The balance between liberty and security has always been a hot debate in American politics. In fact, it was Benjamin Franklin that said "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety." And while there is some debate about the context of the quote, no matter what, its ideas hold true. Franklin was posing a warning, one that seems increasingly applicable to the online connected society in which we currently live.
But, before we get to the fun part, superheroes, we first need to establish the nitty gritty. The current political scene is an interesting one. Social media has given everyone an outlet for their opinion, and everyone certainly takes advantage of that. Combine this with the increasing liberalization of the general populous and you get the push for universal freedom that we are currently living through. The main idea within the liberty portion of the debate is that people should be free to do as they please, as long as it doesn’t restrict or infringe on the rights of others within the same society. And for the most part, this is true.
We can marry whoever we fall in love with, regardless of gender. Without a criminal record or history of mental illness, we can own a gun for protection, hunting capabilities, or anything else. We can use contraceptives to limit or eliminate our natural reproductive potential. We can choose to terminate a pregnancy, regardless of whether or not the mother’s health is in danger. And in some places, we can use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and even for recreation. Our entire political debate, it seems, centers around what freedoms people should or should not have the right to do. In general, the people who advocate for increased freedoms usually win. But when it comes to security, people get a whole lot less forgiving.
During World War II, we saw just how far Americans were willing to go to increase their security. The Red Scare led to the imprisonment and/or deportation of anyone considered to have communist ties. And immediately after Pearl Harbor, we rounded up Japanese-Americans and put them into internment camps, just because they looked like the people who attacked us. Fear is a strong political motivator, and the call for increased security often results in the suppression of liberty.
In the past few years, we have seen this conflict return to the forefront of our political arena. We hear the debates for and against NSA phone monitoring programs, as well as systems that track online movements for keywords pertaining to potential threats. We hear the arguments for and against continuing to let people own guns. We hear arguments for and against increased border security, as well as whether or not we should allow asylum seeking refugees into our country. And to a disgustingly extreme level, we have a presidential candidate (I bet you can’t guess who) that advocates for an immigration system which would allow no Muslims, regardless of national origin, to enter our country.
What all of this boils down to, is whether or not we are willing to limit individual liberties in the name of security. Which – if you’re still with me – brings us to the fun part of this article. March 25th will bring us “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice." The sequel to Man of Steel (the first Superman movie in the current DC cinematic universe) will pit two of the greatest, and most beloved, superheroes of all time against each other. Many casual fans are stuck wondering why two of their favorite characters would ever fight each other, when actually it isn’t the first time, and certainly won’t be the last. It all comes down to what I’ve written above. The ideological differences are immense, and whether it’s as simple as Batman being reluctant to join the Justice League, or it’s as large as a full scale battle, their conflict is pretty hard to miss.
First, let’s look at Superman. Kal-El, or Clark Kent as you probably know him, is essentially indestructible. He was sent to Earth in a rocket by his father, a Kryptonian scientist, moments before the destruction of their home planet, Krypton. His shuttle is found by two farmers in Kansas, Jonathon and Martha Kent, who raise him as their own. During his childhood, Clark and his adoptive parents discover that he has superhuman powers, and the Kents teach him to use them responsibly. Eventually, Clark grows up and moves to Metropolis where he becomes Superman and watches over the citizens. His manner of protection is very free. He stops bad guys, and is seen as a hero by the people. He is also looked upon somewhat favorably by the press, The Daily Planet, as well as the Metropolis Police Department. Superman man is the ultimate man of virtue, and as such, is the perfect parallel for liberty in our discussion.
As for Batman, his story is a little different. When both parents are killed at a very young age, Bruce Wayne is forever changed. Being raised by the Wayne family butler, Alfred, Bruce grows into the family name and, as adult, runs the family business, Wayne Enterprises. He’s the typical rich, bachelor type who doesn’t tie himself down with any one woman. Though he seems happy during the day, he suppresses his anger and rage into his nighttime adventures as Batman. However, Batman’s operating manual reads a little differently than Superman’s. He only goes out at night under the cover of darkness, and beats the snot out of the bad guys. Often referred to “the vigilante” by the Gotham City Police Department, Batman is not looked upon favorably by the Police Department of the media. And for the most part, he definitely doesn’t care that he operates outside the law. Batman is willing to do anything to protect his city, even if that means avoiding law enforcement and limiting individual privacy rights.
In the most recent trailer for “Batman vs Superman” (link below), Clark Kent says to Bruce Wayne “What’s your position on the bat vigilante in Gotham? Civil liberties are being trampled on in your city, people living in fear, he thinks he’s above the law.” This quote perfectly sets up the ideological conflict between our opposing heroes. How is the conflict going to be resolved? I guess we’ll all have to watch to movie to find out. Because I’m pretty positive they could make 1,000 Batman vs Superman movies before our current political system settles anything.
But for what it’s worth, any major DC event that involves conflict between "Batman" and "Superman" generally goes Superman’s way.
Batman vs Superman Trailer: