it was just as true before then and I was blind to it).

For example, right now, our Canadian government is trying to push through a bill, C51, that is similarly based in fear of the other. Note that I’m saying it is a similar base. Obviously it is a much smaller scope; it isn’t going to instantly kill 20 million people. I also don’t think it’s fair to call our government fascists or Nazi as some do, for the same reason. We all know that rule of the Internet that as soon as you call somebody a Nazi, you lose (unless they were an actual WWII Nazi). But there are eerie similarities in the basic approach of scaring people into giving up freedom which make it easy to compare our decision-makers to the misguided Fury if probably not the blatantly hate-filled Hydra.

Like Nick Fury, I don’t think our politicians are inherently bad people. They probably think they are doing what needs to be done for the best of humanity, and especially Canadians. If we have to pre-emptively arrest or torture a few people who look closer to the defined enemy (i.e. Arabs) in order to gain the desired security through control, so be it. This is the language being used – giving up our rights is necessary for security from ISIS.

Unfortunately, as with Nick Fury, I think this will inevitably lead to more violence, not less. At a rally against C51 on Saturday – the day after watching Winter Soldier – one political scientist professor who specializes in terrorism brought up this point: people don’t commit violence just for fun, perhaps aside from some mentally unstable. Violence is typically the last resort when other options are taken away. In other words, taking away rights and spreading fear about one particular ethnicity and religion is not going to stop terrorism. It will create more, the exact same way that our last time bombing the Middle East created ISIS (and we can go farther back in history of course, where each side almost always has an excuse to attack the other).

This is an opportunity for our government to repent, before we make tensions in the world even worse. They may achieve short term control and security, but eventually that tension will explode. One person I spoke to at the rally said that one way or another there would be an uprising over this, possibly violent if the nonviolent options are taken away. Depending on how this new bill is enforced, he may be right, but I do suspect our police and military forces will be careful not to use their new powers enough to reach that point. The point here, though, is that even changing this law in the first place is a step in the wrong direction, whether we see violence on our streets over it or not.

As I’ve said many times, I do not support any violence. As a Christian, I believe in casting out fear with love, not a heavier dose of fear the other direction. I believe in not repaying evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good. I understand governments – whether Canada’s or the US’s or ISIS – do not bind themselves to Jesus’ teachings. In this case, however, I hope they can see some wisdom in seeking peace rather than fear and control.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.