Study Guide

Dr. Strangelove Warfare

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VOICEOVER: Each B-52 can deliver a nuclear bomb load of 50 megatons, equal to 16 times the total explosive force of all the bombs and shells used by all the armies in World War Two.

Our friendly neighborhood announcer just wants to remind us how much more devastating a potential war would be. This mention of WWII would've really struck home with the film's original audience since a good number of them probably fought in WWII themselves. The message here is: You think Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bad? You ain't seen nothin'. The newer bombs were equivalent to a million Hiroshimas.

MUFFLEY: General Turgidson, I find this very difficult to understand. I was under the impression that I was the only one in authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

The President might be the Commander in Chief of all our boys in uniform, but here we see him having totally lost control of a pretty crucial sector of the military. President Eisenhower actually signed off on a policy that high-level military commanders could launch a nuclear attack if they couldn't get in touch with the president and the situation was urgent. Eisenhower didn't like the policy, but he thought it was better than being unprepared. JFK was shocked when he found out about it and instituted different strategies for preventing a Jack Ripper-type situation. (Source)

TURGIDSON: Plan R is an emergency war plan in which a lower echelon commander may order nuclear retaliation after a sneak attack if the normal chain of command is disrupted. You approved it, sir. You must remember. Surely you must recall, sir, when Senator Buford made that big hassle about our deterrent lacking credibility. The idea was for plan R to be a sort of retaliatory safeguard.

Whenever a horribly destructive weapon is created, there are always assurances that there are safeguards in place around it. Dr. Strangelove shows a scenario in which the safeguards around the bomb not only fail, but  result in the destruction of life on Earth. Yup, we'd say those safeguards were a total bomb.

TURGIDSON: (on the phone) Well look, baby, I can't talk to you now. My president needs me. Of course Bucky would rather be there with you. Of course it isn't only physical. I deeply respect you as a human being.

The fact that Turgidson stops for a chat with his mistress while in the War Room is pretty funny, but what do you think the movie is saying about the guys in charge of waging war? Is it showing them as juvenile and irresponsible?

TURGIDSON: Mr. President, if I may advise, under Condition Red it is standard procedure that the base be sealed off, and the base be defended by base security troops. Any force trying to enter there would certainly encounter very heavy casualties.

FACEMAN: General Turgidson, with all due respect for your defense team, my boys can brush 'em aside without too much trouble.

The first shots fired of WWIII aren't between Soviets and Americans; it's between Americans and Americans. We have to mention one of our favorite visual gags in the film: the "Peace is our Profession" signs all over the base during the attack.

MUFFLEY: General, it is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.

Muffley is starting to realize he has no power, so he falls back on pronouncements of "policy."

MUFFLEY: I will not go down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolph Hitler!

Here's a question for you: what's the difference between a nuclear first strike and mass murder? Would lighting up the Soviets during the Cold War have been nay more justified than Hitler's slaughter?

MUFFLEY: Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!

Probably more than any other line, this one sums up the absurdity of war. The juxtaposition of the trivial and the deadly serious provides a lot of the humor in this film.

MUFFLEY: The doomsday machine? What is that?

DESADESKI: A device which will destroy all human and animal life on earth.

When the nuclear bomb was first dropped on Japan near the end of WWII, it was the most destructive weapon yet built by humans. It can't compete with the Doomsday Machine. Even worse, the Doomsday Machine is completely automated; it can't be turned off or be re-programmed once it's activated. No second chances. That's gotta be the ultimate tech nightmare, even worse than having no un-send feature in your email program.

STRANGELOVE: Yes, but the... whole point of the doomsday machine... is lost... if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?

DESADESKI: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

The Doomsday Machine is paradoxically supposed to reduce the threat of total annihilation because it would act as the ultimate deterrent. What these kinds of sophisticated systems don't account for is the rogue military guy who goes berserk and attacks anyway. And the Premier likes surprises…another one of those juxtapositions of the silly and the serious that makes the film great.

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