MUFFLEY: This man is obviously a psychotic.
Yup, that pretty much sums up Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper. Ripper's the guy who sets the ball rolling...the blazing ball of nuclear doom, that is. This Brigadier General goes off his rocker and, without any approval from his superiors, issues the order for the sinister "Plan R," which will send a bunch of B-52 bombers to nuke the crap out of the U.S.S.R.
Precious Bodily Fluids
Throughout the film, Ripper's cool as a cucumber, and for the most part calmly smokes his cigar as he explains to Mandrake his insane justifications for launching a nuclear strike. Evidently the International Communist Conspiracy is insidiously trying to contaminating our "precious bodily fluids" and destroying our "purity of essence." And how are the "commies" infiltrating our "precious bodily fluids"? The evil process of fluoridation.
RIPPER: You know when fluoridation first began?
MANDRAKE: No. No, I don't, Jack. No.
RIPPER: Nineteen hundred and forty six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your postwar commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core commie works.
Well, that makes sense. It's why Ripper refuses to drink tap water.
(In case you don't know, the government puts fluoride in the public water supply to improve dental health. There actually is a debate about whether it's actually good for us or not, but fluoridation's opponents are more concerned with it causing cancer than with it turning us into impotent Communist zombies.)
Anyway, Ripper's psychosis has some sexual overtones. He apparently hit on his fluoridation theory while having sex:
MANDRAKE: Jack... Jack, listen, tell me, ah... when did you first become, well, develop this theory.
RIPPER: Well, I ah, I, I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
RIPPER: Yes a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly: loss of essence.
RIPPER: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women...women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.
So that's the clue to Ripper: his worries about lack of sexual potency are what make him want to attack the Soviets. Sending all those phallic symbols flying through the air is a way to restore his virility.
Don't try this at home.
While Ripper's definitely insane, it's clear that he's meant to represent the kind of paranoia that was fueling the arms build-up during the Cold War. Really, some of the stuff he says isn't a whole lot crazier than what certain high-ranking government officials were trying to sell the American public. Want to know more? Check out Shmoop's coverage of the McCarthy Era.
The thing that's probably the most interesting about Ripper is that he definitely doesn't see himself as the bad guy. From his point of view, he's a national hero. He even tells Mandrake:
RIPPER: I happen to believe in a life after this one, and I know I'll have to answer for what I've done. And I think I can.
After that, Ripper shoots himself so that he can't be tortured to reveal the recall code that would turn back the bombers. In his own twisted mind, Ripper dies a martyr, sacrificing himself to the noble cause of protecting "our precious bodily fluids."