Infiltration is an interesting business. In any organisation of size it’s not hard for a group of employees with an agenda to change how things progress - and it can be subtle as all hell. They don’t have to have secret meetings, or hastily hidden note books lying around - they just have to share a goal, and use their influence to encourage people to think a certain way, or alter how information is perceived so that one course of action seems preferable.
Factions in governments do it all the time. And don’t even start on the media and how they shift people’s opinion on things or decision making capacity.
So when you consider an organisation like SHIELD - built on the actions of a group that used espionage and information to help win a war - and how it would have evolved along with society over the years, AND how it would have actively recruited people with those skill sets to achieve its ends?
Not hard to see how it could, and did, open its doors willingly to those who could abuse the opportunities then offered.
But it’s not just the simple case of a sleeper group waiting to take over control. The important thing to remember here is that the HYDRA faction within SHIELD weren’t separate at all - they simply were SHIELD. They supported what SHIELD was doing, they simply ensured that what SHIELD was doing would, ultimately, fit their agenda. They are believers, and believers can be your friends, your family, your partner, your highly respected boss. You have faith in them, you like, love, revere, them.
And when your job is to tread the non-existent line between good and not good, when the actions you’re asked to perform to achieve a ‘noble’ outcome are anything but, then how could you recognise that the person next to you, doing exactly the same thing, may have an agenda behind theirs that isn’t the one you think?
There may have been clues, if someone stopped to analyse all the decisions of SHIELD over its incarnation, if someone pulled apart every single document trail and had the capacity to compare, dissect, and sight-match each and every single piece of information to check where it might have been altered or shifted … basically if someone with near limitless omnipotence inspected every aspect of SHIELD’s activities since its inception, they might have spotted the clues to indicate that SHIELD’s direction had been and was being manipulated.
What they couldn’t have seen, was that that manipulation was anything other that the natural politics both within and external to such an organisation, necessary for it to do the job it was doing.
When you play in the shadows, everything is just another shade of grey.
Disneyland’s The Haunted Mansion (1969-present)
As you might imagine, I walked into Captain America 2 ready to get my Soviet Russia on. The Winter Soldier run is one of my favorites in—well, in any comic, really, and from what I’d seen in the trailers and whatnot, it looked like we were going to get a heaping dose of what makes that series so special and so sobering: the bloodstained underbelly of Soviet international politics, a glimpse at the way men and women were fed into the meat grinder of the State, pulped for the greater glory of their nation. In Bucky we’d see a drafted soldier kidnapped, brainwashed, and streamlined into the perfect machine. Not an ideal Soviet man, far from it; but a tool, utilitarian and dispassionate, with the five-pointed martial star on his shoulder; the awful triumph of the State over so-called human frailty.
And we did, we got all of that—insofar that you can’t have a Winter Soldier without those things. But as I watched, it became increasingly clear that this movie wasn’t looking to talk about the Soviet Union. There is a reason Bucky only speaks Russian once in the entire film. There’s a reason he’s never addressed in it. There’s a reason his code name is drawn from an investigation into one of the ugliest chapters of American history. And there is a reason that the movie takes this snarling, mechanized, indiscriminate killing machine and explicitly sets him up as Captain America’s other half.
I’ve seen some reviews going after the film for pulling its punches, of holding up the Greatest Generation as America’s past, and a polluted security branch as its future, absolving it of responsibility for its actions in both cases. It’s HYDRA now and “sacrifices for freedom” then; why aren’t we interrogating ourselves a little harder?
My answer to that is: we did, and the movie is named after what we found.
The Winter Soldier is concerned with security and international supremacy, and the moral compromises America has made (and continues to make) in pursuit of both. It draws a straight line from WWII America to the modern day, where “we did some things we weren’t proud of” becomes drone warfare and Big Brother. Steve is at one end of this timeline, Nick Fury at the other. There’s a chasm of about fifty years between the two points. That’s where the Winter Soldier steps in.
This film is haunted by an American war, yes. But not the one Steve fought in. The Cold War was “a battle for the soul of mankind”, waged across millions of hearts and minds, and it’s a patched-over burn in the American psyche, barely healed and still tender to the touch. We emerged on the other side of forty-four years as the world’s one and only superpower. And it fucking cost us.
McCarthyism saw Americans turning on one another, fueled by snarling, indiscriminate paranoia. Operation Paperclip recruited Nazi scientists to keep German technology out of Soviet hands. Vietnam, with its thousands dead, was fought to keep the dominoes of Communism from falling across Asia. America, augmented by an unimaginable weapon and ruthlessly militarized, spied, ordered assassinations, irradiated its own children, and dragged the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust. All for the sake of security.
The Winter Soldier is that America.
Inhuman, bionic, unfeeling, unthinking, the perfect weapon: a creature of progress, powered by pure ideology. The mind wipes? Decades of propaganda in its purest, most undiluted form, administered directly to the brain. The arm? I know a nuclear metaphor when I see one.
If Cap is the potential of America, what we should never stop striving for, the Winter Soldier is what became of us when we fell desperately short. He is what we did to ourselves.
In many ways this film is a ghost story, and like all good ghost stories, it holds up the tragedy of our mistakes and begs us not to repeat them. What SHIELD proposes—Project Insight—is assured destruction, a level of control over a population not exercised since we were staring Russia down over a launch pad. And so the Winter Soldier appears, the long cold shadow of America’s past, and crashes into the hope for its future with the ring of a metal fist against a shield.
Cap can’t destroy him, what’s done is done. Bucky can’t be unwounded, or given back his stolen time; the blood on his hands won’t be scrubbed out. But they can walk slowly together, one helping the other stand.
Steve can’t progress without Bucky, just as, the film seems to say, America itself is doomed to fester unless it looks to its past and acknowledges what it has done; the things it has ground into dust in the name of a higher cause. In the MCU, the only way Captain America’s country will move forward is if it swears to never, ever go back.
OK, I have to find a different fandom or something else to do now because I’m driving myself into a real depressive spiral. But - oh my gosh wow.
Sometimes I’m someone else and then I come back, but I still feel them. All of them. I’ve been many people. I can hear them, sometimes suddenly. I’m all of them, but none of them is me. Do you know who’s real?
Good morning, tumblr!
Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division?
Shit Hydra Is Everywhere, Lock Down.
deep cover tactics 101. perform selfless acts of bravery early on.
it’s that simple? you really felt nothing for them?
Thank you, Sam.
( Seriously, I want a Cap belly warmer. )