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PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: just war theory, genocide

CHARACTERS: President (Peter Sellers), General 'Buck' Turgidson (George C. Scott), Brigadier General Jack Ripper

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR STANLEY KUBRICK: Spartacus (1960), Lolita (1962), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987)

SYNOPSIS: “Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold-war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. Dr. Strangelove is a perfect spoof of political and military insanity, beginning when General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), a maniacal warrior obsessed with "the purity of precious bodily fluids," mounts his singular campaign against Communism by ordering a squadron of B-52 bombers to attack the Soviet Union. The Soviets counter the threat with a so- called "Doomsday Device," and the world hangs in the balance while the U.S. president (Peter Sellers) engages in hilarious hot-line negotiations with his Soviet counterpart. Sellers also plays a British military attaché and the mad bomb-maker Dr. Strangelove; George C. Scott is outrageously frantic as General Buck Turgidson, whose presidential advice consists mainly of panic and statistics about "acceptable losses." With dialogue ("You can't fight here! This is the war room!") and images (Slim Pickens's character riding the bomb to oblivion) that have become a part of our cultural vocabulary, Kubrick's film regularly appears on critics' lists of the all-time best.” -- Jeff Shannon


1. In the war room, General Turgidson suggests to the President that the U.S. military should launch an all out attack on the Soviet Union, which would reduce the Soviet’s retaliatory force by 90%. The net result of this action would be 20 million Americans killed vs. 150 million. Good idea or bad idea?

2. The survival kits on the bomber included a tiny book that was a combination Bible and Russian phrase book. Why is that funny?

3. What else could the U.S. President have done to fix the situation?

4. General Ripper’s mental state was the initial cause of the crisis. Other elements of human error were also introduced after that. What were they and what is the larger lesson we should learn from these?

5. Dr. Strangelove says the following to the President about the doomsday machine: “That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy—the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision making process which rules out human meddling, the doomsday machine is terrifying. It's simple to understand. And completely credible, and convincing.” In spite of all the potential human error involved in nuclear war strategy, is it better to leave humans in the loop rather than make something like the dooms day machine automated?

6. One of the tenets of just war theory is “proportionality,” that is, the military should only use the amount of force that is required to achieve their goal. Does the dooms day machine abide by the requirement of proportionality?

7. Strangelove involuntarily calls the President “Mein Fuhrer” and gives him the Hitler salute. What are the parallels between Hitler’s actions and the President’s role in nuclear war?

8. Strangelove discusses a survival strategy were several thousand people are placed in a mineshaft for 100 years, while waiting for nuclear fallout to reach acceptable levels. Strangelove says “with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years.” Would it be reasonable to have a male/female ratio like this?

9. General Turgidson warns of a possible “mine shaft gap” whereby the Soviets put more people in their mineshafts than Americans, and thus have superior numbers when they emerge 100 years from now. What is the film’s point here?


Dr. Strangelove was one of the more entertaining movies I have seen in a while. I obtained the most enjoyment from the humor of the movie, but the philosophical questions raised were fascinating none the less. As the movie progresses the increasing irrationality of the various characters gets more and more pronounced. Of course, Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper starts the movie in a state of insanity, but we don’t know that immediately. Gen. Turgidson’s slide into crazy is the highlight of the movie. He goes from seeming fairly rational in responding to a crisis to quickly letting the realization that the bombing run is unable to be stopped drive him mad. This descent is brought on chiefly by mistrust of anything Russian. This is a great example of letting ideologies get in the way of reason. Brig. Gen. Ripper is bat-crap crazy with his talk of purity of water and such, so we can’t analyze him too much. It appears that the only rational people in the whole movie are the President and Ripper’s assistant or executive officer (the British man, not sure what he is). Dr. Strangelove at first appears rational, but soon we realize that he appears to be simply in love with power and, in particular, the power the atomic bomb provides. — T.E.

