Dr. Strangelove: A Satire or a Documentary?

Though the film is considered a satire and certainly contains many elements that could be considered comedic, such as the list of items in the survival kit including nylons and lipstick and dialogue in the War Room including “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room,” I was left wondering how much of it was true. While the beginning of the film insists the safeguards of the U.S. Air Force could prevent any of the events of the film from happening, did American officers have the ability to start a Third World War on their own? This question is what led me to a story published by The New Yorker in 2014 titled “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True.” Ultimately, this article states that it was true that Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons in an emergency if there was no time or means to contact the President, Air Force pilots were allowed to fire nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading towards the U.S., and about half a dozen high-level commanders had the authority to use more powerful nuclear weapons when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Following this film and this article, I am left unsure that there truly was a plan in place to prevent an American bomber crew, missile launch crew, or General as in the film from using their weapons against the Soviets. It was not until the Kennedy Administration that locking devices were placed inside NATO’s nuclear weapons and not until the early 1970s that coded switches were added to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. The fact that Daniel Ellsberg, who worked as a nuclear war planner in the 1960s, referred to this film as a documentary should be concerning and scary to everyone. While humor may have disguised the reality of the situation at the time, this is hardly a comforting movie now that we realize how ‘real’ it could have been. Did anyone else feel this way, or did you find any comforting factor in the film?

Dr. Strangelove: It’s Super Funny and Then You Realize it was Real

At the beginning of Dr. Strangelove it seemed like a quite serious war movie, for the first five minutes. However, after General Ripper’s first initial call for “Plan R” things very quickly descend into madness. Both General Ripper and Major Kong speak to their subordinates after “Plan R” has been put in place; and, while it seems like a very stereotypical call-to-action speech, it becomes very ridiculous when you realize they are preparing to die without a reason to. The film begins very calmly, at a standstill until Ripper consumed by paranoia decides to go straight to a doomsday call. The paranoia of the US Military is so perverse in the film that the idea of letting people die is overlooked in favor of destroying communists. Specifically, the movie does play around with the ides of “Mutually Assured Destruction”, and how that is clearly not enough to protect people from nuclear weapons. It becomes quickly clear that neither the US or the USSR really meant to keep to the “Mutually Assured Destruction” strategy as the Russians build a doomsday device that will detonate automatically and cannot be prevented (49:36). Part of the “fun” of the film is that nuclear weapons are almost treated as toys. When General Turgidson is listing off options after telling the President what Ripper did, he speaks of nuclear weapons like the number of M&Ms they have over the USSR, and how they would still have enough left to clean up after destroying the USSR’s bases. Furthermore, the idea of human life is even more so poked fun at when Dr. Strangelove suggests starting a new life underground as opposed to possibly trying to save the American people. While I found this film to be pretty funny, it made me wonder how someone viewing this film after its release might feel. It was released during the Cold War. Which leads me to question, how would someone watching this in 1964 America feel? About their government? About their safety? About the use of nuclear weapons? Do you think it would be easy to take this film only as a satire, or would it leave you with even more fear walking out of the theater? I was also wondering what the significance of Major Kong’s cowboy hat at the beginning of the film and his eventual riding of an H-Bomb?

Dr. Strangelove – Satire or Scared?

Dr. Strangelove (1964) is perhaps one of the strangest, saddest forms of satire I have ever seen. While it is presented as a comedy, as seen in moments like 55:20 when Turgidson says “gee, I wish I had one of those doomsday machines”, or the exchange between Turgidson and the President at 29:02, suggesting that President Muffley has forgotten all about their order of succession. Gags such as the “10 to 1 breeding ratio” were an easy way to get laughs. It is obvious that this piece of film is to be read as satire, especially critiquing the paranoia taken on by the United States in fear of nuclear annihilation. However, Dr. Strangelove seems to have a deeper, more profound reason behind its creation. It seems that the movie could be a sort of “comfort” somehow, to make light of a situation that was paralyzing US citizens with fear. Constantly monitoring Russian movements, being subjected to bomb drills, seeing plans for nuclear bunkers – all of these things are disruptive to daily life and literally changing the way one sees their reality. This film was an escape from this fear, through making light of a horrifying situation. Did anyone else notice this while watching the film? Or did you think that the film was purely made for satire and nothing more?

Two Whacky Uncles in the Corner of the Family Reunion: The US and the USSR’s Conflicts over Ideology

From the very first passages of “Ideology and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962” it is clear that both the US and USSR have conjured massive theories about the course of history and where history will eventually end. The striking part about both governments’ thoughts are that they affect the world as a whole- which becomes dangerous. It is not simply that these governments are running their nations in a way that reflects their respective ideologies, but that they expect and make efforts towards bringing the rest of the world with them. These two giant world powers, who have completely opposite beliefs, thus see the other as the big bad in their roadmap of world history. Their beliefs were seemingly so deeply rooted in the idea of a clear path for history, that they saw the others destruction as a climax point. Woodrow Wilson believed, “Bolshevism, in this analysis, was a necessary phase before the inevitable normalization of the country. No evidence to the contrary could shake American liberals’ conviction that Russia would soon conform to the American model,” (Engerman 27). While Lenin remarked that American capitalism was the height and that American communists would revolt. Before WWII the US and USSR worked together economically and otherwise; however, that work was twisted in a way that showed each nation that the other was dying out. Engerman states, “By recognizing the need for markets, the Soviet Union was heading the American way. At the same time, Soviets celebrated the economic agreements as proof of the iron laws of capitalism; Lenin boasted to a comrade that they showed how capitalists contributed to “the preparation of their own [death],” (Engerman, 28). Moreover during WWII and afterwards the USSR and US display a very hot and cold relationship, common enemies and economic advances push them together while a chance at destruction of the other pull them apart. And while here in the US many of us are taught about American liberalism, how it is a good thing and how we were on the “right” side of history. Yet, both the US and USSR ideologies are so extreme, they are so far too one side that they are both dangerous. Both ideologies have imperialistic tones to them. Which leads me to question was the Cold War vital in some ways to keep these very powerful governments with very extreme ideas occupied? Would these powers have become more detrimental had they not had the adversary of the other?

Welcome, Cold Warriors!

Welcome to HIS 315: The Cold War in Eastern Europe. I’m glad we are taking this journey together this semester. This WordPress site will be our home base. Here, you can find the Syllabus, assigned Reading + Viewing materials, Blog Post Schedule and Discussion Leadership Schedule, all Assignments, and some helpful Writing Resources. The most important thing you will find here is our Blog, which we will build together and use to shape our conversations. Please see the syllabus for details and feel free to ask me if you have any questions. You can always reach me by email at lgoldman@washjeff.edu.