lolaraincoat: Gorey drawing of character "Mr. Earbrass" (mr earbrass)
lolaraincoat ([personal profile] lolaraincoat) wrote2012-06-13 01:41 pm
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What would surprise Captain America?

I've been reading a lot of Avengers fics - there's been a lot to read - and I've been liking many of these fics quite a lot. Except that there's this one thing that's driving me crazy, so crazy that I keep having to back-button out of perfectly good fics before Nick Fury and the Hulk can even begin to get their freak on, which is kind of tragic. So in case you were thinking of writing anything in the Marvel-verse ever, and you were hoping to avoid me making sad puppy-eyes face, please, please, please consider this question carefully:

What would surprise Captain America in 2012?

See, people keep writing (and reccing!) stories in which eternally-27-year-old Steve Rogers, who is thawed out in 2012 after having been frozen in Arctic ice since 1945, is shocked by this crazy modern world. It's kind of irresistible as a plot point, to be fair. I just wish people writing these fics did not show such a profound lack of imagination in picking which aspects of this crazy modern world would horrify him. So far what amazes and/or upsets Captain America in fics I've read has been:

* sexy dancing by scantily clad teenagers to unfamiliar loud music
* sex
* premarital sex
* homosexual sex
* marriage equality
* computers

Computers as consumer goods, I agree, are pretty new and different. But when thinking about what might shock Captain America, writers should remember that World War Two, like all the big wars since 1850 or so, gave a huge impetus to technology, and even an ordinary soldier would have seen rapid change in information technology over the course of the war. Presumably the guy who got shot up with the top-secret super-soldier serum would have been around a lot more rapid technological change: radar, early computing (Alan Turing, who invented the Turing test, spent World War Two pioneering decryption software, remember), the first glimmerings of television (though not broadcast), the first antibiotics ...

So it's not so much that computers would shock the defrosted Captain because of their newness, I think. They might shock him because they are the latest development of the flowering of consumer culture in the postwar decades. So I'm not sure they would shock him more than disposable plastic sporks or drive-through Starbucks. Bear in mind that he grew up in the Great Depression: throwing stuff out would be very hard for him; being surrounded by objects which were made in order to be thrown out might astonish him.

As to sex: every generation imagines that they invented it, and every generation is wrong. But if you're thinking of World War Two as part of the vast, undifferentiated Time Before Sex Was Invented, you are extra-wrong with wrong on top and a side order of really, really wrong.. World War Two was, besides everything else it was, an occasion for lots of young (mostly) healthy (mostly) people to get out into the world and meet a whole bunch of interesting strangers. They danced sexily to loud music (I know the Glenn Miller Orchestra doesn't sound that way to us, but imagine all those brass and wind and percussion instruments playing as loud as they could in a ballroom. It was loud.) So they danced in ways that revealed their underwear to the world, and then they had sex. That's why the military produced all those interesting vintage posters warning about the dangers of attractive spies and also VD. That's why the invention of penicillin mattered to the war effort. That's why the Baby Boom. During the war, Americans made funny movies about all the sex people were having - Miracle at Morgan's Creek for instance - and a decade later some of them told Alfred Kinsey all about it.

As Kinsey discovered, some of the sex people were having during the war was with people of the same sex. In fact, Alan Berube mades clear in Coming Out Under Fire that gay men and lesbians in the military faced very little official trouble until after the war was over - at which point they faced terrible discrimination indeed. But Captain America would have been under the ice by that point. The world he left was full of unmarried people having all kinds of sex with relatively few consequences except pregnancy (and yes, birth control existed before the Pill) and venereal disease. So to me, fics depicting Captain America as a prude or a homophobe need to explain how he came to be so out of step with his own time. Or writers who want a prudish Captain America could show him as having gone into the ice in the 1950s - a much more buttoned-down time.

