No Captain America won’t help the Afghan people

Social Commentary

No Captain America won’t help the Afghan people

Illustration: Arati Gujar

George W Bush once proclaimed in his address to the nation, about the Iraq war “We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater.” The overbearing moral tone of this claim comes naturally to most American presidents and diplomats, regardless of which of the two parties they come from.

American righteousness is so profoundly universal, you kind of believe that Captain America can be as good a president as the American president can be a noble soldier. For decades the world has lapped up this inherent heroism of the American people, the idea that the most popular and perhaps envied country is also a necessary evil for the world’s sake. After America’s exit from an Afghanistan run-over by Taliban forces, this self-assumed perch of morality, the country can no longer be allowed to hold. For the fall of Afghanistan is also the last nail in the coffin for America’s saviour image.

Popular culture is rife if not overflowing with ideas where America is the great saviour of the whole wide world and the only country to be in. The “American dream” and “American way of life” are moralistic ideas, propounded over generations and media, to make sure a grandiose image of America, the heart of right and pure is sustained. The US has traditionally championed liberal causes, advocated for rights in third world countries, even invaded them under the pretence of a democratic makeover. But it’s not in reality that America acts out, but in fiction where it lays the groundwork for this larger than life aura.

For the fall of Afghanistan is also the last nail in the coffin for America’s saviour image.

Comics and superheroes have done more for the American image than its generals or soldiers. These cape-wearing, ripped males go around the world protecting people, often from catastrophes of their own making. It’s a deeply prejudiced view that whatever in the world ails can only be corrected or solved by American intervention.

Superman and Captain America are perhaps the most accurate depictions of what righteous Americanism looks like. Even though he is alien, Superman is besotted by American life to the point that he rarely looks to explore – fly to or settle – other countries. Marvel’s cinematic universe, though more diverse, is anchored by the Captain, in the end, whose morality, the others eventually sing their choruses to.

One of the key things about American righteousness is its instinct, its knack to view conflict as opportunity. Most countries, especially the ones born out of a struggle for independence like ours, are reluctant to bear the consequences of war. America, on the other hand, thrives on conflict. Its idea of masculinity is a stylised imagination of the marine or the soldier.

Its idea of masculinity is a stylised imagination of the marine or the soldier.

Nation building and patriotism are of course built into every country’s aesthetic choices, but in the case of America, it is the patronizing yearning to do right by people that leads the narrative. For decades the country has picked fights, whether it’s against communists or terrorists, on the excuse of ushering in something better. What the country has consistently left in its wake, instead, is instability, distrust, factionalism and chaos.

After spending 20 splendid years ‘building Afghanistan’ President Joe Biden, apologetically admitted there ‘was never a good time to quit’. This comes from a country that likes to naturally assume the position of leader, when it comes to honing the world’s collective conscience. All this while suppressing racial and communal tensions of their own. No country is perfect, because it is the end of the day a collection of people.

But no country, more than America, continually claims that badge of near-perfection, the fantastical idea that the world’s individual struggles are nothing but stepping stones to an American way of life. The country does do its fair share beyond the selling, let’s be honest, by funding international organisations like the WHO and UN, but it’s untimely abandonment of the Afghan people, especially its women and children, exemplifies its opportunistic rationale.

This comes from a country that likes to naturally assume the position of leader, when it comes to honing the world’s collective conscience.

Afghanistan’s future right now, and its implications for the world, is as precariously uncertain as it is at the moment unsalvageable from the outside. This chaotic end to a 20-year relationship that the US coaxed the Afghan people into is also the site of American decadence and a screaming contradiction to the culture of supremacy it spawns through art and film.

The do-good machoism that comes naturally embedded in an American action or superhero film must now be countered with the realities of diplomatic betrayals like the one America has exacted upon the Afghan people. The world must wise up to this long suspected revelation and ask the country to take a step back from setting the status quo of humanity itself. Let’s hope that someone writes or films the show where an American superhero, while he is trying to save the world from problems the country itself has created, can be told “We got this”.

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