From Faust to Strangelove takes a look at the motivation of a group largely overlooked in the consideration of Dr. Strangelove – the scientists themselves. When considering the proponents behind the nuclear proliferation plans in the film one easily identifies the military and political leaders. Author Roslynn Haynes points out that another important factor to assess is the “motivation of the scientists themselves, especially the physicists, whose exceptional intellectual talents were employed by the military-industrial complex in producing ever more ingenious weapons of mass destruction” (p. 199). These individual’s interests are largely overlooked, but Kubrick’s movie certainly touches upon them. In the movie Dr. Strangelove, a scientist and strategist, works to create the doomsday device and later has to work to figure out a solution to the situation. Taking into account that scientists were largely employed by the governments, it makes sense too that these individuals would want to promote the escalation of war.
Considering the narrow interests of many different parties in Dr. Strangelove, the theme of individuals acting selfishly and thereby causing troubles for society as a whole seems to arise. Interestingly, this contradicts the invisible hand theory of capitalism. It seems the foundation of US ideals, at least to some degree, are included in Kubrick's satire. Similarly, near the end of Dr. Strangelove when the doctor describes his plan to move to underground caverns for survival, the mode of acting in ones best interest seems absurd. In a sense, Kubrick seems to attack narrow individual interests, which lie at the heart of capitalism, preferring instead a system that monitors individuals actions to ensure the collective good of society.
Charles Maland’s article “Dr. Strangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of the Liberal Consensus” reviews the way in which Stanley Kubrick’s film responds to dominant culture’s social norms of the 1930s and later war years. The article notes the way which Dr. Strangelove, and other Kubrick films, addressed the “gap between man’s scientific and technological skill and his social, political, and moral ineptitude” (p. 701). Kubrick’s message in the film comes across strong; man’s technological progression has outpaced his morality and wisdom. Skill and good judgment should balance each other, but because of their disproportion scientific progression is able to do more harm than good.
Considering the social conditions leading up to the production of Dr. Strangelove one can understand the formation of Kubrick’s perspectives. The 1930s saw social concentration shift from the economy to foreign governments. The war years directed attention towards defeating opposing powers. Success in war and economic prosperity created a paradigm that required the US lead other countries (p. 698). Russians, under new leadership and not wanting to appear the weaker nation after a difficult war, pursued a similar course of action. The resulting international tension established an atmosphere ripe for a film like Dr. Strangelove. Anxiety ran high and the most paradoxical elements of public policy seemed to lie at the heart of the guidelines. Dr. Strangelove masterfully captures the realities of its period but in a mode so embellished one can discern the message propagated by the film.
Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is the satirical look at the nuclear Cold War era of the 1950s and 60s. General Ripper, a crazed US officer convinced Russians are trying to poison American waters through fluoridation, initiates a plan to essentially instigate World War III. All the while a incompetent American president, constantly urged by a trigger-happy general, attempts to negotiate with the intoxicated Russian leader. With destruction looming, the leaders convene in the War Room to plan a resolution, where Dr. Strangelove reveals a plan to save top government officials. The film ends with the inevitable bomb drop, which triggers the Russian doomsday mechanism causing a series of dramatic explosions.
Stanley Kubrick’s comical depiction of nuclear armament and international confrontation lampoons the alarm of the Cold War era, though at the same time it illustrates the important political issues of the 1950s and 60s. The film demonstrates the irrationality behind the concept of “mutually assured destruction” – knowledge that the use of weapons would also destroy the aggressor. The characters of the film are exaggerated and laughable, though their correlation to actually leaders comes across so strong that viewers are able to draw connections between reality and the plot of the movie. Similarly, the plot is fanciful with the purpose of criticizing a system reliant on a delicate stalemate to ensure security.
The film Dr. Strangelove successfully addresses the absurdity of Cold War policies and on a larger level criticizes humanity's progression towards separatism, in the movie marked by international distrust and dischord. Interestingly, even long after the 1950s and 60s, the message of destructive security remains resilient as ever. At the heart of Kubrick's film lie issues of global cooperation and the dangers that exist in its void; these messages are not bound to the Cold War era but rather continue through time.
The article “The Macroeconomics of Dr. Strangelove” by Andrew John, Rowena Pecchenino, and Stacy Schreft considers weapons accumulation through an economic model and works to find an equilibrium between countries’ strategies. The authors construct a situation in which individual of two nations can choose to amass weapons by allocating resources. By monitoring the moves of the other, a country can calculate its probability of winning and decide appropriately whether or not to attack. One can then calculate the benefits and disadvantages of accumulating and using weapons.
The model presented mathematically analyzes the issue of nuclear proliferation. In its calculated approach, however, the model fails to capture the element of humanity; the model only measures success and failure not innate human worth. In this way the article doesn’t drive the same message as Dr. Strangelove. Instead of emphasizing the danger of nuclear armament like the film, the article examines whether or not nuclear accrual is beneficial or detrimental to a country. Interestingly, the article finds that equilibrium can exist where neither country amasses weapons and where both countries “accumulate weapons to the point where conflict initiation is so dangerous that it never occurs” (p. 44). This finding supports the ideology held by Cold War hardliners, the same ideology Kubrick satirizes with Dr. Strangelove. Through a purely analytic model it may seem possible for a country to protect itself with weaponry, though, as the Kubrick’s film indicates, the dangers incurred through such defense are too immense to tolerate.
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.