Marriage equality is a new thing in the world, yes, but like all new things it has historical antecedents. Communities of men who prefer sex with other men can be found in the historical record pretty much in any city in the world across the past two centuries at least, and gay liberation was an idea if not a political movement as early as the 1880s in parts of Europe. For Steve Rogers' home town, Brooklyn, fic writers might want to consult George Chauncey's terrific book Gay New York, which includes a brief account of a marriage ceremony - not a legel one, to be sure - between two men in Brooklyn in the 1920s. So while Steve Rogers might find marriage equality surprising, I very much doubt it would be on the top of his list of astonishments.

So, not sex and not computers, then. What would surprise Captain America?

Nick Fury. Nick Fury as played by Samuel Jackson, anyway. Remember that the US military was racially segregated during World War Two (yes I know that Captain America supposedly fought in an integrated unit, but all that tells us is that the guys who wrote the script for that movie know just as much history as the average fangirl, or maybe a little less) and that the biggest argument for maintaining segregation was that white guys could not possibly be led into battle by non-white guys. So to wake up to find Nick Fury as his commanding officer - I'm not saying that Steve Rogers would be upset, necessarily, but he would be very, very surprised.

And, more broadly, racial integration generally would shock him. Steve Rogers did grow up in a place and time where marriage was very strictly regulated: marriage between people of two separate races was illegal almost everywhere in the United States until 1962. I don't know if he grew up with separate drinking fountains and segregated public transportation - but if I were writing fic about Captain America waking up in 2012, I would do some serious googling about segregation in New York City. Did he attend segregated schools? That seems likely.

Maria Hill would probably shock him, too. While women were part of the military during the Second World War, they served in separate, auxiliary branches - and similarly to the segregated units in which non-white Americans served, that was to prevent any woman ever from having military authority over any man. Again, thinking more generally, he would not be surprised at all to see women working, but to see women in professional positions would be something very new to him. Pepper Potts would make sense to him as a secretary, but not as a CEO. He would have seen lots of women nurses, but no women doctors. No women scientists, either, so he would be surprised to meet Jane Foster.

Two other big surprises:

Changes in social class in America. As I already said, the rise of the middle class and all the material cultural surrounding it - suburbs! dixie cups! - was pretty much a post-war phenomenon. So was the collapse of the labor movement. In the neighborhood where Steve Rogers grew up, nearly all employed adult men would have belonged to a union. He didn't have a union, because he was a soldier, but he will be surprised to find that most of the guys working on rebuilding New York after it got Loki'd are not union members. Oh, and before World War Two, very few Americans went to college - he'll be impressed to keep meeting all these educated people.

And finally, geopolitical change. Probably the biggest shock would be that Europe is now united (sort of) and that Germany and France are now closely allied. Slightly less shocking, because anyone who was paying attention could see this looming over the horizon throughout the war, would be the bitter division between the US and Russia (though he might need the whole Cold War explained to him, several times, with emphasis on the bomb. Or should I say, The Bomb.) But also he would be amazed by the end of British imperialism. And the Chinese Revolution! The Iranian revolution! African decolonization and the end of apartheid! The Cuban Revolution! India and Pakistan and

... yeah, anyway, there's a lot for him to catch up on.

But not sex. Really there's not too much new there at all.

ETA: Wow, that's ... a lot ... of comments. I'm glad you're here and will try to respond eventually, but no promises. In the meantime, if you are thinking about commenting here, please read this first. Thank you!

melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)

[personal profile] melannen 2012-06-13 06:01 pm (UTC)(link)
I agree with about 90% of this, but I ought to point out that according to the movie, it's pretty damn likely that Steve was a virgin when he went into the ice (...or, at least a virgin with girls.) He outright tells Peggy he was never with a woman before the serum, and most of the rest of their courtship is about waiting for each other (although there's a fair amount of evidence that Peggy was more experienced...)

So while I will totally buy fics where he is making time with all the showgirls or Bucky takes him to his favorite brothels or whatever, the 'virgin!Steve uncomfortable around sex' fanon isn't because he's from the 1940s, it's because he's Steve. (The homophobe stuff is a little harder for me to buy, considering there's a scene where he thought Howard was propositioning him and all he did was act embarrassed and keep treating Howard exactly the same... although he would have very different conceptions of all the cultural things around what homosexuality means.)

