Study Guide

Dr. Strangelove Patriotism

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KONG: Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beings if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat. But I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a countin' on ya, and by golly we ain't about to let 'em down.

Notice how patriotism is Kong's main justification for going through with dropping the bomb. He'll do anything for his country, even if it means killing tens of millions of its supposed enemies. Is Kong justified in what he does, considering he thinks a nuclear war has already started?

TURGIDSON: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, the truth is not always a pleasant thing, but it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.

Turgidson's argument is based on the idea that it's better for a bunch of Russians to be dead than a bunch of Americans to be dead. Is loyalty to one's country always the most important consideration? And why do you think that patriotism is so often associated with war? It seems easier to see a brave soldier as a patriot than, say, someone who's working on a project to improve the quality of education for the poor in Appalachia.

MUFFLEY: That was not an act of national policy and there are still alternatives left open to us.

To Muffley, the most patriotic thing to do is to preserve the character of America as a country that's committed to trying diplomacy before going to war. Some people wouldn't see that as patriotism; they'd call it cowardice.

RIPPER: Your commie has no regard for human life, not even his own.

Is it possible that Ripper's patriotism has become so extreme that it's fed his bizarre fantasies? Or are there too many other factors going on here to claim such a thing?

GENERAL: Try one of these Jamaican cigars, ambassador, they're pretty good.

DESADESKI: Thank you, no. I do not support the work of imperialist stooges.

GENERAL: Oh, only commie stooges, huh?

Another standoff. It's hard in the middle of a conflict to recognize that your enemy has patriotic feelings as strong as you do. In this little exchange, what's more important—the fact that the General and DeSadeski are trading insults or that they're in the same room sharing a smoke, noshing at a buffet, and trying to stave off nuclear doom? Sometimes patriotic talk is just bluster, to make a point. Like when, after France wouldn't support the planned US invasion of Iraq, the congressional cafeterias wouldn't serve French fries and changed the name to "Freedom Fries."

TURGIDSON:The duty officer asked General Ripper to confirm the fact the he had issued the go code and he said, "Yes gentlemen, they are on their way in and no one can bring them back. For the sake of our country and our way of life, I suggest you get the rest of SAC in after them; otherwise we will be totally destroyed by red retaliation. God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids."

Ripper starts off by appealing to the officer's patriotism—protecting our way of life, etc.—which he thinks will be completely convincing. Things start to go off the rails, though, when it becomes evident that "our way of life" includes purity and essence of bodily fluids. This is one of Kubrick's clearest statements about how mindless patriotism can slide pretty easily into lunacy. (See "Freedom Fries.")

MUFFLEY: Well I'll tell you. We'd like to give your air staff a complete run down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes. Yes! I mean, if we're unable to recall the planes, then I'd say that, uh, well, we're just going to have to help you destroy them, Dimitri. I know they're our boys.

Here, the President actually helps the Soviets to kill American pilots who are patriotically doing their duty to their country. Does this make Muffley a total traitor to the American way? Or is he just making a tough call in a tough situation? Under these insane circumstances, exactly what is considered patriotic?

TURGIDSON: Mr. President, if I may speak freely, the Russkie talks big, but frankly, we think he's short of know-how. I mean, you just can't expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our boys.

Turgidson is one of those guys who's totally convinced that America is better than any country in the world. How does this kind of fanatical patriotism affect the events of the film? Has our country been harmed by this kind of "USA! USA! USA!" mindset? Does it make us underestimate our opponents?

(These "ignorant peons, btw, launched Sputnik, the first space satellite in 1957, and the Americans freaked out. The government established DARPA, a research arm of the Department of Defense, tons of money was poured into science education, and the space race was on.)

STRANGELOVE: Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

Strangelove makes a great excuse for why all the powerful men in the War Room would need to be sent to the safety of mine shafts. Is he right that these guys are the best of the best? Or is this a clear-cut case of the people in power placing just taking advantage of that power. Where does patriotism fit into an equation where the political leaders place their interests over those of the people they're supposedly representing?

(Hint: It doesn't.)

TURGIDSON: Mr. President, we must not allow... a mine shaft gap!

Even in the face of total extinction, Turgidson's fanatical patriotism makes him preoccupied with maintaining superiority over the Soviets. This kind of patriotism can easily get out of hand, because, in a perfect world, all countries are getting stronger and more technologically advanced. If your only goal is to be the best, then the competition never ends. Moral of the story? Loving your country means defending it when necessary, but it doesn't have to mean hating on everyone else. Except during the World Cup, that is.

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