Tonight I saw the latest Marvel flick. Reflecting upon its inanity, I got into a discussion about the extent to which Captain America is portrayed as sympathetic. I’m pretty anti-Statist, so I tended to sympathize with Cap, who was less than eager to submit to the will of the New World Order (represented by the United Nations — of all institutions! — in this film).
Someone challenged me: do I also question the legitimacy of the Union’s decision to crush the Confederate rebellion in the American Civil War?
Well, maybe. I think the Confederacy was pretty abhorrent insofar as its avowed purpose was to perpetuate slavery. But I also think states have both the right and the obligation to resist the imposition of federal power, and the legal / ethical question of whether the CSA should have been allowed to secede peacefully seems pretty subtle.
Lincoln probably was overreaching when he chose to suppress the rebels by force. It might well have been possible to reach a political compromise that would have abolished slavery without killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. I can easily believe both of these propositions at the same time: slavery was bad, and the North might not have taken the best approach to advancing abolitionist goals. I can’t say for sure that a more accommodating approach to the issue would have succeeded. But it’s very hard to endorse, in retrospect, a policy that led to hundreds of thousands of American deaths, plus a Reconstruction legacy of toxic race relations. Maybe the Party of Lincoln was on the Right Side of History, but that doesn’t mean their tactics were effective or wise.
Likewise, Tony Stark’s guilt about innocent deaths caused by superhumans may have been genuine, but Cap’s concerns about the U.N. issuing unethical orders to a legally-restrained team of Avengers seem totally legitimate to me.