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[personal profile] fairestcat 2012-06-16 03:57 pm (UTC)(link)
I was just talking to someone at con.txt about the idea that "virgin" is not the same as "innocent". I fully believe that Steve was a virgin when he went into the ice, or at least a virgin with women, but that doesn't mean he was clueless about sex, or would be shocked by it.

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mecurtin: slash: since 1955 -- men of the 50s, ogling each other (slash history)

[personal profile] mecurtin 2012-06-16 04:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I gotta say I completely disagree about Steve's virginity. Yes, I'll buy he was a virgin (with women at least) before the serum, but then he spent some months *living with chorus girls*, and with no established relationship with Peggy. I think it *extremely* likely, to the point of near-certainty, that he had sex while he was on the tour.

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[personal profile] venivincere 2012-06-13 06:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Soooooo glad I didn't miss this. I haven't read many Avengers fic yet, but I have to say for the ones I've read, not one has had him anywhere near as appalled at the rampant waste and the notions of disposability that pervade our society today. Paper towels? Out of all the Avengers, I think that he learned way before he became a capsicle to be adaptable to an extremely personal level of change, not only because of the experience of war but because of the physical changes to himself and the psychological stress of adapting to both. But the idea of disposable anything and the extremely cavalier attitude toward waste in our society I can't help but think would be extremely antithetical to his values. My mom's in her late 70s now, and was a young kid in the Great Depression, and to this day still repurposes as much as she can, and taught us all to do that. From experience, I can say that that kind of thrift, once it gets under your skin, is deeply pervasive. I think this is something that would disturb him and continue to disturb him, to the point of drying his hands on his trousers if the only other option were paper towels, or washing and saving the plastic cups and cutlery for future use (with Tony teasing him mercilessly for it until Cap popped him one upside the head).

Question: Wasn't broadcast television around in New York as early as 1928?

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idlerat: A black and white hooded rat, head and front paws, black background, as if looking out window. Says "idler@." (Default)

[personal profile] idlerat 2012-06-13 09:45 pm (UTC)(link)
I agree with Melannen that it's important to differentiate between "someone from the 40s" and this particular character, whom I know almost nothing about so I'll leave it at that. Also, I'm sure you don't mean to suggest that attitudes about homosexuality haven't changed, because that's just ...: you can sit in your living room, on the couch, and *watch them changing* - sorry, "evolving." But I know that's not what you mean. I mean, attitudes about homosexuality, expectations, prejudices and knowledge, vary so much *now*, between individuals, groups, geographical areas, religions, ethnicities, classes... But anyway, I take all that as understood.

On a more personal note, I often wonder about gay men and lesbians in my mother's generation and in her circle, and I wish she was still around and not in a shirty mood so I could grill her about it more. For example, her best friend growing up, who went both to high school and college with her, was a man who I suspected more and more as I got older was gay. He was married, with 3 kids, never stopped being married, was an English professor at a university in Indiana. He was an exaggerated stereotype - extremely effeminate manners, collected antiques, served in the Navy, opera, martinis, Melville scholar (Moby Dick! Very gay book!) It also seemed like there was something chronically wrong in the family. His wife drank very heavily and always seemed to be on tranqs. His older son and daughter had all kinds of terrible problems, and his son broke with the family completely under circumstances I never understood. What was going on there? How should I know? I have no idea. I actually think I did ask mom once, long ago, if AH was gay, and she said no - but... And it's not like she (and she was *exactly* that generation, b 1925) didn't recognize any of her friends as gay. She had at least male one friend who was living the lifestyle at least in the 50s, if not the 40s. He was in advertising and lived in one of the big coastal cities. Not sure "out" is the word, but out to himself and, in some kind of implicit way, to her, and his friends - not Sal Romano, in other words. So it was visible to him and visible to mom. But were there relationships and situations in which it was not visible to her?