Dr. Strangelove: This movie starts out very nerve racking because its hard for everyone, characters and audience alike, to believe that the attack was ordered. It was interesting to find out how out of hand the situation started to become in such a short time. Ripper made the decision to make the attack a go and it went against the chain of command even though the attack made would call for the highest in command at the time. I had a hard time trying to decide what exactly made Ripper make this ultimate decision. I loved how the personal lives were included in the movie. It added a reliever of how serious the movie was at the time. It made me see General Turgidson in the aspect that he can be completely serious when it comes time, but that he is just like every other person who has a life outside of the office. The situation at hand required difficult decisions to be made and it caused quite the argument for how to solve it in the least damaging way. The combination of supplies that they were given to have as emergencies supplies were a good laugh and was interesting to see how they could put them to good use. This movie had many people that had a hard time seeing eye to eye when it came to the good of the people and the public image that our government construe. This was a good movie to show about strategics and how to try to play the best option possible even though there might be losses. It showed that great battles can and will have great loses in the end. — D.H.

“Dr. Stranglove” seemed like an ironically slap stick comedy that makes light of the fears of a global atomic genocide; “a war to end all wars,” if you will. Many of the characters exemplify caricatures that have erratic mannerism and others seem to be more rational. In terms of “Just War Theory” we can see that General Turgidson does not account for the loss of lives; the body count for his strategy is catastrophic. It seemed appropriate that the crazy man, General Ripper, should make such bold call to drop a nuke on another country without any consultation or motive. One of the most memorable moments in the movie is when Strangelove calls the president of the United States “Mein Fuhrer.” The parallel of genocide between hypothetical numbers of a nuclear holocaust and those of Hitler seemed also appropriate. A comedy that corners such an issue during a time when many feared being wiped off the planet, burned, poisoned, or possibly living through such a horrible event. Certainly the most memorable moment is when the pilot delivering the bomb puts a personal touch and literally delivers the bomb by riding it like cattle. When he waved his hat around in the air I remember rolling my eyes and laughing. Communist subversion and general fear-mongering are made light of and I find it interesting that if this movie had been seen during the McCarthy era what they would say to such a bold satire. — D.M.

Dr. Strangelove is by far one of the best movies I have ever seen. The American Film Institute ranks it as one of the best movies of all time and for good reason. Dr. Strangelove is one of those rare movies that combines comedy with a hint of seriousness. Overall, the movies does not take itself too seriously and leaves the audience wanting more. The main attraction in this movie is Peter Sellers; Sellers plays three comical characters in the movie and each one is distinctly different. This is a testament to Seller’s ability as an actor. The main theme of the movie seems to be about the snowball effect. That simply means small things turn into big things, and cause an unsolvable problem or what I like to call a Catch -22. The story starts off at a general’s office during the Cold War. Tension between the USSR and the United States is boiling over, and the general takes it into his hands to start a preemptive strike on the communist state. Naturally, the general is a little crazy because he fears the “fluoridation” process , and also fears he is losing his “essence” or is sex drive. He claims that fluoridation is a byproduct of communism and vows to take vengeance on the state, and plunges the US into nuclear war. Meanwhile, the pilots delivering the bomb lose communication with the President, who is telling them to back off and return to base because after all , this is just one big misunderstanding. This movie is by far the best one I have watched in this class. If this tells you anything I bought this movie for Blue-Ray which cost me a pretty penny. This definitely a movie any movie aficionado would want in there movie collection. — J.M.

Dr. Strangelove: I was not as impressed with this Stanley Kubrick movie as I was with A Clockwork Orange, but my primary issue deals with the production values. A Clockwork Orange was more technologically advanced in terms of film editing techniques. As far as content, however, I did enjoy this movie. It makes one think about how close we could be to total annihilation and never be aware as citizens. Apparently, all it takes is one mentally unsound individual in charge of making life or death situations to put the entire world at risk. This was certainly evident during the Cold War, but it is also relevant to today’s society. Although we are no longer openly at a standoff between nuclear powers, we still have the capability to destroy a large portion of the planet at the touch of a button. This kind of power is entirely too dangerous to place in the hands of one man, as this film demonstrates. If you can’t trust a single person to handle this responsibility, whom can you trust? This movie presents a situation in which one seemingly normal man starts a chain of events that can lead to the world’s destruction. If the military deemed this man fit to preside over decisions dealing with nuclear weapons, whom else could they have put in charge that is not stable enough to successfully carry out his or her orders? Or maybe this is a power so great that it will eventually corrupt someone, regardless of who the military places in positions of power. — D.O.

