By Ben Hoffman
Spiderman wraps up criminals, Batman knocks thugs unconscious, and Punisher blows away enemies of the good with weapons.
They are our idols, standing up for what’s right and taking measures as extreme as deemed necessary to reach these ends. They go above and beyond the authority posited to other officers of peace in their demand for justice.
In these ways, the United States is a lot like a superhero.
Like the angered Peter Parker after the death of his Uncle Ben at the hands of a common criminal he could have stopped, the U.S. retaliated to the September 11th attacks by making a career out of forcing justice on those deemed contrary to justice. The Americans are the self-proclaimed guards of the free world, the same as might be expected from any righteous superhero.
But it is as first-century Roman satirist Juvenal said and comic writer Alan Moore elaborated on in his 1980s comic Watchmen: “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Roughly translated, “who guards the guards themselves?”
America has gone overboard in its means while seeking the end of justice. While al Qaida may be villainous in their actions, this does not call for American-lead wars on all countries that have ever been associated with terrorism.
Each hero has a degree of anti-heroism, their unique level of tolerance for immoral actions in the name of justice. Spiderman hurts people but does not kill them. Punisher practically never stops killing people.
The actions of the American forces during and after the war in Iraq demonstrate they are one of the worst antiheroes of all.
U.S. Psychological Operations agents have allegedly experimented with sleep deprivation techniques on Iraqi prisoners, playing Metallica at a loud volume to keep the prisoners awake. Although the Geneva Convention doesn’t strictly prohibit this, the example does little to persuade that no superior officers knew that prisoners were being tortured in the Iraqi prisoner of war camps as U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims.
We need only look as far as the soldiers fighting the war to see a glimmer of what is wrong with it. The U.S. government has employed mercenary squadrons, ex-army and other fighting men gone commercial to fight in Iraq. The Geneva Convention prohibits commercial soldiers, but the article that prohibits them has not been ratified by America. This prohibition grants mercenaries a different legal status, and the U.S. a little more freedom from the rules of war.
Nietzsche said: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” One wonders if fighting villains has made America into one.