“The Strategic Scientific Reserve is an Allied effort made up of the best minds in the free world. Our goal is to create the best army in history. But every army starts with one man. At the end of this week, we will choose that man. He will be the first n a new breed of super-soldier …”
- Colonel Chester Phillips, from the film, Captain America
The world needs good men. It’s what our military forces have often said they’re looking for.
However, the definition of “good” differs from one person to another. I have always assumed that this military slogan did not necessarily mean a sense of moral “goodness”, of choosing right over wrong. It seemed to simply mean “physically skilled”, “combat ready”, or “good with a gun”.
But most of us have seen enough bullying to know that fighting ability alone doesn’t provide the kind of “good men” that the world needs. Not on our streets, not in our schools. Not even in combat.
In the film, “Captain America”, we find a different kind of goodness. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 90-pound asthmatic, is determined to volunteer for military service. He’s a self-sacrificing individual who wants to fight for his country, but he can’t qualify to enlist. Even after five attempts in five different cities, claiming a different background each time.
Until Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) invites him to join the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a unit that seeks to endow one man with super-strength, to fight the Second World War on a whole new level. But Dr. Erskine is looking for specific qualities in his test subject. “So, you want to go overseas, kill some Nazis?” he asks Steve.
“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Steve answers. “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”
Dr. Erskine likes Steve’s attitude, and signs him up. But Steve struggles to meet the physical demands of the military training, operating at half the strength and speed of his fellow soldiers. Toward the end of the week, Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is aghast that Dr. Erskine is even considering Steve for the super-soldier project. He prefers another man, who has passed every physical test and proven his abilities as a soldier. Dr. Erskine insists that the Colonel’s chosen soldier is a bully.
“You don’t win wars with niceness, Doctor,” the Colonel tells him, drawing the pin from a grenade and tossing it among the men during their daily calisthenics. “You win wars with guts.”
He alerts the men to the grenade, and they all flee for cover. All but Steve, who throws his thin body onto the grenade to take the blast, ordering the others to stay back. The entire unit is stunned, along with Steve, as they slowly realize it was a dummy grenade … and Steve was ready to die for them all.
After he is selected for the experiment, Steve asks Dr. Erskine why he was chosen. Dr. Erskine reveals that Steve is actually not the first one to receive the serum. A Nazi scientist, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), had taken it by force and injected himself with it, obsessed with possessing superior power. Unfortunately, while the serum made him stronger, it had side effects that made him deformed, giving his face the image of a red skull.
“The serum was not ready,” Dr. Erskine explains. “But more important, the man. The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength. … And knows compassion.”
“Thanks. I think,” Steve says with a smile.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing,” Dr. Erskine says. “That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier … but … a good man.”
The serum successfully transforms Steve into a physically superior fighting machine, who ultimately becomes the super-heroic Captain America. But he keeps his promise to Dr. Erskine, maintaining his personal values of compassion and self-sacrifice – the kind of qualities that any wise commanding officer can be proud of.
Wars are started by bullies like Schmidt – men who view themselves as superior, deserving more than what they have received in life, determined to use any available means to get it, with little or no regard for those who get in their way.
Happy Memorial Day!
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