January 29, 1964 - Dr. Strangelove Released
By: Emily Bond – Ms. Sotiropoulos
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a dark, satirical comedy directed by Stanley Kubrick. Based loosely on the 1958 novel, Red Alert, by Peter George, Dr. Strangelove serves as dark comedic relief chronicling the intense nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the movie, a delusional and psychotic general, General Ripper is convinced that “Commies” are contaminating, polluting, and depleting “the precious bodily fluids” of Americans. In an effort to combat this attack on Americans, General Ripper single handedly and without any input or permission from President Merkin Muffley, starts a nuclear war. Under his direction, he gives the green light to his B-52 fleet to drop their H-bombs on the Soviet Union. The movie explores the lengths that the President and his staff, along with their Soviet counterparts and Dr. Strangelove, the ex-Nazi scientist that now serves as the President’s scientific advisor, endure to stop the fleet from dropping the bomb and in turn detonating the Soviet’s retaliatory “doomsday machine.”
During the time of the release of Dr. Strangelove, America was in the grips of the fear and anxiety of a possible nuclear invasion. In the 1950s, the United States was determined to bridge the so-called “missile gap” between themselves and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union could not have more missile power than the United States, so the race was on. A turning point came in 1962 when under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy, the United States was not able to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The Soviet Union got involved. Nikita Khruschev, the Soviet Union leader executed a secret alliance with Cuba to place Soviet warheads in Cuba so that the United States would not attack. Once the United States found out about the military nuclear bases being built in Cuba, the United States enforced a strong line of defense against Cuba and demanded that the Soviet Union remove themselves and their weapons from Cuba. Demands were made by both sides and things became increasingly intense, all leading up to the strong possibility of nuclear action. However, the crisis was averted and ended peacefully without nuclear intervention. But the worry and fear of “mutually assured destruction” from this instance was still lingering in the hearts and minds of Americans during the release of Dr. Strangelove.
Although most who saw Dr. Strangelove recognized its dark humor and satire, most believed that nothing like this could ever really happen. Rightfully so, there is a scene in the movie where the pilot of the B-52, “Kong” straddles the nuclear bomb, riding it like a cowboy, yelling “yahooooo” as it flies towards its intended target, which is totally implausible .
However, more than 50 years later, this film is still being discussed for its relevance in history and possibly its validity. In an article in the New Yorker marking its 50th anniversary, a writer outlines numerous parallel truths in the film and in American history. After taking office, President Kennedy was surprised to learn that the possibility of someone other than himself could give nuclear orders if he couldn’t be reached. Also, there were not a lot safeguards when it came to the actual weapons. “Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them” (Schlosser 2014). Even behind the political backdrop of 2020, Dr. Strangelove is still being mentioned. There have been correlations between the imagery of Dr. Strangelove and the recent back and forth banter between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader, Kim Jong-Un. “Satirizing cold war tension, Kubrick’s darkly prescient satire about America’s military fixation maintains its horrifying relevance as President Trump and Kim Jong-Un engage in a Nuclear power struggle played out on a social media stage” (Smith 2018).
In one of the more notable quotes from the movie, General Turgidson, one of the President’s military advisors, is going over options and possible end theories after the bomb is dropped he says, “Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, the truth is not always a pleasant thing, but it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed. I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say… no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh… depending on the breaks.” Recently talking about the possible lives lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the words of President Trump sound eerily familiar to General Turgidson. “Speaking to Reporters before departing for a weekend at Camp David, [President] Trump shared that ‘hopefully we will come in under 100,000 lives lost’ and if that’s the case, it’ll mean he saved something like 1 million lives, or 1.5 million or…let’s just call it like 2.5 million lives.” And even in response to re-opening the country, President Trump in reference to the possibility of lives lost, “You know, people are dying the other way too, when you look at what’s happened with drugs, it goes up. When you look at suicides, I mean take a look at what’s going on, people are losing their jobs, we have to bring it back, and that’s what we’re doing,” In whatever political arena, the nuclear race or the race to find a vaccine, those in power have to make very hard decisions. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb didn’t provide any answers or guidance on what to do to make things right, but it did show what could go wrong if those in power make bad decisions and things go really wrong.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Culver City, CA: Columbia TriStar, 1964
Levin, B., 2020. Trump Casually Doubles The Number Of Americans He’D Be Okay Losing To The Coronavirus. [online] Vanity Fair. Available at: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/05/donald-trump-coronavirus-death-toll
Schlosser, Eric. 2019. “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True.” The New Yorker. 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/almost-everything-in-dr-strangelove-was-true.
Smith, Justine. “Dr. Strangelove in the Age of Trump: Features: Roger Ebert.” Features | Roger Ebert. Accessed May 24, 2020. https://www.rogerebert.com/features/dr-strangelove-in-the-age-of-trump.