“The Macroeconomics of Dr. Strangelove” presents an economic analysis of a hypothetical nuclear arms race between two countries. The examination attempts to uncover the economic reasoning behind a country’s desire to accumulate these weapons of mass destruction and also discusses the effect rival countries have on one another in this accumulation. The study works through the decisions made in a cold war situation as two countries progress to one of two circumstances: an equilibrium is reached and thus neither country initiates conflict or one country accumulates such a massive stock of weapons that the consequences of conflict are so large that conflict is never initiated.
The basic logic behind the cold war model is that each generation is able to chose how much weapons stock to produce and store for the next generation. The subsequent generation then has the choice of utilizing that stock to initiate nuclear conflict with the other country or adding on to the stock by producing and storing even more weaponry for their posterity. The model assumes that current generations are making decisions with future generations in mind and also that any conflict that arises will not necessarily deplete a nation’s entire supply of weapons.
As time passes in the model, countries make weapons decisions based on other nations’ possible decisions and the probability of catastrophe should conflict arise. The higher each country’s weapon stock, the higher the probability for catastrophe. A higher possibility for catastrophe makes initiation of conflict riskier for every country and thus less likely to occur. Countries react to the weapons stock of other countries though and desire to accumulate at least the same amount of weaponry as other countries. Thus, the nuclear arms races after World War II, the subject of Dr. Strangelove. This article details the various decisions that countries can make with respect to their arms stock and the reactionary steps other countries would then take.
The concluding argument of the paper is that increasing international weapons stock actually decreases the chance of conflict because the probability of catastrophe is much higher than it is with fewer weapons. The creation of a Dr. Strangelove doomsday device is based in sound logic, though not executed well, as the movie demonstrates. As countries build up their nuclear arms, this paper argues it is better to let this continue until maximum potential catastrophe has been reached.
Henricksen begins this chapter with a look at the cold war tensions in the United States during the 1960s. Though President Kennedy had made moves toward peaceful international relations, the United States still continued to develop its nuclear capabilities. After Kennedy’s assassination, the nation became increasingly accepting of the possibility of a nuclear war. General Curtis LeMay (upon whom General Ripper of Dr. Strangelove is based) approved and encouraged the production of A Gathering of Eagles (1963). This film glamorizes the military’s involvement in nuclear development, praising the American government for its efforts. Similar propaganda was spreading throughout the country.
As cold war tensions were increasing, however, an American movement grew in support of peace efforts over nuclear development. Two films were released in 1963 and 1964 capturing this sentiment of opposition – Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut) and Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick). Both of these films demonstrated that the real enemy was the atomic bomb and the threat was not to the United States alone, but rather to all of humanity.
Cat’s Cradle represents the struggle between good and evil as well as humanity and its scientific progress. There is a lack of morality among the characters. The focus is on military success. The story ends in a symbolic death, exposing the sacredness of human life. Dr. Strangelove, on the other hand, focuses on the hideous side of science and nuclear expansion. Henricksen argues that the Kubrick derives humor from the realistic nature of the situation. The American people could relate with what was going on onscreen.
Upon its release, Dr. Strangelove received widely contradictory reviews. Some hailed it as a breakthrough film, while others detested it as a sick, black comedy. Henricksen describes how Kubrick was lauded for his satirical abilities and at the same time criticized because the film lacked a solution. Few reviews were ambivalent about the film and Kubrick’s message.
Also released that year, Fail-Safe and Seven Days in May presented frightening views of American life during this atomic age. Though these films were less controversial than Dr. Strangelove, it was clear that America was on the brink of a cultural revolution at this time. It is Dr. Strangelove’s satirical nature that makes it successful at creating a stir among the public, though, and allows the film to reach deeper than films like Fail-Safe and Seven Days in May do. Henricksen concludes the chapter with more insight regarding the cultural influence Dr. Strangelove had in the years right after its release.