Dr. Strangelove: Stanley Kubrik’s hilariously dark comedy satirizing the 1960’s nuclear scare stands as one of the most funny and historically significant movies ever made. The movie addresses the philosophical argument of a war fought between militaries gone mad, and the implications of a war featuring mutually assured destruction. This theory was largely discussed by Herman Kahn, a leading military strategist in the 1950s. He concluded that in a war in which both sides established mutually assured destruction, as America and the Soviet Union had created in the Cold War, was ultimately unwinnable as either side utilizing their ?bargaining chips? would result in killing most, if not all, of the life on earth. As neither side could want this, Kahn argued that countries should rather plan for limited nuclear war, as using the doomsday device is illogical and ultimately suicidal. Kahn, received by most as emotionless and calculating; he even once determined the number of lives America could lose in a war and still survive economically. In this way, a parallel is drawn between Kahn and General Turgidson when he speaks to the president about the aftermath of the war: “Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks." This hilarious film effectively satirizes the nuclear scare sentiment of the 1960s, and allows us a funny look at some not-so-laughable military strategy employed during the Cold War. — J.D.

Dr. Strangelove: One of Kubrick’s better films, this dark comedy makes satire out of the stalemate of Cold War era relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The plot revolves around an accidental nuclear war triggered by a pre-emptive strike by deranged Air Force General Jack D. Ripper due to his worries over a Communist plot involving fluoridation of water which will supposedly contaminate everyone’s “vital bodily fluids.” After Ripper orders the nuclear strike, an impotent president manages to recall all the planes save for one whose radio is damaged in an attack. The Russians agree to call off their attack as well, but there’s a catch: if any nuclear weapons are dropped on Russia, an automatic ‘doomsday device’ will detonate, killing all life on Earth. As usual, no detail was overlooked by Kubrick. Everything from the situations, settings, characters to even the character’s names has significance and humor hidden just under the surface. The film gets right to the heart of the problem with the prevailing theory of the day regarding nuclear war—mutually assured destruction—and shows the dangers and shortcomings in a way that’s both laughable and disturbing at the same time. For all the fail safes and redundancies built into the military machine meant to maintain nuclear readiness, it is simply impossible to perpetually keep up a policy of mutually assured destruction indefinitely. Kubrick makes this all too clear … and gives us a few sad laughs as the characters fail to learn that very lesson, even as a nuclear apocalypse is at their door. — J.B.

Dr. Strangelove: This movie is one of the greatest “political” comedies ever. The way in which Kubrick takes serious subjects and makes them comical has a way of making the audience feel more strongly about the given subject. The absurdity of the General’s insistence on “winning the fight” because of bodily fluids is a direct jab at the way Americans believe they are so superior to communist; somehow from a bloodline point of view. Kubrick has magnified the American superiority complex to epic proportions, and embodied it in General Ripper. Sometimes the political overtones are lost on a casual observer; like the phrasebook in the plane. The absurdity of needing both a bible and a Russian phrasebook shows how Americans can not keep their priorities straight. The film is filled with subtle little nuances that poke funny at the superiority that most white Anglo-Saxons felt at the time. The humans in charge should not have been; but the movie raises the question of whether an autonomous machine would have ever been able to have such control; and the obvious answer is never. All decisions involving public safety must have some semblance of human control. When lives are on the line; at least the reassurance of SOME human control would be required to be maintained; and this film accurately illustrates why. The movie Dr. Strangelove asks: where will nuclear arms buildup end? Mutually assured destruction seems to be the movie’s take on what will happen if the major nations of the world were to continue building their nuclear arms and war machines. — L.T.

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