While Dr. Strangelove without a doubt blurs the lines between absurdity, fear, and hilarity at times, the underlying element of truth to the story is perhaps one of the most compelling elements. We see numerous caricatures of each nationality within the film, from the rather adult-like bureaucratic attitude of the President, the hawkish General Turgidson, the likely intoxicated President (Dimitri…) of the USSR, and even Dr. Strangelove himself… the German ex-Nazi scientist whose arm constantly has trouble remembering it isn’t in the Third Reich anymore. But of the long list of characters, perhaps none strike quite the same tone as Royal Air Force Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, the timid but sane British veteran of WWII (he states he only ever pressed a button in his Spitfire when Ripper asks for his help operating a .30 caliber machine gun) who tries to convince General Ripper to call off his nuclear strike via the CRM114 recall code, and when fails, does everything in his power to determine the code and transmit it to the USAF B-52 bombers so as to avert nuclear war.
Mandrake is an interesting character for multiple reasons. At first, he can’t believe what is going on and is almost in denial. This can be seen when he delivers his private radio to Ripper stating that there has been no Russian attack because civilian broadcasting is completely undisturbed (a fact Ripper concealed from his own men by invoking a base security protocol in order to carry out his deranged plot). From this point he begins to get belligerent at times…swinging from angered and perplexed to seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This is particularly notable when Ripper puts his arm around Mandrake when on the couch in his office. Mandrake is laughing nervously and twiddling his thumbs as Ripper describes his ludicrous conspiracy theory. It is hard to not see him as a stand in for the UK…the nation that for a few hundred years had been the supreme power on the planet as far as military might and imperialism are concerned. They had largely been able to keep their empire intact for a long period of time…and now he/they are looking at the Americans with anger, confusion, and disappointment as the realization arrives that the US was largely in control for less than 2 decades before everything fell to pieces…with the situation of how this was so in the movie universe laid out before the viewers.
My questions are these: To what extent does he represent the UK in the film, and based on the context of his actions, are there any real-world events that Kubrick & Sellers could be alluding to/making a metaphor for? Also, what do the caricatures of the other nationalities featured in the film say about the cold-war attitude of the West vs. East relationship?
Edit: Here is the scene with Ripper explaining his conspiracy theory to Mandrake – https://youtu.be/J67wKhddWu4
In the “The Soviet Union and the world, 1944–1953” by Pechatnov, Pechatnov describes that Stalin knew what the inevitable was when Russia joined with Western powers and that Russia would usually always get the end of the stick. “He expected sinister Western imperialists to follow their usual pattern of behavior: use Russians as cannon fodder, lure them with promises of major strategic gains, and then leave them empty handed in the end” (Pechatnov, 95). Stalin confirmed this history and mythology when Hitler deceived him. Since this has happened once, Stalin was not going to let it happen again. ” Determined not to be outsmarted again, Stalin and Molotov braced for tough bargaining with their allies. They were determined to seek their primary security agenda with their allies’ consent, if possible, and without it, if necessary” (Pechatnov, 95). After Roosevelt died, Truman took office with a different kind of view toward the Soviet Union. “A few days later, the White House abruptly terminated lend-lease shipments to the Soviet Union” (Pechatnov, 95). My question to the class would be that, do you think the U.S knew that stalin would take this as a sign of aggression to start something? or do you think that the U.S wanted to test the waters to see how the Soviet Union would react? Although the U.S did resolve this specific conflict, do you think that this was the start of many fallouts and restrictions with the Soviet Union? Also, do you think that Stalin was starting to have flashbacks with what Germany did to them and not trust the U.S ever again?
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?
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 (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?
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?
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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 email@example.com.