VOICEOVER: For more than a year, ominous rumors have been privately circulating among high-level western leaders, that the Soviet Union had been at work on what was darkly hinted to be the ultimate weapon; a doomsday device.
Tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were threatening to explode at any moment, and rumors like this were flying around all the time. The scariest thing is that a nuclear conflagration was a very real possibility. No, actually the scariest thing was that in 1985, the Soviets completed a system known as the "Dead Hand" that would automatically launch ICBMs at the U.S. if it detected a nuclear detonation on Soviet soil. Doomsday indeed.
VOICEOVER: In order to guard against surprise nuclear attack, America's Strategic Air Command maintains a large force of B-52 bombers airborne 24 hours a day.
This isn't some kind of Hollywood fantasy. At any moment, the U.S. was ready to annihilate the U.S.S.R. and vice versa.
KONG: Well boys, I reckon this is it: nuclear combat, toe to toe with the Russkies.
During the Cold War, America followed the policy of "mutually assured destruction" or MAD. The idea was that as long as American nuclear capability matched the Soviet's, nobody would ever use their bombs. Why? Because if one side attacked, the other would be assured of massive destruction as well. Fortunately for the planet, this standoff held, but it wasn't a lock (See Cuban Missile Crisis).
RIPPER: Your commie has no regard for human life, not even his own.
This kind of talk about Communists might sound little extreme, but during the Cold War it wouldn't have been out of place around the water cooler at work. So much hatred and suspicion had built up that to many Americans, Soviets weren't even humans anymore. Some people thought of them as evil, godless, unfeeling robots hell-bent on destroying the American way of life. Senator Joseph McCarthy made a living hinting that Communists were everywhere, infiltrating every level of government. The country allowed him to violate Americans' rights in shocking ways in order to ferret out the sneaky commies.
RIPPER: I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
Ripper's fears might sound totally bonkers to us now, but the kind of conspiracy theories that were flying around during the Cold War really weren't that much crazier than this. The Red Scare got totally out of hand and Sen. McCarthy fanned the flames. Then there's this: (Maybe Ripper wasn't so far off, after all…)
TURGIDSON: I said, Premier Kissov is a degenerate atheist commie! That's what I said.
Atheism was official state policy in the USSR. America, being majority Christian, was totally freaked out by the idea of a country of atheists. This only fueled the tensions between the two world powers. You know those godless types—who knows what they'll do?
MUFFLEY: Well it's good that you're fine and I'm fine. I agree with you. It's great to be fine. (laughs) Now then, Dimitri. You know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well now, what happened is that one of our base commanders did a silly thing. He, uh, went a little funny in the head. You know, funny. He ordered our planes to attack your country. …Let me finish, Dimitri.
The fact that Merkin and Dimitri seem to be on such a friendly basis is pretty funny when you consider how incredibly tense things were between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. We wonder if Kennedy and Khrushchev ever had any chummy chats like this. One reviewer commented that Muffley was talking in the same tone of voice as "a man whose wife has just backed the car ranch wagon into a neighbor's prize hydrangea." (Source)
MUFFLEY: I'm sorry too, Dimitri. I'm very sorry. All right! You're sorrier than I am! But I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are, Dimitri. Don't say that you are more sorry than I am, because I am capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we're both sorry, all right? All right.
We just had to include this chunk—one of our faves. Muffley and Kissov can't even seem to agree on who's sorrier about the whole thing. Kubrick uses this kind of absurd dialogue to represent the larger absurdities of the arms race. They're arguing about remorse when meanwhile, the bombs are about to drop.
TURGIDSON: Ambassador, I mean, you take your average Russkie, we all know how much guts he's got. Hell, lookit look at all them the Nazis killed off and they still wouldn't quit.
This might be the only compliment that Turgidson gives to the "Russkies" for the entire movie. The one thing that America and the U.S.S.R. can agree on is that the Nazis were definitely bad guys. Of course, it didn't take long for the WWII alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to dissolve after Hitler was defeated.
DESADESKI: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.
Ambassador DeSadeski likes Strangelove's plan for repopulating the Earth, which includes assigning 10 sexually stimulating women to every manly man. Turgidson is a big fan of the idea too, making it one of the few moments of U.S.-Soviet agreement in the film. Americans, Soviets, and Nazis—the one thing every man can agree on is the subjugation of women. Nice.
TURGIDSON: Yeah. I think it would be extremely naive of us, Mr. President, to imagine that these new developments are going to cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be... increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mineshaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus, knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow...a mineshaft gap!
At the time the movie came out, this probably seemed like a pretty bleak ending. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. don't learn from the destruction their rivalry has caused, they just find a new thing to fight about. It seems to us that the movie is trying to show us in its ridiculous way how political conflict is an endless cycle.