Excuse the very free associations. I have not been reading any Avengers fic. I don't want anything to do with Capt America, and I was weirdly unmoved by Sam Jackson/Nick Fury, but I suppose I could nibble on some - is Banner the Hulk? I liked him. Though I get the complaint on racial grounds.
isis: Isis statue (statue)

[personal profile] isis 2012-06-13 11:53 pm (UTC)(link)
On a more personal note, I often wonder about gay men and lesbians in my mother's generation

This is relevant to my interests! My mother-in-law's sister was gay; her partner had been married and divorced, and they got together in the early-mid 50s at a dude ranch in Colorado and subsequently bought a house together in Tucson in the late 50s. There was an active gay and artsy community there, and they were a big part of it. My MIL's sister died of breast cancer before I ever married B, but I did meet her partner (who was accepted as 'aunt' in the family) who still lived in their Tucson house.

B lived with them for a year while he went to community college, before he transferred to the state University, and he remembers it as just being, oh, they were Aunt June and Aunt Libby, no big deal. Yet within the family there is still a lot of homophobia (e.g. his redneck brother, sigh), and I think there are (were) a few of them who firmly believe(d) they were just 'very good friends', because - it wasn't something people TALKED about, and I think maybe it wasn't something that was even acknowledged to themselves.

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neotoma: Neotoma albigula, the white-throated woodrat! [default icon] (neotoma)

[personal profile] neotoma 2012-06-13 11:04 pm (UTC)(link)
The quality of clothes for sale to the general public -- people have so many more items of clothes today, but the quality is atrocious compared to what Steve would have experienced.

Food and drug labeling and safety -- when he went into the ice, canned goods were still something you examined closely for signs of botulinim contamination (seriously, there are jokes about canned beans in period Bugs Bunny cartoons). Nowadays, people are completely confidant that the food they buy at the grocery won't kill them, even if it is canned beans. Drug safety too -- Steve's about 5 years after the Elixir Sulfanilamide disaster.

ETA: The race relations changes will also be surprising -- and the redefinition of who is 'white' and who isn't will take him a while to catch up, and I think he also might be thrown by the stereotypes of who is assumed to be a 'habitual criminal' and who isn't. He grew up when the Italian Mafia was big, but also when Murder Inc. was running.
Edited 2012-06-13 23:09 (UTC)

[personal profile] amaliedageek 2012-06-14 02:30 am (UTC)(link)
The guys who wrote the script were working from the comic: the Howling Commandos were a racially and ethnically integrated unit from the first issue in May of 1963. (Stan Lee had to send a memo to the color separator at the printing press to confirm that Gabe Jones wasn't white.) So, yes, it's not consistent with RL military practice, but it's canon in the Marvel Universe.

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Here via...petra, I think

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princessofgeeks: (Default)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2012-06-16 03:08 pm (UTC)(link)
thank you so much for this post. here from a rec by [personal profile] petra

am linking forthwith!!!

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[personal profile] kittydesade 2012-06-16 03:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Running through briefly to point out something I wish someone not me would address in more detail, more because I think it'd be fun than anything else. Steve missed a huge amount of Rock and Roll evolution. Tony Stark with his Black Sabbath t-shirts should educate him on the progression of music since he was frozen.

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mecurtin: fandom compass: porn/wank/spoilers/meta and so around (fascinating)


[personal profile] mecurtin 2012-06-16 05:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Look at e.g. this picture of the crowd at a Yankees game (from an Atlantic article about NYC photos, recently released, which are *gold*). See how almost all the men are wearing hats? When a man was outside or away from home, he wore a hat. I think Steve's head will miss hats.

Re: Hats!

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[personal profile] 0jack 2012-06-16 06:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Here via... I forget now. This might be relevant to someone's interests, it's been lurking in my files. It's a Canadian perspective but it's an interesting look on how WWII changed the face of being gay and the realities of MSM in the army.
wordwitch: Woman in a shift, reading on a couch (Wordwitch)

[personal profile] wordwitch 2012-06-16 07:16 pm (UTC)(link)
He might also be surprised by the proportion of men over 6 foot, and women over 5'7". That's an artifact of diet.
spatz: Steve bent over a notebook, sketching (Steve drawing)

