The United States answers to no one, and we like it that way. Our president pretty much says so at every turn. U.N. conference on racism? No thanks, he’d rather go fishing. Kyoto Accord for limiting greenhouse gasses? Not while there’s oil in Texas!
America behaves badly because we know we can get away with it. We’re the rat with the most cheese, and you foreign mice better pipe down if you want any gouda. But how did we get to be so gosh darn mighty? To understand, you have to go back to the 1950s. Fortunately American Century can take you there.
The American Century: Scars & Stars trade paperback collects the first four issues of this ongoing series from DC/Vertigo comics. In it, we follow the adventures of Harry Block, a World War II veteran who goes AWOL when Uncle Sam asks him to ship out to Korea. As seen by Harry, the ’50s were a time of domestic dissatisfaction concealed by the shiny new exterior of consumer culture. Internationally, the U.S. was perfecting a ruthless foreign policy, using third world nations as pawns in its struggle against the Soviet Union. We gleefully installed despots and madmen as heads of state in foreign lands, just so long as they were our despots and madmen.
Issue one (which I reviewed here on 03.21.01) tracks Harry’s decision to leave his unfaithful wife and desert his country. The other three issues in this book follow his adventures in Guatemala. Harry just wants a quiet life as an expatriate smuggler, but there’s a little too much local turmoil for that. Before it’s over, Harry runs afoul of the CIA, the KGB, and U.S. Fruit; Harry’s Spanish-speaking friends die; and the U.S. installs a child molester as the new Guatemalan president.
The plot’s a bit harebrained, elaborately contrived so that Harry bounces off all the major players at one time or another. Whatever. American Century is a rock ’em-sock ’em historical melodrama. When the ammunition is spent, you’ll remember the atmosphere–America at the dawn of its superpowerhood, squeezing the life out of little guys domestic and foreign to get what it wants.
And, of course, the brooding character of Harry–part Bogey-style tough guy, part sulky teenager. Harry thinks everything sucks, especially U.S. foreign policy. Wonder what he’d say if he were alive today?