Gentlemen, You Can't Fight In Here! This is the War Room

29 January 2016

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the release Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Stanley Kubrick‚Äôs black comedy satirising Cold War anxieties of an all-out thermonuclear holocaust as a result of nuclear tensions between two countries. The film on its release predictably caused a good deal of controversy. This is hardly surprising of a film in which a crazed American General (Jack D. Ripper) manages to call for a nuclear strike against the USSR, in defence of the ‚Äúprecious bodily fluids‚ÄĚ of the American people, without consulting the President. Dr Strangelove was widely dismissed as Soviet propaganda or at the very least as being completely implausible, and despite its obvious position as a satire, the film was (for example) heralded as ‚Äúimpossible on a dozen counts‚ÄĚ by a specialist at the Institute for Strategic Studies. 


Sanity ‚Äď The Magazine of CND , 1961-1991 ¬© University of Warwick. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

As a result, one of the main questions being asked by press and public alike after the release of Strangelove was whether it was attempting to be a serious film or just a complete and utter joke. The above newspaper clipping featured in Sanity Magazine and taken from Rock and Roll, Counterculture, Peace and Protest ponders these very same questions. One writer comments that ‚ÄėDr Strangelove dramatizes a particular group of anti-American clich√©s‚Ķthe psychotic General, the war game and the accident prone deterrent. And because of this there is a tendency to regard the film as pure satire or parody. It is not‚Äô. He goes on to state that the American characters in Dr Strangelove are ‚Äėvery real people‚Äô in a very real situation. 

The ultimate answer to the above question appears to have been a mixture of the two, as can be explained in Kubrick‚Äôs own words: 

My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny…. The things you laugh at were really the heart of the paradoxical practices that make a nuclear war possible.

Sanity ‚Äď The Magazine of CND , 1961-1991 ¬© University of Warwick. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The film does give an accurate impression of the intrinsic dangers of nuclear command-and-control systems, and this was achievable thanks to Kubrick’s intensive research prior to writing the screenplay for Strangelove, in which he worked closely with experts and read numerous books and journals on nuclear strategy.

Topics of nuclear armament and indeed disarmament are, at present, particularly prevalent in world news. It is evident that 52 years on, Strangelove remains as relevant, terrifying and as much a masterpiece as it was half a century ago. In Strangelove's own words: 'The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret!'


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About the Author

Becca Richards

Becca Richards

I joined Adam Matthew in September 2014, and I now work as an Assistant Development Editor. I have been able to put my degree in History to good use while working on a variety of different projects. My academic interests lie in Russian history from the late-imperial to mid-Soviet period, with a particular focus on the history of violence.

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