Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

October 2, 2022 by Lucian Mogosanu

He said war was too important to be left to the Generals.
When he said that, fifty years ago, he might have been right.
But today, war is too important to be left to politicians.
They have neither the time, the training,
nor the inclination for strategic thought.
I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration,
Communist indoctrination,
Communist subversion,
and the international Communist conspiracy
to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a superb satire on that (then) fashionable theme of "total nuclear derpage" (which is coming into fashion yet again).

While the theme and its depiction remain of marked actuality, one mustn't disregard the fact that the context has changed quite a bit. The movie first aired twenty-something years after World War II, while the blood and the bombs were still fresh in everyone's mind, from West to East. America back then was still "America" and the US wasn't the only so-called "superpower" playing international gendarme, despite indeed, being almost a decade through the war in Vietnam. The second red scare, although quite over, wasn't that far off from collective memory and, to quote the Soviet ambassador:

There are those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. And at the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we'd been spending on defense in a single year. But the deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a doomsday gap.

The magnificence of this film comes, to my eye at least, from a contrast which -- to my eye at least! -- was entirely intentional, namely between two depictions: that of the conservative American, who speaks and acts normally and by all means seems to hold the American interest at heart, despite saying some supposedly "preposterous" things; and on the other hand the image and the face of the so-called "think tank", employed at the highest levels of US strategy, with whom everyone agrees in the end despite the glaringly preposterous proposals. One is the general who opposes socialist measures on the simple grounds of their being socialist -- and what is "water fluoridation" other than yet another socialist measure near you -- while the other is at best an opportunist who will make the best out of the worst, regardless of the outcome, the so-called "man with a larger view of the world". The so-called public opinion will readily proceed to condemn the first view and approve (or, at best: excuse) the latter, although the two views aren't all that different. For all we know, what Ripper called "the Communists" did indeed take over the US as early as the early 1960s and they are plunging the very same into chaos as we speak. On the other hand, we might as well say that Ripper was simply the SAC going nuts, and if not the SAC then it could as well have been some other agency, which either way spells bad news for the Union.

I could also bet that not much has changed in the war room either: the esteemed generals ask for it and then the Charlie Wilsons provide, which is exactly what's been going on in the last few months, if you've been following the news. In any case, Turgidson's enthusiastic reaction to impending nuclear doom is golden, as is Kong's final ride on the nuclear warhead dropping from the B-52. Unlike the 1980s, the military folks on ground in the 1960s stutter, sure, but not for long, as they then carry on their duty as if the fate of humanity depended on it.

Then there's the minor theme of automated machinery:

Muffley: But, how is it possible for this thing to be triggered automatically, and at the same time impossible to untrigger?
Strangelove: Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy... the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision making process which rules out human meddling, the doomsday machine is terrifying. It's simple to understand. And completely credible, and convincing.
Turgidson: Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines, Stainsy.
Muffley: But this is fantastic, Strangelove. How can it be triggered automatically?
Strangelove: Well, it's remarkably simple to do that. When you merely wish to bury bombs, there is no limit to the size. After that they are connected to a gigantic complex of computers. Now then, a specific and clearly defined set of circumstances, under which the bombs are to be exploded, is programmed into a tape memory bank.

and, say,

Muffley: You mean, people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?
Strangelove: It would not be difficult mein Fuhrer! Nuclear reactors could, heh... I'm sorry. Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plantlife. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess... that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.
Muffley: Well I... I would hate to have to decide... who stays up and... who goes down.
Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills1. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. [Slams down left fist. Right arm rises in stiff Nazi salute.] Arrrrr! [Restrains right arm with left.] Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But, ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years.

which is precisely the degree to which "computers" matter, which is, not that much at all, at least not as long as we have a ten-to-one female-to-male ratio to keep everyone busy rebuilding civilization. In any case, a much more worthwhile condition to live than today's sad state of moribund affairs, "the bomb" notwithstanding.

What else can I say... the acting is orders upon orders of magnitude above whatever top of the line Hollywood production you'd see in the last few decades -- in which category Sellers scores on three marvelous counts -- as the flow moves steadily towards "total annihilation". Fuck CG-enhanced whatever, no one needs any of that shit to make a good movie. I'll take this2 over any multi-billion high-tech production, since that whole sophistry ain't worth two dimes.

This is indeed one of the few pieces here that I can entirely, wholeheartedly and without a second thought label "food for the soul".

  1. He's describing The Profiling Machine over there, don't you think? 

  2. Or the 12 Angry Men which takes place in a single room for the most part, say. 

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4 Responses to “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”

  1. #1:
    spyked says:

    P.S.: I am now rather sure that a good chunk of the initial Fallout universe was inspired by Strangelove's scenario.

  2. #2:
    Cel Mihanie says:

    Welp. Just like McCarthy, General Ripper was fully vindicated by history. The Communist infiltration, indoctrination, subversion and conspiracy are all too real and have done a helluva lot more damage than just impurify our precious bodily fluids. Too bad that, unlike the movie, you can't just throw a nuke at'em. I mean it's not like they tend to cluster nicely in coastal states, cosmopolitan cities, and universities, all very... well-known.. and nicely... identifiable... and ........ H-huuunnnh.

    Seller was one of the greats. I know him from Pink Panther, The Party and Being There. Such talent is sorely missing today.

  3. #3:
    spyked says:

    If you ask me, I think that the (public) political actors who called themselves "communist" back in the day (Lenin, Stalin, or even Hruschev or Ceaușescu) were at least one level above today's socialists. We can bitch all we like that the shoemaker was nothing more than a diluted Western version of Kim Il Sung, but he did manage to pay his small country's entire sovereign debt, which was no small feat. Especially since today's pantsuit system runs very much on debt. I'll immediately grant that things weren't too rosy for the common man, but as we can see, long-term prospects are never too good for the common man.

    Of course, these aren't quite exactly the communists that Ripper was mentioning and I surely don't think he referred to an imaginary enemy, as some might have us believe. At this point the best reference on the matter remains Bezmenov and hell, that was still three to four good decades ago, so meanwhile... we don't have that much of a reference anymore.

  4. #4:
    Cel Mihanie says:

    Ceaușescu, to be sure, was more of a National Socialist than a commie in practice... And as the Chinese are proving, when you are a patient people and don't have a nigh-impossible war to win, nor can the Americans easily color-revolution your pathetic excuse of a country... well, then natsoc sure seems to be a lot more viable than communism.

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