Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Did Spider-Man get the U.S. stuck in Vietnam? (Just kidding. Sort of. Green Lantern may have been involved, too.)

Here is a another thought about the "power and responsibility" theme developed most explicitly in the Spider-Man stories of the 1960s. Spider-Man and the most of the rest of the Marvel Universe were products of the Kennedy-Johnson era, and while we remember that as a time of great liberalization in domestic policy, it was also the Cold War's deadliest phase. Just as Spidey was debuting, American leaders launched a massive military campaign, costing many thousands of American and Vietnamese lives, to prop up a corrupt, unpopular government (and thwart of the completion of the country's anti-colonial revolution) in the name of saving a faraway land from the evils of communism. I am referring to the escalation of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Were the new superheroes of the 1960s part of the same mentality? Was the superheroic ideal really altruistic and self-sacrificing or just a self-serving and self-deluding excuse for getting our way by force?

It may be helpful to compare and contrast Spidey's "power and responsibility" mantra with the more explicitly Cold War-oriented Green Lantern Oath.


The True Son said...

I think the point to be made here is that by getting into the Vietnam War in the first place the U.S. government was really trying to carry out Spider Man's "with great power comes great responsibility" mantra. The government felt that other countries would be better if they avoided communism and tried to be more like America. Obviously these ideas and efforts were misguided and in many cases ignorant but I think they were born more out of America's self-righteous image of itself rather than a desire to get its way by whatever means possible.

Furthermore, superheroes are a reflection of how Americans saw themselves. They felt like they were doing the world a service by trying to stop communism (or crime) but in actuality they were acting essentially as vigilantes.

Anonymous said...

Both Spider-man and The Green Lantern seem to have similar motives. In the Green Lanterns case, the oath "And I shall shed my light over dark evil,
For the dark things cannot stand the light,
the light of the Green Lantern!" could be the motto of the Vietnam war. The United States thought we were capable of liberating a country of the "dark thing" of communism whether right or wrong.

The similarities between the oath of the Green Lantern and the mantra of Spider-man so obviously parallel the US thought involving Vietnam that it would take a lot of discussion to disprove it, rather than prove it.

The idea behind the oath and Spider-mans oath may have got us stuck in Vietnam. The whole idea of "liberate at any cost" seemed to be the driving force behind the war.

Anonymous said...

I truly do believe that these comics are a reflection of the American governments mindset of this era and also many of the citizens as well. The mentality at that time was somewhere along the lines of where it is now, in the sense that the defeat anywhere is defeat everywhere. Furthermore, the U.S. saw communism as a serious threat to the world and felt that it was their moral duty to to force their economy and society on others.

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