[personal profile] spatz 2012-06-17 02:20 am (UTC)(link)
I love playing the Steve Rogers culture shock game! I think he'd actually find the technology (hey, he'd already seen flying cars and fought with ray guns and got supersized by science) and people's crazy clothing and so on *easier* to handle than the familiar things, because it's so different that he can separate them from his expectations, and he had the experience of traveling all over the US *and* Europe. It's almost be worse for him in New York, with the city still somewhat recognizable in parts from his day - very uncanny valley, except with architecture. Fandom has pop culture and technology pretty well covered (because write what you know, I guess *g*), but what about how newspaper comics are so tiny now? Plane travel being an everyday thing. Velcro and the noise it makes. Credit cards existing, and hard currency looking different. The completely different set of instruments used in popular music (this changed with the shift of live music to recorded music, and the limits of the tech at the time). Ziploc bags. Automatic transmissions. And that's just off the top of my head. [personal profile] sam_storyteller's fic A Partial Dictionary Of The 21st Century has some great ones, like the changes in the Catholic Church.

And that's not even getting into Depression culture shock, going from that level of scarcity to today's supermarkets and so on. I remember my sister telling me she got back from Ghana after an internship and nearly broke down over the 14 million types of bread at the supermarket. My grandmother grew up in the Depression and *still* shows signs of it, and she's had 70 years to adjust. I bet that the homeless presence in New York is significantly different from his experiences, too.

I do want to take a moment and talk about a pet peeve of mine in Steve characterization, which is that just because something is new to him or different than what he knows does *not* mean that he is uncomfortable or a dick about it. He's not going to react in panic to Jarvis; he's going to ask questions. He might make dated assumptions, but he's going to react positively to progress (there's a great scene in Captain America: Man Out of Time where he assumes a woman is a nurse rather than a doctor, and is all "hey, that's awesome!" when she corrects him. ♥). Steve is a curious guy who loaded his suitcase full of books before he went to basic training, an intelligent fighter who has adapted tactics on the fly for fighting both ray guns *and* aliens. While he can be insanely stubborn and opinionated, he has a flexible mind and a good heart.

Anyway. /ranting

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hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)

[personal profile] hradzka 2012-06-17 04:01 am (UTC)(link)
Steve would be very surprised that women wear pants in public places *and nobody notices.*

Marijane Meaker's HIGHSMITH: A ROMANCE OF THE 1950s is an excellent resource for learning what NYC was like for gay women in the 50s, which is past Steve's time but still far enough back to make it a distant planet. Meaker writes about her relationship with the novelist Patricia Highsmith (author of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, among many others), and one of the things that struck me most was that they had to make their lunch dates depending on their clothing, because there were restaurants that refused to serve women who were wearing pants.
wordwitch: Princess Cimorene carries a dragon-sized piece of china. (Cimorene)

Non-white troops in Europe when Steve was there

[personal profile] wordwitch 2012-06-18 02:16 am (UTC)(link)
I have read this with a great deal of interest. I was mindful that Sgt. Fury was an iconoclast of the first water; that Happy Sawyer was simultaneously frustrated with and supportive of him; that the rest of the Army (top to bottom) was both derisive and fearful of the Howlers; and that there was The Army Way and then there were special teams.

Now, what we need to remember was that Bucky was captured and imprisoned in Italy, as were the others whom Steve freed with him.

By the end of September, 1943, the first (Hawaiian) Nisei troops of the 100th Regiment had landed in Italy and were wreaking bloody havoc.

At the beginning of February, 1943, Roosevelt called for an all-Nisei regiment from both the islands and the mainland: the 442nd. As is universally true, there were rivalries between one geographical unit and the other: the mainlanders called the Hawaiians "buddhaheads," or pig-headed; the islanders returned the favor calling them "kotonks" or stoneheads. Typical military thing, then; stupidly stubborn, the lot of them.

The 442nd then resupplied the rapidly-contracting 100th with men through the remainder of the war.

Jim Morito could certainly have come from Fresno at any time after May 1943.

Please note: the 100th had an insane Korean-American commanding officer: Lieutenant Young Oak Kim.

