Friday, July 22, 2011

Nazi eugenics versus the American Dream

It’s the year of genetically modified super heroes at the movies. The latest, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” is set in World War II, the era when the comic book character was introduced to readers.

“Captain America is the archetypal Marvel Comic,” says Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics and a comic book fan. “You have the scrawny kid who wants desperately to do good. You have technology coming to his rescue. And then you have him modified to become this incredible fighting machine.”

The irony is that the Marvel story created an anti-Nazi figure by using genetics to perfect the human form, which is exactly what the Nazis were trying to do.

“Of course, the difference is that America does it in a way that doesn’t involve genocide or denigrating any other group,” Wolpe says. “They take a specimen that in Nazi ideology would be dispensable and say, all of us have within us the ability to be great, this guy just needs a little help.”

The ideology in the United States at the time was to help people who come here with disadvantages to live the American Dream, Wolpe says. “Captain America becomes a symbol of he way in which the United States thought about itself. I think because eugenic ideas were so much of what World War II was about, that different model of how genetic science can be used became a very powerful symbol of the difference between the German and American views of technology.”

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