Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.” It feels like he penned that phrase yesterday. Self-governance is something achievable when the people hold a common truth and trust of each other.
The greatest dictators accumulated power during a crisis. At first there’s a promise of protection. Rulers tell the people how they will safeguard against outside (or sometimes inside) threats. Little by little freedoms are given up in the name of safety. Justice League Rule of War (Issues 48-50) shows how easy it is for protectors to transform into tyrants.
Understand the Will of the People
Traveling in space, the Justice League discover a ship containing young alien children from the planet Trotha. Only the strong rule of Empress Siddinix prevents an endless civil war between the two Trothan factions: The Way of the Cell and the Spark. Upon bringing the alien children back to their home planet the Justice League is welcomed with open arms.
The people of Trotha proclaimed:
It’s the gods! The ones who sent the message!
They rescued the exiled children! The cosmic champions are on our side!
What need is there to fear the tyrant with the stargods to protect us?!
Capturing Siddinix, the Trothans are about to execute her when Superman intervenes. She is imprisoned and awaiting trial before a new leadership is setup.
The citizens weren’t used to self-governance. Soon the Justice League acted as the temporary law enforcement and government leadership for the Trothans. Wonder Woman remained hesitant about this proposal. She continued to speak out about the importance of understanding a culture before ruling it (Justice League #50).
Control or Freedom
James Madison declared, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Life experiences prove humanity is far from perfect. Government is an unnecessary evil. There has to be some sort of rule of law in place for society to flourish. The big debate is how much control or intervention a government should have in the lives of private citizens.
Crises naturally lend to a desire (generally speaking) for the government to take the reins to steer a nation out of a chaos. The disagreement on this topic takes shape between Batman and Wonder Woman.
Batman: You keep saying we need to understand these people before we can lead them.
Wonder Woman: Interrogating their evil despot wasn’t quite what I meant, Batman.
Batman: Why are you opposed to us taking charge? They have nobody else.
Wonder Woman: Sometimes no leader is better than the wrong leader.
Batman: Anarchy’s never the answer.
I personally tend to side with Batman. Anarchy isn’t a solution. Throughout history, the pendulum of power swings from one extreme to the other. The United States began as a grand experiment of putting power into the hands of the people. Power of the vote.
This year has shown how graduations of power look like at the state level. Some governors exercised greater authority and restrictions in attempting to slow the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meet in the Middle
During the current crisis, I think the best approach is a balance between freedom and control. Individuals should be trusted to make appropriate and safe decisions regarding the virus. But some reasonable safety measures should be implemented.
The Justice League veered too much on the side of control. Aside from Wonder Woman, the superheroes served without understanding the Trothan culture. For example, The Flash sped through the cities preventing crime preemptively. This led to him breaking up a mating ritual that appeared at face value a cannibalistic act (apparently biting an arm is a romantic gesture for the aliens).
Batman sought to bridge the communication between the alien sects by synchronizing the organic and electromagnetic technologies into a streamlined message. Unbeknownst to the Dark Knight, the communication technology was separated for a reason. According to Wonder Woman, “The Way of the Spark sees itself as an expression of cleanliness and purity! Sharing a signal with the organics is like one of us (Earthings) getting a blood transfusion from a sewer.”
The Justice League’s failure to understand the alien culture led to more leadership failures. Weary from previous battles, the heroes grew impatient. Tensions between the Way of the Spark and Cell festered until finally the Justice League’s patience burst. Superman shouted, “Enough! Unite?!” His frustration caused him to smash the ground. Kal-El’s actions shocked all the Trothans.
Tensions mounted further when an alien race, the Vermidim, invades the Trothan skies. On top of that, Batman (later revealed to be controlled by Siddinix) broadcasted conversations the other Justice Leaguers had about ruling: “Smashing thing is a lot simpler than managing them.” Batman goes on to suggest mind control is the best way to convince the Trothans to fight for their freedom.
Dictators desire absolute power. Their subject must lack free will. Panic is a prime opportunity for rulers to cease total control. Siddinix took advantage of the Vermidim invasion by promising protection in exchange for complete loyalty from the Trothans. But it was all based on a lie. Mind control.
Lies entrap. Only the truth will set you free (cf John 8:32). And that’s exactly how the Justice League defeated Siddinix’s deception. Wonder Woman used the Lasso of Truth on Batman, freeing him from the empress’s control. The Amazon warrior told the dictator, “It [the Lass of Truth] burned out your gadget with a single touch. He’s [Batman] been playing you ever since.”
The Justice League told the truth about Empress Siddinix to the Trothan populace. They played recordings of her detailing out her evil and manipulative plans for the citizens to hear.
A Tale for Today’s World
True leaders desire the best for their citizens. They have a servant mentality. Total government control only lasts temporarily. It fails to bring authentic (and lasting) peace. Justice League: Rule of War is an entertaining and relevant story-arc for our world today. Our current crisis requires decisive leadership, but we must be careful to cede too much freedom to government.
“Heroes lead by example, not by command.”
Matthew Chicoine is a free-lance writer, a life-long Catholic, and an avid truth seeker. He earned an M.A. in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2014 and enjoys binge reading Tolkien, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Fulton Sheen and comic books. Visit his blog at https://thesimplecatholic.blog/ to learn more about his pilgrim pursuit of a joyous life following the truth of the Gospel.