What the U.S. Can Learn from Wonder Woman

The new Wonder Woman movie is a smash hit. As of this week, it had generated more than $205 million in the U.S. alone, and a whopping $435 worldwide. That means, in this politically polarized country, Americans from both sides of the aisle can agree on at least one thing—Wonder Woman is a movie they want to see.

Perhaps the sweeping success of Wonder Woman across America reflects something more—a longing for a hero with a heart.

Although the Wonder Woman film checks the box on requisite action and stunts, it is ultimately a story with a deeper message about humanity, the good and evil that dwells in each of us and about what choices we make when faced with great suffering in this world. This film is a reflection on modern warfare and the tragedies of displacement, scarcity and mass killing that it produces. The movie is set in World War I, but it could just as easily be 2017.

The Wonder Woman film shows the agonizing reality of children and families who have been forced from their homes by war, but rarely have a safer place to go. In 2017, we are facing the largest global refugee crisis in history. According to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), more than 65 million people worldwide have been forced from their homes globally. The staggering numbers of refugees today—more than half of whom are under the age of 18—surpasses the numbers in the aftermath of World War II.

What is America doing to help the plight of refugees? According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, the U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees through a lengthy vetting process. The current Administration wants to cut this number in half. At a time when more people than ever need sanctuary from violence, the U.S. is attempting to close the door on as many as possible. It is violence and war that forces fathers, mothers, sons, daughters to go from normal lives to stateless limbo. As they flee their homelands in search of some security, refugees and immigrants have been characterized as looming threats to American security.

The Wonder Woman film also portrays the hunger and scarcity that often accompanies violence and war. Today, according to the World Food Programme, 795 million people around the world (1 in 9) go hungry every day and an even larger proportion (1-3) suffer from malnutrition. In Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria, twenty million people are at risk for starvation due to ongoing conflicts. Wonder Woman crossed the “no man’s land”—battling sniper fire—to reach a village of people who were starving.

What is America doing to prevent humanitarian disaster? The current Administration has requested the U.S. Department of State to find ways to cut United Nations contributions by 50-60 percent—which would incapacitate the UN’s ability to provide humanitarian aid to women, men, boys and girls on the brink of starvation.

Scarcity does not stop at our shores. Large numbers of Americans are living below the poverty line, and many of our fellow Americans are going without food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than 42 million Americans live in food-insecure households (meaning that they do not always have access to enough food), and more than 6 million children are experiencing food insecurity.

What is America doing about hunger here at home? The current Administration is planning to cut the federal food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP) by more than $193 billion over ten years, directly affecting 44 million Americans who need help to feed their families.

The Wonder Woman film also shows the repercussions of human ingenuity combined with destructive technology. Poison gas kills an entire village of innocents, and is eerily similar to modern atrocities. The film reminds us that the capability for mass killing has only increased since World War I, with the advent of more deadly conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Recent U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan tells us that weapons do not solve state failure, sectarian violence and rising extremism. In fact, the proliferation of weapons has provided even more convenient means to target innocent civilians. Even when civilians are not directly attacked, they often become “collateral damage”—an unintended consequence of modern warfare.

Civil society organizations and activists are struggling to bring peace to the most dangerous environments. They tell us that human rights, representation and equality are the tools we need to lift societies out of the darkness of perpetual war and rising extremism. But America is not listening to them.

Instead, the current Administration has proposed an increase of $54 billion for defense, with deep cuts to U.S. diplomacy and international development. Yet, even the U.S. military has recognized that today’s crises cannot be solved by the military alone. In February 2017, more than 120 U.S. generals signed a letter strongly opposing the Administration’s plan to cut funding for programs that are critical to prevent and resolve violent conflict. The proposed budget would cut off at the knees U.S. efforts to prevent wars and assist communities and countries with rebuilding after crisis and state failure.

While Wonder Woman is horrified to see humans to inflict pain and suffering on one another with their deadly inventions, the current Administration seems fixated on the destructive power of weapons. In April 2017, the Administration dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) in Afghanistan. Did this action do anything to alleviate the insecurity for women, men, boys and girls in Afghanistan? Did it hasten the end of conflict there?

In May 2017, the Administration signed a $110 billion deal to supply precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has led military attacks in Yemen that have killed numerous civilians, including women and children. In January 2017, UN monitors reported to the Security Council that these attacks may be war crimes. Analysts predict that the proposed arms sale from the U.S. will worsen the famine in Yemen, where 7 million are already at risk of dying of hunger. How will more weapons, more deaths, more refugees, more famine possibly help the situation for the people in this region?

Today, Americans have made choices about leadership and policy that are moving us farther from the type of heroism that Wonder Woman represents. Wonder Woman puts humanity, compassion and love for others first. Now is the time for us to decide what we want America to be.

Wonder Woman shows that we don’t have to have special powers to be heroes. We just have to care about our common humanity. What is our choice, America?


Jolynn Shoemaker is a writer and consultant on gender equality in international peace and security. Currently, she is a Fellow at Our Secure Future: Women Make the Difference, a Program of One Earth Future focusing on Women, Peace and Security research and policy.