I know I’m about five years late but I wrote a ten-page dissertation on my thoughts about the Iron Man vs. Captain America debate and my friends insisted that I post what I wrote. Spoilers included. My footnotes didn’t transfer, and the academic tone doesn’t really fit with a blog tone so sorry about that. Feel free to read this with as sarcastic a tone as possible if it helps you get through it. And if you disagree, feel free to be prepared to be proven wrong.xoxo, gossip girl
In 2016, Marvel Studios produced the movie Captain America: Civil War, the thirteenth in the Marvel series. The film follows Captain America: Winter Soldier in which brainwashed mercenary Bucky Barnes was rescued from HYDRA, an international crime organization and thinly-veiled metaphor for Nazis. As a HYDRA agent, Barnes was framed for the bombing of the UN, which becomes the Black Panther’s origin story; but in Civil War, other crimes come to light of a more personal nature. Civil War follows the conflict between Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, and Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.
The inciting action of the movie begins with the death of eleven Wakandan citizens in a bombing in Lagos, Nigeria, during a fight between the Avengers and a long-lost enemy of Captain America. This event succeeds the disaster of the city of Sokovia in Age of Ultron, and after these two incidents, the United Nations motions to place the Avengers under international governmental oversight. The document in question becomes known as the Sokovia Accords. Under these Accords, the powers of “enhanced individuals,” would be severely restricted and placed under the oversight of the United Nations. These restrictions include: the wearing of tracking bracelets by those with “innate powers”; the prohibition of enhanced individuals to take military action in countries that are not their own; the submission of enhanced individuals to a power analysis; the revelation of those with secret identities to the UN; the submission of the DNA of enhanced individuals for aforementioned analysis; and the prohibition of non-signatories from military or police action, including through a private organization such as SHIELD.
Significantly, the Accords identify the Avengers as a private military organization, a note to which this essay will refer later on. Tony Stark agreed to sign the Accords without amendment; Steve Rogers refused. Several arguments have circulated the Internet on either side. Some fans say that the Avengers should not be held under governmental scrutiny, for fear their independence will be jeopardized. Others say that the Avengers must be held accountable for the irreparable damage they have caused in the lives of the people they are trying to save. In this essay, I will show that Tony Stark was in the right; the Avengers must be held under some measure of governmental oversight.
To begin, I will start with the arguments for Captain America’s refusal to sign the Sokovia Accords. Carrie Wittmer, writer for Business Insider, argues that Captain America believes that the threat posed by the Avengers hardly compares to the threat posed by extraterrestrials, referring of course to the invasion in Avengers (2012) dir. Joss Whedon. Wittmer argues that Captain America distrusts SHIELD and other agencies, because of SHIELD’s checkered past with HYDRA. The crux of his argument is twofold. First, the UN subcommittee formed under the Sokovia Accords to keep the Avengers in check might disagree with the Avengers on where to intervene. Should a conflict arise, Wittmer, speaking for Rogers, argues that the Avengers would be kept from doing their duty to the citizens of the world if they were to allow the UN to direct their operations.
Second, the Sokovia Accords effectively outlaws the existence of self-aware artificial intelligence, such as Vision, and the UN has refused to acknowledge that Bucky Barnes, a close personal friend of Steve Rogers, was framed for the bombing of the UN building while acting as a HYDRA operant. Finally, Wittmer, perhaps unnecessarily, attacks Stark personally, saying that he only signed the Accords to appease his guilty conscience, as well as ensure that everyone in the world adores him. In short, Wittmer states, he only signed the Accords to stroke his own ego. Some fans have added that the UN is a flawed institution; their exclusion of several countries, and the influence of more powerful countries over others would bias them, and therefore the Avengers. Their bias would determine where the Avengers intervene, effectively rendering the Avengers military pawns on a political stage. This point must be addressed directly. The UN is a flawed institution. However, the UN in the Marvel Universe is not a direct parallel to the UN in the real world; their biases could be countered with amendments to the Accords, voting procedures that level the playing field for smaller or at-risk countries, and curb the influence of those with more power. While Steve Rogers’ points against the Sokovia Accords are valid, his refusal to acknowledge the damage incurred by the Avengers’ interventions in the past undermines his arguments and paves the way for Tony Stark to take the moral high ground.
Travis Clark, writing for Tony Stark’s side of the argument in Business Insider, provides several compelling points, both to counter Captain America’s arguments, and bolster Tony Stark’s reasoning. First, Clark argues that the entire debate is a parallel to gun control. Many anti-gun control advocates worry that any regulation on their armaments will result in the prohibition of weapons in public and in private. But gun control activists maintain that such reasoning is flawed. A regulation is not a prohibition; a constraint is not a final end. A line drawn in the sand can be redrawn, and motions to place restrictions on enhanced individuals can be negotiated—but only if the parties involved are willing to compromise. Captain America, Clark states, is not willing to compromise at all. Stark simply wants to stay ahead of any moves to curb the power of the Avengers; capitulation is the best way to ensure that the Avengers will know exactly what they are up against. Stark understands that regulation on their movements will happen eventually, whether they cooperate or not. If they were to refuse, the restrictions could be more severe; if they are willing to compromise, they could negotiate for easier conditions. Avengers have proven themselves, says Clark, time and again to be threats to the national security, not only of the United States, but of several other countries, and even the entire globe. Their powers affect the people in every nation, and so every nation should have a say in their movements. Captain America, according to Clark, has allowed his loyalty to his friend, Bucky Barnes, to cloud his judgment. For someone so committed to defending democracy, it seems oddly out of character that Rogers would ignore the fact that oversight and accountability are cornerstones of democratic governance. For a hero whose duty it is to protect the innocent, Rogers seems resistant to the idea that the Avengers would have to be held accountable for the damage they have caused to the innocent they are trying to protect. All of these arguments, Clark concludes, form a solid reasoning for Stark’s acceptance of the Accords.
