Belmont Club

The Rise of SPECTRE

In the year 1942, on the tropical island of Guadalcanal, two Marines independently created the most enduring superhero image of their generation.  John Basilone and Mitchell Paige both won the Medal of Honor in the same spectacular fashion, by firing water-cooled Browning machine guns from the hip, mowing down their enemies by the dozen.  Other men, like attack pilots and certainly submarine captains, might have dispatched more of the enemy, but none in so cinematic as manner of these two men, who wreathed in steam and gunsmoke, stood like Achilles astride the battlefield, possessed by an almost supernatural force so that friend and foe alike might recall that Mars himself stood by their side feeding the murderous belt of cartridges into the ravening gun. Mitchell Paige later became the model of GI Joe for Hasbro toys.

The public probably needed superheroes because the real Cold War world was so frightening.   But with Captain America, Batman and others on duty, we never despaired. Our worst imaginings were held at bay by our imaginary defenders. Nobody needed to fear Cobra while GI Joe was on guard.  Even awesome Hydra, with their fearsome green costumes emblazoned with a serpent emblems, could be safely left to Nick Fury and SHIELD.

But somewhere along the line the superheroes were retired.  The imaginary as well as the real heroes of America were replaced by new, gentler advocates like Captain Planet or all-Islamic 99.  The old school defenders of the imagination faded away. Uncle Sam became a suspected bigot. The Green Lantern came out as gay. Superman renounced his American citizenship.  Mr. District Attorney was played by Martha Coakley. The G-men shrank to ordinary FBI agents. Even the Secret Service became old and arthritic, too lost in booze and party girls to stop space aliens, North Korean terrorists or even middle aged fence jumpers from barging into the White House.

The supervillain franchises by contrast, have flourished.  The bad guys are churning them out faster than the public can keep count. Just today the newspapers announced the existence of more terrorist groups than heretofore imagined. The government, eager not to alarm the public, has kept the emergence of the most dreaded groups secret until now, when all can be revealed in the aftermath of the air strikes on Syria.  No, it’s not true that terror groups have been decimated.  A whole alphabet soup has spilled out of the can.

Those include the al-Nusra Front, which has ties to al-Qaeda and has made clear its intent to launch attacks outside of the Syrian battleground. Speaking at the same conference, James Clapper, director of US National Intelligence, said the Khorasan Group, part of al-Nusra, represents a threat on par with Islamic State. The Khorasan Group is also part of the core al-Qaeda that operates along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Not only are Osama’s acolytes not decimated, they’ve been reduced to bush league (pardon the pun) in comparison to new supervillain franchises that are springing up like mushrooms. ISIS is clearly more powerful than fuddy-duddy old al-Qaeda and “Khorasan” is on par with ISIS. Not only that, these groups wear evil costumes, just like in the comics.

Costumed Supervillains

Costumed Supervillains

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the Boko Haram, al-Shabab, the Muslim Brotherhood,  Hamas, Hezbollah or the Taliban and all those other supervillain teams — a veritable real life Legion of Doom.  But the Khorasan group has fired the imagination of journalists like nothing else in recent memory.

Eli Lake at the Daily Beast describes how the faint traces of its secret genesis were pieced together by American sleuths. Two years ago U.S. intelligence began to pick up the first clues of the group’s existence.  At the risk of their lives they teased out its plans to strike at the West. And just when American operatives were close to nabbing them, “the Khorasan Group went dark.”

At first, the group was believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to be al Qaeda’s senior operatives and linked to al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria known as al-Nusra. But beginning in the spring, the intelligence community began to call the outfit “the Khorasan Group,” named in part because many of its members are affiliated with the Khorasan Shura, a leadership council within al Qaeda. Khorasan in Jihadist literature refers to the region that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

And analysts think Khorasan is only the tip of the iceberg.  There could be more out there and their main goal is to kill Americans and other Westerners.

“My suspicion is what we are hearing about Khoresan is only part of the group,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an expert on al Qaeda at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “It strikes me as quite possible we are only hearing about the external operations wing and not the entire organization.” … planning from the Khorasan Group though suggest at least an aspiration to launch more coordinated and larger attacks on the west in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.

The Khorasan Group has been experimenting with different types of non-metallic explosives for attacks on Western targets, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Most of the members of the group come from Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan and have for months been coordinating with bomb-makers drawn from al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, the most persistent and creative of al Qaeda groups in efforts to bomb U.S.-bound passenger jets.

The physical Jihad is a hard enough nut to tackle without conceding to them the sword of the imagination. When the Left decided to deconstruct all aspects of American culture and to denigrate every aspect of it as shameful, racist and cringeworthy they unwittingly threw away weapons of the mind that in their own way were more powerful all the bombers and fighter jets that ever flew. For nothing defended the West more effectively and at cheaper price than the American myth.

At the outermost ring of the Pax Americana stood the symbols of American invincibility. Thor, Ironman and GI Joe. Unsurprisingly, Khoresan has been described as “obsessed with next 9/11” probably not so much for the actual damage they may cause, though that will be considerable, but because it advances their goal of shattering the American aura.  Ironically the Jihad appreciates the power of the American myth more acutely than the American left.

The Jihad is a young man’s game. And to young men, imagination is real.  The men who join the Jihad are motivated by more than simple religious belief.  They join it to wear supervillain costumes and carry an AK-47; to get a  nom de guerre,  to feel the excitement of  conspiracy and be upborne by a sense of purpose.  They long to see themselves all decked out in this paraphernalia, because after all people don’t join Hydra, Cobra, SMERSH or SPECTRE for the money. They join it in fulfillment of their adolescent dreams. Take it from Kim Philby: when asked why he betrayed his country to join the KGB,  Philby answered “you do not hesitate to join an elite force.”

But watch out. America has other superheroes, even if they’re presently in Russia.

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The old-time comic book artists understood the now forgotten warning of the Baptismal vows: beware the Glamor of Evil.  Beware the idea that evil is cool.  Young rootless men don’t want to serve under some colorless, politically correct bureaucrat.  If they are going to raise Hell they want to be led by the Red Skull.  And by the same token those who aspire to stop them want to be led by GI Joe. GI Joe, where have you gone?

Perhaps someday America will regain her confidence. And part of that process will be to inspire kids to look out the window again, imagining themselves as Americans and superheroes, and for once unashamed to be either.


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