melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
[personal profile] melannen posting in [community profile] cap_chronism
(xposted to Tumblr 'cause I'm testing whether xposting or xlinking works better.)

Can we talk about Howard Stark and the Manhattan Project? Because, okay, in the first Iron Man movie, Tony says, "My father helped defeat Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project." In the days when Iron Man was all there was to MCU, there were some really great fanworks exploring this. But then, when we see him in the Captain America movies, he is really manifestly not working on the Manhattan Project, and in one of the tie-in comics he pretty directly declares that he is doing Rebirth and the SSR instead.

And this is a really important question for Howard Stark's history, because - because, well, if you look at all the most eminent American physicists, chemists, mathematicians and engineers in Howard's generation, and the generation after, and a couple generations before, they pretty much all worked on the Manhattan Project, at least the people doing the sort of things he was doing in IM 2. And they didn't just work on the Manhattan Project, they spent most of the war in top-secret hothouse conditions in Los Alamos.

So if Howard wasn't in Los Alamos - whether he did peripheral work for the project or not - that means he was basically left out of the most important, defining experience that all of his peers shared. That every time for the rest of his life that he went to a conference, or collaborated with someone, or just went to a cocktail party or business meeting with the people he should have the most in common with, he would always feel like they were part of a club he wasn't a member of. Even if he had the security clearance to hear about it, he didn't know the injokes; he wasn't part of the stories; he never met the bright young things that didn't make it out; he didn't have a share in the guilt; he wasn't there. A Howard Stark who didn't spend the whole war at Los Alamos is going to forever feel like he's on the outside looking in. Maybe he did enough preliminary or consulting work on some of the engineering that he can claim he "worked on the Manhattan project" in the press and to his son, but everybody who was really there knows the truth.

So what did Howard do during the war? He seems to have spent it as the top science guy for the SSR, and possibly under so much secrecy that the general public didn't realize he was involved at all, and looking at the timelines, he may have committed to that before Los Alamos even existed. Doing really important work, and unlike the Los Alamos crew, work that wasn't forever after tainted by that stench of death-the-destroyer-of-worlds; because the SSR won, and they lost people yes, but they won clean, so he's coming out of it with an entirely different set of guilt complexes.

It also seems to have been work that was kept much more secret after the war - sure, they weren't spewing the details of the science everywhere, but if somebody said they'd worked on the Manhattan Project, everyone knew what you meant. But the science the SSR did, and specifically the work Howard did with both the serum and the tesseract-derived weapons, seems to have stayed so secret that a lot of it was secret even from the SSR. So while everyone else who should have been Howard's peer group laugh about Feynman and the locks, and shudder at the Demon Core, and raise their glasses to Harry Daghlian, Howard's left with - what? "Hey, I hung out with Captain America." "Yeah, yeah, Howard, we know, we saw the newsreels, go dig in the ice some more why don't'cha." Even if that wasn't what it was really like, from what we see of Howard I bet it's what he felt it was like.

The only people he can share war stories with are the Howling Commandos, Peggy Carter, and a few people high up in Military Intelligence. Who respect him, but none of whom are really science people. So he can go to the science genius parties and feel completely shut out as Los Alamos vets debate the ethics of the bomb, or go hang out with Dum-Dum and Gabe Jones and talk about how fun it is to blow things up and he doesn't care about all those Nobel laureates anyway, he's rich and at least the Army loves him.

I feel like this is a really important thing to think about when it comes to understanding Howard Stark. And the beginnings of SHIELD. And, for that matter, Tony.
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