How Nearly Everything in Doctor Strangelove is True

This Tuesday I went to see writer Eric Schlosser talk about his article “How nearly everything in Dr Strange love is true, and what we need to do about it.”

Read Eric’s article here

The film Dr Strangelove (directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Peter Sellers, George C Scott and Sterling Hayden) was originally released by Columbia more than 50 years ago in early 1964. The film is about what could happen if the wrong person pushed the wrong button — a U.S. Air Force General Jack Ripper goes completely bonkers and sends his bomber wing to destroy the U.S.S.R. as he is obsessed by the thought that the communists are planning to take over the world.

Doctor Strangelove

At the time this film was vehemently attacked by the Pentagon and the US Airforce.

According to Eric Schlosser, Dr Strangelove actually depicts the position the Pentagon was taking at that time much more accurately than they wanted people to think. There were no locks or codes on the missiles because the Pentagon was worried that if the president was killed and there was a surprise attack they wanted these weapons to be available!

If you want to understand command and control in the US in 1964, as Eric Schlosser rightly points out, Dr Strangelove is an accurate account of what was happening and how we came so close to destroying the world.

Fail Safe

In late 1964, another film was released by Columbia and was directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau and Larry Hagman, among others.  At the insistence of Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove was released first. By the time Fail Safe hit the cinemas nine months later, even though the film was critically acclaimed not so many people went to see it because they thought it was going to be another comedy.  It was not easy to sell the idea to the viewing public after seeing Peter Sellers in a similar film and apparently Henry Fonda said that had he seen Dr. Strangelove before Fail Safe, he would have laughed also — and would never have consented to make the movie.

The military is involved but this is not considered a war movie. Often categorized as a drama or thriller, Fail Safe, if anything, is looked upon as a strong anti-war movie.  Lumet’s masterpiece has been mentioned alongside other anti-war classics All Quiet On The Western Front and Paths of Glory.

Fail-Safe-Movie-Poster

Thanks to moviefanfare.com for the above information and image

As different as they are in tone, the fact that these two films on the same subject matter were produced in 1964 shows how much this topic was playing on the minds of the public at the time. Although Dr Strangelove is a farcical comedy, it clearly shows that a shadow was hanging over American society at the time with how terrifyingly close this “ridiculous” scenario was to becoming reality.

Isn’t it interesting that it’s become acceptable to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent because we trust our governments to keep us safe from harm?  Do we really? Or is it too difficult to look a little deeper and admit that we all know something could go wrong and that films such as Dr Strangelove and Fairplay are not so ridiculous after all.

Erin’s doing the blog next week (she’s got a lot to say!) while I’m away at the third ICAN conference in Vienna, to discuss the humanitarian issue of using nuclear weapons.  For the first time the United States has agreed to come – we are yet to hear whether the UK and France will turn up too.

To lead into Erin’s blog, I’d like to leave you with the idea engaging youth by using hip hop against nuclear weapons, as done so creatively in this Japanese video

Further info can be seen here about Anti-Nuclear Love Songs: the Music of Resistance in Post-Fukushima Japan

Gina Langton

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