Write a journal of the film Dr. Strangelove (1964)
I always regarded Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove as one of the funniest satires or dark comedies ever made, if the end of the world in a nuclear war can be considered ‘funny’. It was part of a whole genre of nuclear war films made at this time, most notably Fail Safe, in which a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets is triggered by accident, and Seven Days in May, where the military leaders plot a coup against the U.S. government because they oppose a disarmament treaty. When considering this film in the context of moral issues and efforts to limit war, one important point is that it shows many of the military and civilian leaders of the U.S. to be insane. Gen. Jack D. Ripper’s ravings about the dangers of fluoridated water and the purity of his bodily fluids were not so different from those of the John Birch Society and other Far Right-wing groups of the time. Gen. Buck Turdigson’s lunatic ideas about “mineshaft gaps” were similar to the constant propaganda about missile gaps and bomber gaps that were common at the time. There really were Nazi scientists like Dr. Strangelove working for the U.S. government at the time as well. In this movie, the nuclear arms race has simply taken on a life of its own and the more weapons there are the more chances that an accident, an act of madness or a miscalculation would trigger a nuclear war. Indeed, it almost had happened just two years before this movie was made when the world came very close to all out nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. At that time, President John F. Kennedy was getting similar advice from the military leaders like Curtis LeMay and many of his civilian advisers that he should strike first, but he refused to do so. At the time, then, all the satire and insanity of the movie seemed very close to real life. Even the hilarious Major Kong, who rides a bomb to his target waving a cowboy hat, represented a very recognizable American type.
Gen. Turgidson’s lament that the U.S. does not have one of its own Doomsday Machines like the Soviets goes to the heart of the movie’s message that the entire ‘military-industrial complex’ that Dwight Eisenhower warned about in 1961 had already become such a machine, and that it was running out of control. All of the Single Integrated Operational Plans (SIOPs) created in the 1950s by people like LeMay did assume that the U.S. would deliver a massive nuclear attack on the Soviets, and indeed the use of nuclear weapons was threatened during the Korean War and again during the Taiwan Straits crises and the Berlin crises. There really were politicians like Barry Goldwater, a presidential candidate in 1964, who spoke casually about blowing up China and North Vietnam and lobbing some missiles at the Kremlin. Of course the Soviets would have retaliated at once and the consequences would have been slightly worse than “getting our hair mussed”, as Buck Turgidson put it. One of the reasons the film is so effective as satire is because its character types were just slightly more zany and psychotic than powerful men who were running around at the time making similar comments. Certainly a character lie President McMuffin is not up to the task of controlling all these madcap generals and scientists, and might not even have been aware of everything they were doing.