Magneto Was Right

Magneto is one of Marvel Comics most famous and popular villains, but he did not start out that way. When he first appeared in the “Silver Age” of 1963, Magneto was nothing more than a craven maniacal would-be world conqueror, preaching mutant superiority and the fundamental “rightness” of mutant rule. He felt because mutants were physically superior, they deserved to inherent the earth. However, despite his great power, he was not impressive as a character. One Marvel writer referred to the character as “a poor man’s Dr. Doom.”

When Chris Claremont took over the flailing X-Men title in 1975, he decided to apply the maxim “A protagonist is only as interesting as his or her antagonist” and started developing Magneto into a more three dimensional and impactful character. Magneto the power-mongering cad was exchanged for Magneto the revolutionary. His hysterical rantings smoothed into the focused eloquence of political fanaticism. Then in 1981, Claremont took the final step and at last provided the audience with Magneto’s personal motivations: He was a Holocaust survivor, the last of a large family wiped out by the Nazi’s.

"I know something of grief. Search throughout my homeland, and you will find none who bear my name. Mine was a large family and it was slaughtered, without mercy, without remorse. So speak to me not of grief boy, you know not the meaning of the word....I remember my childhood, the gas chambers at Auschwitz, the guards joking as they herded my family to their death..."

~Uncanny X-Men #150

The Holocaust and his beloved wife's rejection of him at the moment when he needed her the most cemented his beliefs:

"You are far too trusting Charles. Too niave. You have faith in the essential goodness of man. In time you will learn what I have learned. That even those you love will turn from you in horror when they discover what you truly are. Mutants will not go meekly to the gas chambers. We will fight. And we will win.

~Uncanny X-Men #161

Magneto has always based his ideology on the world that is, not the world as he wishes it was. He has had far too many dealings with mankind's demons for him to put his trust in "the better angels" of human nature. Having experienced the planet’s most horrific example of genocide, for Magneto the words “Never again” held not merely deep and lasting meaning, they were an absolute truth he would go to any lengths to fulfill. While Magneto's actions are often inexcusable, his experiences have at least made them understandable and the character extremely compelling.

No one can question that Magneto has gone too far in his quest to protect mutant kind, but while we deplore the means taken to get to the ends, are his philosophies inherently flawed?

At the core, are Magneto's arguments valid?

Genocides have always happened throughout human history and continue to happen in our lifetimes. The Old Testament itself give accounts of genocide in Deuteronomy, the Roman’s wiped Carthage from the face of the earth, the Christians of the first Crusade walked to the first mass in Jerusalem through streets “knee deep in blood”,  as the European powers colonized to New World, Africa, and Asia, millions aboriginal peoples were killed and enslaved, in WWI the Ottoman Empire massacred the Armenians, in WWII the Nazis killed 6 million to create an “Aryan Europe” , since 1972 the Hutu and Tusti people have exchanged genocides in Burundi and Rwanda, Pot Pot killed millions in Camobidia, Hussien massacred the Kurds repeatedly, the Bosnian-Serb army shot every Muslim they could get their hands on, and the Muslims of Dafur killed every sub-Saharan African they could get their hands on.

Looking at the historical trends, while there are no genocides on the scale of the Nazis anymore, there are more frequent smaller scale genocides. This age of enlightenment has not stopped mankind’s capacity for killing those not like himself. If anything, it has sped up.

And these are just the actual genocides. Hundreds of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities in various countries all over the world still fight to gain equal rights and protection under the law every day.

If anything, life is worse for the characters of the Marvel Universe. For some reason compared to the normal non-superhero residents of DC world, the people of the M.U. are, quite frankly, jerks. They have always been portrayed as mistrusting superheroes (think J. Jonah Jameson and Spider Man) and mutants in particular (the double standard being analogous to the double standards of racism). From the X-Men’s very first years, there have been people with public and government support trying to regulate, incarcerate, and kill them. In (Uncanny) X-Men #14 in 1965, Dr. Bolivar Trask created the Sentinels, the now famous robots designed specifically to hunt and capture or kill mutants. Since the early 1980’s, Senator Kelley created and championed for the unsuccessful Mutant Control act and then the successful Mutant Registration Act. When he abandoned his anti-mutant stance, he was killed by anti-mutant activists (perhaps in echo of the murder of Yitzak Rabin by Israeli extremists in 1995). Reverend Stryker and his Purifiers have been conducting their holy crusade against the "satan spawned mutants" since their first appearance in "God Loves, Man Kills" in 1982.

In 1996-97, the hate against mutants reached a climax in the “Operation: Zero Tolerance” story arc. With government support, Bastion and Henry Peter Gyrch hunted down and incarcerated every mutant they could find in the U.S.. Many of them were sent to a concentration camp called Neverland in Canada. Hank McCoy would later travel there and find the bodies of those experimented on and massacred in “Endangered Species.” (Magneto was inexplicably absent from both these storylines.) While O:ZT was eventually brought to a close, the government mandated oppression continued. Following the events of M-Day, all surviving mutants were rounded up and forced to live in a “reservation/ghetto” of the Xavier estate where they were watched over and contained by Sentinels of the Office of National Emergency (O*N*E).

Given these actions, a "Mutant Israel" like Asteroid M, Avalon, or Genosha doesn't seem like such a bad idea does it?

Most of these incidents have passed with relatively little comment from the rest of the superhero community and no help, but like Niemöller’s poem they soon paid for their silence. In 2006, public outrage over the deaths of 600 people, including school children, in an super-criminal-apprehension gone wrong causes the Super Human Registration Act (SHRA) to be voted into law, forcing all superheroes to register with the government. If one wanted to use superpowers at all, they had to work for the Initiative. This in turn caused the Civil War, in which the pro-registration factions led by Iron man, eventually won out over the civil liberties factions led by Captain America who was assassinated while under S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.

Nor is the inherent disrimination of humanity the only point Magneto has a valid argument for:

“Do not take that tone with me boy, I have lived under a dictatorship and seen my family butchered by its servants. When I rule, it will be for the betterment of all. Contentment breeds tranquility, discontent rebellion. Therefore I shall ensure one by eliminating the root causes of the other: hunger, poverty, disease, war. Freedoms lost will not be noticed, even in the most libertarian of states. And the material benefits should more than balance the scales.”

~God Loves, Man Kills” (1982)

Given the recent inroads into America’s basic civil liberties that have passed by with relatively little outrage from such a “freedom loving people”, Magneto has a valid point. Revolution takes root in the empty belly. Rarely has a revolution been sparked by ideological differences. Usually it was want, privation, and abuse that caused the French, the Russians, the Chinese, and others to rebel against the hierarchy of their era. It seems that the majority of human beings do value material well-being above what it perceives to be the more esoteric aspects of freedom. If they do not need those freedoms at that very moment, human-kind doesn’t really care about them. It’s a sad truth for an ideological person to face, but there is too much evidence to dismiss Magneto’s argument.

Were Magneto not so universally hated by the “capes and tights community” of the M.U. someone, somewhere in the Civil War should have said, “Maybe Magneto had a point....” Not in how he goes about acheiving his goals, but in his interpretations of humanity and its abuse of power.

In fact I wonder if it is because he was right, because Magneto knew and predicted the dark side of human nature so well, that he is so vehemently despised.