In Season 4 of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, the metalbender Kuvira transformed the Earth Kingdom into an oppressive military regime that echoed the real-world’s Third Reich or Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Kuvira’s actions were driven by the events of Season 3, where Zaheer assassinated the Earth Queen and threw the vast kingdom into total disarray.
Once a member of the Metal Clan, Kuvira swore to restore order, but in so doing, created what might have been that world’s first-ever fascist regime, complete with nationalism fervor, weapons of terror and a charismatic, centralized ruler to oversee it all. But how did this once great nation fall so far?
Like many a road to hell, Kuvira’s rise to power began with good intentions. Any noble idea can become twisted or go too far and usually, it’s too late by the time it does. In the case of the Earth Kingdom, Zaheer’s anarchy was causing strife and suffering from province to province, with supply lines and leadership in short supply. The situation was as bad as the Hundred Year War — minus marauding firebenders — and like her fellow countrymen, Kuvira only wanted to help.
As of Season 3, Kuvira lived in Zaofu with Suyin Beifong and took after Suyin’s ambitious and humanitarian ways. Kuvira was there to help take the fight to the Red Lotus, and once the anarchy reached a boiling point, she thought, “Let the people suffer no more!” She filled the power vacuum at once and began to unite each province, using an interactive map to track her progress.
Only through national cohesion, Kuvira believed, could order be restored and supplies could be sent wherever they were needed. Isolated cities, towns, and villages were fending for themselves at this point, most of them starving or unable to fight off bandits and raiders. Kuvira changed that, and at first, the people hailed her as a hero. In fact, the Air Nation — Opal, Jinora and Kai — were there to help. The three of them helped fight off bandits at a local town, and they believed in what Kuvira was doing.
In a loose real-world parallel to the aftermath of World War I, the Earth Kingdom was in shambles, and the people were desperate and lacking leadership of any kind. There was no war, but then again, there was no peace, and the old rulership could do nothing. Prince Wu, the son of the late queen Hou-Ting, was unprepared (at the time) for the reality of leadership, and Queen Hou-Ting had proved stubborn and unpopular anyway. She had also been antagonistic to the United Forces and the general concept of world unity.
Kuvira upended this entire paradigm with one speech, declaring to the Republic City crowds that the Earth Kingdom crown was dissolved and she was the de facto leader of the newly born Earth Empire. A fascist regime is usually centered around a single, powerful and charismatic leader, and these leaders don’t inherit their position from a dynasty; they seize it for themselves, and they rule through a show of force instead of the concept of divine right (like European monarchs often did). The romanticism of the Earth Kingdom was gone — replaced by the blood and iron of the Earth Empire, and a ruler is no more or less than that: the man or woman with the power to make the rules.
Another key aspect to a fascist or otherwise totalitarian regime is nationalism, the belief that one’s own nation comes first and foremost. Often, this “for the nation” directive is used to justify any and all atrocities or tough decisions made as it is (as the leader will argue) for a “good” cause. If it’s for the nation, they say, then it is for the good of all of their people. And no others.
In this way, Kuvira’s Earth Empire created an “us vs them” mentality, and she clearly stated that anyone who “crosses our borders or stands in our way will be crushed.” In the real world, this would be a regime that allows no ethnic minorities or immigration of any kind. It’s isolated and focused on what could chillingly be described as purity. In fact, Kuvira kicks out all waterbenders and firebenders living within the Earth Empire, usually by force, and they are not welcome back. The Earth Empire’s steel and green logo is everywhere, and anyone not born there as an ethnic Earth Empire citizen is unwelcome.
Kuvira wanted to restore order and give the people hope, but in so doing, created a horrifying, totalitarian regime that defied world unity and harmony in one stroke.
Kuvira created a totalitarian regime in the Earth Kingdom, and it echoes some real-world historic regimes in chilling ways.