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Why the MCU Captain America is Not Really a Product of WWII

At least, he's not a product of the World War II we know.

[Warning: This article will contain a pictures of World War II combat, including one photo where a casualty is visible]

During the first half of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the movie follows Steve Rogers as he goes through an exhibit dedicated to himself at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Why the exhibit is in that particular wing? Who knows. Captain America had a few airborne operations during the war, as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger, and he obviously nearly died in a plane crash, but most of his actual battles shown are ground conflicts.


It's heavily implied during the museum scene that Steve is there to remember old friends, including, of course, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, who is listed as the only member of the Steve's unit, the Howling Commandos, to give his life during the war.

This is where the movie lost me.

World War II was a horrific war, with horrific casualty rates to match. The U.S. alone had over 400,000 military deaths in under four years of conflict, and the U.S. got off light compared to many, many other countries, especially when civilian deaths and proportional populations are taken into account. In total, 2.8% of Army service members in World War II died. For units involved in the type of fighting that the Howling Commandos supposedly took part in - dangerous operations behind enemy lines with little nearby support, the casualty rate would have almost certainly been higher. This is especially true for 1944, the year that the Howling Commandos were almost certainly doing the majority of their fighting, and which happened to be one of the deadliest years of the war.

[An American reconnaissance unit patrols Sicily in 1943. Photo credit: AP]

I get that Steve Rogers is a superhero, and apparently some kind of tactical genius (though let us be honest here, the tactics shown in CA:TFA are absolutely terrible). But there were plenty of regular men in his outfit, and all tactical geniuses still lose troops. Bottom line: Bucky Barnes should not have been the only experience Steve Rogers had in losing a soldier.


[Canadian soldiers advance over the body of a dead comrade and avoid snipers in Campochiaro, Italy, November 1943. Photo credit: AP Photo]


It changes Cap's story. It makes the exploits of the Howling Commandos seem cheap, losing so few men, in a war where combat units faced enormous casualty rates. It makes Steve less of a person who's seen loss, and had to keep on giving orders anyway. It means his hard decisions were less hard. And all of a sudden, those conversations he has with Tony Stark in The Avengers are a bit less meaningful as well.

Captain America crashes his plane into the ocean on his very next mission after Bucky Barnes's assumed death So when Cap is trying to comfort Stark on how to move on after losing a "soldier" (in this case, the supposed death of Coulson), Steve Rogers really doesn't have any experience himself on this front.


[Captain America and Iron Man in The Avengers]

In the end, this one sentence throwaway line in the Smithsonian scene changes a very critical part of who Steve Rogers is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He's less of a character modeled after allied combat commanders in World War II, who had to live with good men dying while following his orders, and more a character modeled after more modern combat stories, where a young man goes to war and loses his best friend. And though Bucky was under his command, it was definitely the loss of a personal friend being felt there, not the loss of soldiers who relied on you to get them home if possible.


Which is fine, but that should be reflected in the group dynamic of The Avengers. Steve Rogers is less a battle-hardened leader used to making tough calls, and more a lucky man who has escaped most of the tragedies of the bloodiest war in the 20th century, but had some showy propaganda reels that made him a star.

And that's too bad, because Chris Evans was doing a hell of a job portraying a man who knew how to give the tough orders, even if it meant people might die.

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