My opinion is that the Accords should be accepted—but with amendments. Stark’s capitulation is as admirable as Rogers’ loyalty. But a middle ground must be struck on an international stage in order to keep the peace, not only between nations and between planets, but also between friends. The point was made earlier in the paper that the Sokovia Accords forbid those enhanced indviduals who are non-signatories from participating in private organizations such as SHIELD and the Avengers. It is interesting that the Accords would categorize the Avengers as private, which would, in the views of some, preclude the Avengers from being subjected to government oversight in the first place. However, private organizations are not immune to the direction of government entities; privately owned companies have had legislation drafted against their operations in the past. But not only that, private military organizations have also been penalized for their actions. Take for example, the Blackwater case. In 2014, four private military contractors were convicted in the 2007 murders of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. They appealed to the Supreme Court to repeal their sentence—but the Supreme Court denied them in May of 2018. This refusal to pardon those responsible for crimes sets a precedent that will deter the use of private military organizations in international operations. The Avengers are no different from those four private military contractors—except that they have super powers, and thus pose a much larger threat to national security.
In my opinion, the movie ignores the original comics, which would reveal a much more compelling reason for the Sokovia Accords. In the original comic, Civil War, written by Mark Millar and published in 2006, the Accords were meant to curb the powers of rising teenage copy-cat organizations, whose antics had drawn the attention of several super-villains. The Accords follow the destruction of a city in Connecticut, whose entire population is annihilated during the fallout of an Avengers conflict. This alternate reality of Civil War provides an interesting context for the conflict in the movie. Rogers, rather than wanting to protect the citizens of the United States and rectify his mistake in the conflict, remains grounded in his belief that the independence of the Avengers matters more than the safety of the global population. While Rogers claims that Stark only wants to appease his conscience for his involvement in weapons manufacturing, he refuses to acknowledge his conscience at all for his involvement in the deaths of so many civilians, in both the movie and the comic version of the story. For someone who fought for the American people, he seems oddly indifferent to their fate, which he holds in his hands in every fight.
I believe that Tony Stark is right in his support for the Accords for several other, more personal reasons related to his character development. Stark is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression throughout the movies, but particularly in Civil War. His involvement in Sokovia haunts him, and his interaction with the mother of one of the casualties spurs in him a desperate desire to rectify his actions—a desire that has been one of his defining characteristics throughout the Marvel series. In each of the Iron Man movies, Stark seeks to destroy the weapons he distributed to the wrong people, fight the creations he had a direct hand in bringing to reality, and ultimately face the consequences of his actions. Over and over again, the Avengers fight the battles he has brought to them, and he recognizes this. Ultimately, he signs the Accords, not to protect the world from the Avengers, but to protect the Avengers from himself. Herein lies the crux of my argument: that everything Tony Stark does is for other people. He is moved by the pain of the dead boy’s mother in Civil War, moved enough to want to restrict his own power and prevent someone else from following his path. He does not, as Wittmer claimed, just want “everyone to love him.” He has a conscience, and he is following it; we cannot fault him for that. Rogers, on the other hand, seems to show no mercy to Stark, especially after he created Ultron. He seems indifferent to Stark’s internal turmoil, and blames him for much of the problems facing the Avengers—as if Stark does not already. Throughout the series, we see Stark attempting to rectify his past, seeking forgiveness through action and trying to do the right thing. He is well-supported—Vision, an objective judge by nature, agrees with him, even though the Accords outlaw his very existence. The Black Panther, who valiantly forgives and even tries to save the man responsible for the conflict raging within the Avengers, as well as the death of his father, agrees with Tony Stark. These two paragons of correctness sway me to Stark’s side, even outside of my personal agreements with his reasoning.
To conclude, while the Sokovia Accords were flawed, as international legislation tend to be, Tony Stark had better reasons to sign than Steve Rogers had to refuse. Rogers’ blind loyalty to Bucky Barnes, his refusal to acknowledge the damage dealt by the Avengers, and his blatant disregard for the benefits of governmental oversight render his arguments against the Accords, ultimately, invalid. Stark’s attempts to remedy his past through self-sacrifice are admirable, his internal conflict is relatable, and his steadfast devotion to those for whose pain he is responsible makes his arguments for the Accords more compelling. The Sokovia Accords need amendment, but their support is best for not only the Avengers, but the whole world.
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