The creators of the film intentionally raise a moral issue with modern U.S. foreign policy: We must take out our enemies before they take us out.
“The question is where do you stop?” Director Joe Russo asked. “If there are 100 people we can kill to make us safer, do we do it? What if we find out there’s 1,000? What if we find out there’s 10,000? What if it’s a million? At what point do you stop?”
The lingering question, which the movie addresses head-on, is how much freedom are we willing to give up to feel safe? And, at what point have we sacrificed everything America is supposed to stand for?
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If the goal was to create a political thriller, which Marvel wanted, then there is arguably no issue that should cause more anxiety among the populous than infringements on civil liberties by the U.S. government. Captain America: The Winter Soldier highlights the modern U.S. foreign policy of taking its enemies out before its enemies take us out, which raises some obvious moral questions.
What if government officials decided that by taking out a million people, America could be safer? It doesn’t matter if the people in question are proven threats to national and global security or that they are American citizens who are guaranteed certain legal rights by the U.S. Constitution — rights that are supposed to promote a system where people are innocent until proven guilty. What if an enhanced computer system was in place that used a certain algorithm to not only determine potential threats, but then used unmanned aerial vehicles to take these targets without due process and with zero accountability?
The questions posed by Russo are also raised in the movie Swordfish, in which John Travolta’s character gives a similar hypothetical scenario to Hugh Jackman. John Travolta plays a counter-terrorist in a top secret government operation to thwart future threats to the United States through preemptive measures designed to spread fear so no one would even think of attacking the U.S.
Stanley (Jackman): How can you justify all this?
Gabriel (Travolta): You’re not looking at the big picture Stan. Here’s a scenario. You have the power to cure all the world’s diseases, but the price for this is that you must kill a single innocent child, could you kill that child Stanley?
Gabriel: You disappoint me; it’s the greatest good.
Stanley: Well how about 10 innocents?
Gabriel: Now you’re gettin’ it. How about a hundred? How about a THOUSAND? Not to save the world, but to preserve our way of life.
Stanley: No man has the right to make that decision; you’re no different from any other terrorist.
Gabriel: No, you’re wrong Stanley. Thousands die every day for no reason at all. Where’s your bleeding heart for them? You give your 20 dollars to Greenpeace every year thinking you’re changing the world? What countries will harbor terrorists when they realize the consequences of what I’ll do?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not the first movie to highlight the moral concerns with using extreme preemptive tactics to maintain security, but it may bring the issue to the attention of a much larger audience.
Films are a form of entertainment, but they are also a form of art and communication. They are a different medium of expression and speech. When the media doesn’t talk about these issues, no one cares. So why can’t movies pick up the slack?
The problem is the common response will be: it is just a movie. The storyline was founded on the biggest civil liberties and foreign policy issues to arise in the last few years: government spying, data collection, targeted drone strikes, and kill lists, but most people will not look any deeper into the movie than they want to. People go to movies to be entertained — to escape reality.
Still, the parallels are there and the question people should take away from the film is, how much freedom are they willing to give up to feel safe? In a post 9/11 world we have seen numerous examples of the government sacrificing individual rights and liberties in the name of national security. Yet, the only question the mainstream media wants to ask is if people like Edward Snowden are heroes or traitors.
There is absolutely no way of knowing how far the government is willing to go if the American people are kept uninformed of its actions.