Phyllis La Farge’s book The Strangelove Legacy examines how anxiety of nuclear threats from the Cold War impacted children and adolescents. La Farge utilizes prior research dating back to the early years of the Cold War and presents studies of her own from the 1980s. The findings from the studies are surprising, showing significant percentages of students across periods confident of inevitable nuclear war and disheartened by prospects of surviving such an event. For example, a study from 1962 showed that 45 percent of junior-high students expected a war (p. 25). Similarly, a study from 1984 reported that 29.5 percent of high-school seniors often worried about the chance of nuclear war, while another 39.9 percent responded that they sometimes worried (p. 27). The numbers show the immediacy of nuclear concerns and demonstrate that “mutually assured destruction”, which left unalleviated society’s angst, wasn’t the best international policy.
La Farge’s work also indicates that since the beginning of the Cold War concerns of nuclear war have actually increased. Surveys show that in 1955 only 27 percent of high school respondents thought the world would be destroyed in nuclear war. In 1984 a similar survey found 89 percent said they thought the world would (p. 34). This increased concern shows how nuclear accumulation failed to alleviate global disagreement and kept the public in a state of panic.
The Strangelove Legacy illustrates that inherent in the stalemate that stems from nuclear proliferation is a constant fear of conflict. The plot of Dr. Strangelove stems from that alarm in society in an exaggerated manner that illuminates the irrationality behind perilous security. The findings of The Strangelove Legacy bolster the message of Dr. Strangelove; defense guaranteed by retaliation is counterproductive.