Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More on Superman's Citizenship

Action 900, the issue where Superman tells the President's national security adviser that he plans on renouncing his citizenship, was a sell-out. The moral ramifications remain.

Superman's reason for doing this was that he is too big to be confined to one nation's politics. He put it in terms about how small and interconnected the world is but the meaning is the same - he is bigger and more important than the US.

Before I go any further I should point out that Superman is not actually a citizen. He is a alias. Clark Kent is the one with the citizenship (courtesy of a forged birth certificate). The Silver Age Superman was known to have a secret identity but the world accommodated the caped version by treating him as a separate entity. It also solved the current problem rather neatly. Instead of renouncing his citizenship, Superman was given citizenship in every member nation of the UN. He was also deputized by all of these nations.

That is where the Silver Age Superman was different from today's model. The Silver Age one was a policeman. He stayed out of politics. He might show some favoritism about where he enforced the law, centering on Metropolis, but he was neutral otherwise.

If we are going to have a near-omnipotent protector, this is what I would prefer.

Think about how much trouble Superman could cause if he started exceeding this mandate. In Action #900, he supported a freedom protest in Iran. What if the government of Iran fell and the country collapsed into sectarian violence? It happens all the time when a government falls. Look at Yugoslavia or Somalia. Egypt is in some danger on this happening. 500 years ago, Machiavelli wrote about how revolutions always make things worse.

What if Superman took a more direct hand? It took the US army three weeks to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Superman could have done it in a fraction of that time. But what then? It took hundreds of thousands of troops and years to stabilize the country after Saddam's government fell. What would be his responsibility after overthrowing a dictator? Superman cannot be everywhere. Would he be up to this challenge?

As a newly-minted citizen of the world, how much does Superman share that world's values? Most of the third world practices some form of slavery. Homosexuality is banned in large parts of the world. Uganda is considering legislation that mandates the death penalty for HIV-positive gays under certain circumstances. Is Superman planning on enforcing Western values? What if he sees a woman driving a car in Saudi Arabia? Western values say that this is good. Saudi law says that it is wrong. What would Superman do?

A few years ago a Spanish judge claimed jurisdiction over the world on human rights violations and ordered the arrest of President Bush and other members of the US government. Would Superman enforce this judge's orders? Or will he give himself similar standing to judge and enforce human rights?

The Silver Age Superman never had to struggle with any of these questions because of the limits he put on his activities. Once you start inserting yourself into international events everything becomes a moral issue.

I admit that I am not in the target audience for these books, anyway. I haven't been a regular Superman reader since the 1960s. I followed the John Byrne reboot for a while but eventually got tired of it. This was a Superman but not my Superman. I feel the same way about this event. My Superman would never judge himself too big for US citizenship.

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