Stories change the world. My grandfather’s generation, sometimes referred to as the Greatest Generation, experienced the transforming effect of stories first hand. Rather than run from war, my grandfather and many like him lied about their age to join up. They wanted to fight for their country so badly they couldn’t wait, in my grandfather’s case, just three months to be of age (which was 21 back in early 1942). What drove them to leave their lives and families behind to join the armed forces? Was it just a bunch of propaganda posters taped to store windows? I don’t think so. I think it had a lot to do with the stories they encountered. Those of heroes who charged to war, defeating evil.
Even my generation, the Potter generation, has been dramatically influenced by the greatest story of our day—Harry Potter. Rowling’s “treaty on tolerance” has gone out to hundreds of millions throughout the world. It has taught us to love our neighbors, even if they don’t love us. To do what is right, even when it is not easy. That love is the greatest and most powerful magic—a magic even Muggles can perform.
The very first Captain America story was issued as a stand-alone, 49-page, comic book with a drawing of Cap punching out Hitler on the front cover (very bold). The comic book published a year almost to the date before my grandfather signed on the dotted line, and nine months before Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into the war.
On page 7 of the first issue, Bucky, Cap’s kid sidekick says what boys all over the states would soon think and say, “Boy–How I’d like to meet that guy! I wish I could be like him!” And on the cover of Case No. 2, Bucky proclaims, “It’s the Captain and I against all enemies of liberty!”
But, when Bucky says things like:
Sorry to hog all of the fun chum… but I’m going to the deserted house on Peek Street. I’m bringing home a killer. Bucky.
Left without men, eh? Okay… I’ll look up Mister Red Skull by myself!
It only leads Bucky into trouble. The message—Captain America is the solution. When we follow him, we win. When we don’t, we get into trouble but Cap ends up rescuing us in the nick of time and we win anyway.
No wonder so many of our boys entered the war as idealistic youths with dreams of an easy win. They had no idea of the horror and struggles they would actually meet.
Captain America is a great story with lots of biblical parallels, especially in the movies. Cap, the Christ-figure, leads his followers into battle. When we lean on him, things go well. When we don’t, we wind up in a mess. But from that mess, if we realize our error and humble our hearts turning them back to him, he will meet us where we are and help us overcome the battle we face.
But it is also propaganda. I’m not saying it didn’t have a good effect. What would our world have been like if we let the evil of the Nazi’s continue to spread? All stories are propaganda of some sort. Some for good, some for evil. The important thing is for us to recognize that stories are powerful, that they shape us, and to enter them with eyes wide open seeking to both learn and to discern. Stories produced both Nazi’s and the forces that ended Hitler’s reign of terror.
I hope, when I read and watch stories it will make me more of a hero, more like Christ and less like all the evil in the world and sometimes in me.