A very popular movie on how the terrorists win


A group of terrorists attempts to steal a weapon of mass destruction by driving a truck through the gates of a government compound in the capital city of an African nation.

The terrorists are stopped by a special forces team led by a legendary American soldier. The leader of the terrorists vows revenge against the American and detonates a suicide vest. But the explosion is deflected, becoming an airborne projectile which rips through a nearby office building, killing innocents.

In this opening sequence from “Captain America: Civil War”, the filmmakers evoke the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the rationale for the invasion of Iraq as well as the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001.

While “Civil War” may not be a great or lasting movie, it exploits our recent political history in an attempt to dramatize an important claim.

When Captain America was first created over 70 years ago, his first public act was to punch Adolf Hitler in the face. In “Civil War”, there are no Islamic mujahideen, no falsified evidence of WMD, no oil-rich monarchies nor power-hungry neocons.

Instead, the movie’s villain is a man who lost his wife, son and father as casualties of righteous American imperialism; an ordinary soldier from a failed state who is hell-bent on revenge. His motivation echoes the movie’s stated premise, presented convincingly by a grieving employee of the U.S. State Department: what is the difference between avenging and revenging? between violence in the service of justice and violence in the service of emotional satisifaction?

While the titular hero is proven right in defending unilateralism – by acting against the wishes of the United Nations, Captain America finds a cache of WMD – his is a hollow victory. The WMD have been “deactivated”; they were a ruse to turn the Americans against themselves.

In the end, “Civil War” is unwilling to state its case as clearly as the movie “War Games” did in 1983 – “the only winning move is not to play” – but that it questions our ability to fight terrorism is significant. Can America respond rationally in the face of an emotional provocation?

I hope its fans clamor for an answer.