The Pentagon Snubbed The Avengers Because They Didn’t Know Who Was in Charge — Them or S.H.I.E.L.D.
Assuming Direct Control
The American military is generally pretty cool with cooperating with Hollywood on making military stories look as authentic as possible (while still making the military look honorable). And while they have lent their expertise and image to many fantastical kinds of movies — including Marvel‘s Iron Man — there was just something bugging them about where they fell in the food chain in The Avengers. Namely, were they going to have to answer to the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury? Because apparently, this was unclear, and the military brass were not cool with that. And that’s why the highest level of “official” crimefighting came from the New York National Guard.
In its most recent cinematic incarnation, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. In the Marvel universe, it serves as “an international peacekeeping/global surveillance/crisis response/quasi-military organization,” as described by Wired, and that puts it in a very high position on Planet Earth, let alone in the United States of America. Even higher is The Council, alo international, and with which we Fury consulting throughout the movie (and ignoring). But that lack of clarity about where the U.S. military would fall was enough to make the Pentagon sit out The Avengers.
“We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it,” Phil Strub, the Defense Department’s Hollywood liaison, tells Danger Room. “To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything” with the film.
They did, however, allow humvees to appear onscreen. Other fighter jets resembling U.S. military jets were digitally inserted and not actual loans or replicas.
This kind of conundrum raises all kinds of questions about domestic and international law in not just the Marvel universe, but other comic book/science fiction/fantasy universes. The excellent site, Law and the Multiverse, covers issues exactly like this, and they just happened to cover what kind of authority S.H.I.E.L.D. would have and where they’d have the most power.
Turns out, if it was just a domestic organization in the United States, things would be a lot easier to figure out. Instead, it seems like this blanket, international (maybe interplanetary) agency could throw its weight around pretty much anywhere. For example, how can an international organization draft all these Americans (okay, Black Widow’s citizenry is slightly questionable) work together to save the planet from intergalactic war? One answer could have been Congress, which has broad draft authority over U.S. citizens. The fact that none of them were forced or threatened if they didn’t volunteer, plus they were all allowed to quit at the end after SPOILER TEXT enjoying shawarma in silence also might mean that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s powers are somewhat limited to one country. Imagine if the United Nations tried drafting Americans for something. Yeah, that would never fly.
Then again, how would a domestic organization get away with pulling Bruce Banner out of India or attacking Loki in Germany without telling the countries that they needed to pop in for a sec?
This is to say nothing about interfacing with air traffic control, but nations are usually kind of prickly about foreign military aircraft just sort of jetting around in their airspace, much less special forces groups conducting operations in their territory. If S.H.I.E.L.D. is an American entity, not an international one, this is starting to look a lot like an act of war.
Law and the Multiverse concludes that the best way for S.H.I.E.L.D. to conduct itself would be as a domestic military organization that “in a spirit of international cooperation, permit[s] representatives from select foreign nations to participate in its operations” and is focused on intergalactic threats rather than homeland security. That would probably be something the Pentagon could get behind.
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