Jeffrey LewisKaplan on Strangelove

Fred Kaplan, author of The Wizards of Armageddon, has a review of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in the New York Times.

The whole thing is worth a read, but Kaplan notes some of the movies funniest scenes are direct quotes from contemporary nuclear strategists:

But what the documentary doesn’t note is that the final scenes of “Dr. Strangelove” come straight out of its pages.

Toward the end of the film, officials uncover General Ripper’s code and call back the B-52’s, but they notice that one bomber keeps flying toward its target. A B-52 is about to attack the Russians with a few H-bombs; General Turgidson recommends that we should “catch ‘em with their pants down,” and launch an all-out, disarming first-strike.

Such a strike would destroy 90 percent of the U.S.S.R.’s nuclear arsenal. “Mr. President,” he exclaims, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10-20 million killed, tops!” If we don’t go all-out, the general warns, the Soviets will fire back with all their nuclear weapons. The choice, he screams, is “between two admittedly regrettable but nevertheless distinguishable postwar environments – one where you get 20 million people killed and the other where you get 150 million people killed!” Mr. Kahn made precisely this point in his book, even producing a chart labeled, “Tragic but Distinguishable Postwar States.”

When Dr. Strangelove talks of sheltering people in mineshafts, President Muffley asks him, “Wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead?” Strangelove exclaims that, to the contrary, many would feel “a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead.”

Mr. Kahn’s book contains a long chapter on mineshafts. Its title: “Will the Survivors Envy the Dead?” One sentence reads: “We can imagine a renewed vigor among the population with a zealous, almost religious dedication to reconstruction.”

Sheer genius.