Now to Gabriel Jones. According to the comics, Gabe was born and raised in New York City, where he learned jazz from the Harlem greats. According to the movie, he had been educated at Howard University. HU is in Washington, DC, and it would actually have been possible for Gabe to have come to the attention of someone of influence there, to get him into some sort of special service before the Buffalo soldiers arrived in Italy in July of 1944.

It was 1943 when Bucky was captured and Steve threw off the shackles of entertainment for his true calling. Bucky was in the 107th Infantry Division, which was in fact only an on-paper division during WWII and was never actually organized.

It was, with the 105th Division, supposed to be a Negro Formation.

This instantly tosses us into even more of an alternate universe than the mere presence of vibranium and vita-rays and visitors from theolegendary realms.

With the presence of the 107th Infantry in Italy in 1943, we now have the opportunity to believe that it was found to be needed and was able to be filled, neither of which were true in our history.

Further, we have the opportunity to believe that it was patchworked together from Nisei, Buffalo, and white battalions, each with its own officers, but working together - sometimes (as did happen later) in the same fields of combat, fighting together, rescuing each other, dropping their preconceptions left, right, and rear as they found each other worthy of trust.

Really. It isn't too far of a stretch.

Pictures of African American Army men in WWII
History of the Nisei troops in WWII
Divisions of the United States Army
gloss: (Gabe and Peggy: second lives)

[personal profile] gloss 2012-06-18 03:31 am (UTC)(link)
This is a fantastic post! I spent a large proportion of my fannish history to date thinking about Steve and Bucky and Fury and Gabe and Peggy in the 1940s, so it's great to know that I wasn't foolish. :) I'm especially cheered by your emphasis on the various homosexualities possible, because I'm so easily annoyed by the facile meme that Stonewall invented being out.

One thing about racial segregation in NYC - not to minimize institutional (and personal) racism, but public schools in the state were officially desegregated in 1910 by statute.

In the neighborhood where Steve Rogers grew up, nearly all employed adult men would have belonged to a union. He didn't have a union, because he was a soldier
I think learning about the Taft-Hartley Act would break his heart, absolutely. And while as a soldier he wouldn't have had a union, as an artist before the world, many comic writers have him working for the WPA and I like to imagine him trying to join/belonging to the Artists' Union.
kabal42: Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Comics - Avengers - Steve)

[personal profile] kabal42 2012-06-18 11:30 am (UTC)(link)
Just popping in to say YAY for this post! Not a historian (I did minor in it, but still), but writing fic with Steve and getting at least some historical things right matters to me. Especially as a non-USian, this is a great resource. Thanks.
grey_bard: (Default)

[personal profile] grey_bard 2012-06-18 06:36 pm (UTC)(link)
According to a conversation I had yesterday with [personal profile] elspethdixon, who specialized in post-Civil War Southern history in college, she did a lot of looking into patterns of segregation in the US and in New York City they did not, in fact, have segregated public drinking fountains. Or officially segregated public anything. Unofficial or private segregation might be a different matter, but... Make of this what you will.
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[personal profile] coffeeandink 2012-06-18 09:28 pm (UTC)(link)
He would have seen lots of women nurses, but no women doctors. No women scientists, either, so he would be surprised to meet Jane Foster.

There have been women doctors in the US since about 1880s, so "no women doctors" is an exaggeration, I think. He would probably have been more accustomed to them specializing in pediatrics and/or the treatment of women than treating anyone or having the current range of specialties. Women scientists were also not completely unknown, although admittedly rare -- just to go with the obvious, both Marie Curie and her daughter Irene Joliet-Curie had already won Nobel Prizes by the mid-30s.
marienomad: (Default)

President Franklin Roosevelt 's secret

[personal profile] marienomad 2012-07-10 09:26 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a fascinating entry. It will help me with my fics. I was thinking that one thing that would really shock Captain America was the fact that President Franklin Roosevelt couldn't walk. During the world war, it was kept as a secret to maintain morale. They would show Roosevelt standing with a series of hidden braces and support.

This fact wasn't revealed until after President Roosevelt died.