Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. And then there’s Steve Rogers – who chooses greatness.
Heroes in their “super” incarnation have been somewhat preying on my mind of late – having binged on the Netflix Daredevil show, booking my day for Age of Ultron and starting to be excited about Antman. Of all the Avengers, in fact out of all super heroes, Captain America stands out. Like Arthur before him, he is the leader of an extraordinary group of individuals, the one they follow. He’s not necessarily the strongest, or the best fighter, or the bravest (how do you even measure that?!) or the shrewdest (his skill at combat strategy has barely been touched on in the films). And yet he’s the heroes’ hero, the one they aspire to be just as we aspire to be like them. What is it that makes him different? What sets him apart?
The choice Cap is one of the few heroes who actually chooses to have the responsibility of power. From a position of weakness, he sees the need, is given the opportunity, given a choice and says yes. His powers do not come to him by accident. He’s not bitten or struck by lightning or bombarded by cosmic rays. He isn’t born with power or privilege – not a billionaire playboy, mutant, alien tree or Asgardian demi-god. Unlike many of his colleagues he doesn’t go through the experience of losing a parental/spousal figure prior to receipt of his power (the loss of Bucky later on is a different story). For those other heroes it’s this formative experience that drives them to take on their mask, accept their power and enter the world of the vigilante/hero. Steve Rogers on the other hand has nothing like this to drive him. He chooses because it’s the right thing. He believes in the idea of “not might is right, but might for right”. He believes in the strong looking after the weak, he believes in sacrifice, he believes in second chances. This is why they follow him.
The shield For me as a pacifist it’s rather significant that Captain America’s iconic equipment is not an offensive weapon but a shield. That he chooses to fight is not to be denied. He doesn’t like bullies (one of my favourite lines from Captain America : The First Avenger by the way) so of course he fights. But the manner he chooses to fight in, with a shield, is significant in terms of how far we go to “win”. And it is a shield more in the spirit of the Greek Hoplite, whose purpose was to defend the man next to you, not yourself. He doesn’t just bear the shield, he is the shield. The Man And that’s his priority – the good of others. That’s why he bears a shield and not a sword (the essential difference between himself and the ancient Arthur). That’s why he chooses people over rules. That’s why he gives second chances, why he stands down when faced with Bucky as the Winter Soldier. That’s why he chose to take the risk in the first place to be the first “super-soldier” – because he’s more than a soldier, he’s a guardian, a protector. And that’s why the others look to him as leader. He has no ultimate agenda, no other motivations or responsibilities, only the good of others and his commitment to their freedom on his mind. That he chooses protection over destruction is his real power; that even with such strength, speed and tactical genius he would choose to lay down his fists rather than destroy another; that he would rather run than win at any cost; that he challenges even his closest allies and friends when he sees their compromises; that he sees the strengths of others and happily takes a back seat when necessary. This is our modern Arthur, this is why they follow him.