Dr. Strangelove â€œOr how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb.â€?
“Radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere and hence annihilation of any life on earth ahs been brought within the range of technical possibilities…In the end, there beckons more and more clearly general annihilation.” Albert Einstein, February 12, 1950. “The Soviet Government deems it necessary to report that the United States has no monopoly in the production of the hydrogen bomb.” Soviet Premier Georgi Malenkov, August 8, 1953
It Gets Worse
“We will bury you!” Nikita Khrushchev, November 1956 “The first artificial earth satellite in the world has now been created. This first satellite was successfully launched in the U.S.S.R.” TASS, the Soviet news agency, October 5, 1957 “If these provocations continue, we will have to aim our rockets at bases.” Nikita Khrushchev commenting on the U-2 spy plane incident in May of 1960.
Losing the Space Race
It was bad enough when the Soviets launched Sputnik into outer space, sending shock waves through American society. When the Soviets successfully launched a dog into space, it only rubbed salt in the wound. The upside was that the U.S. Educational system, which had fallen behind in the teaching of math and science on the international level, received a big boost in support, both financially and in support from all levels of government.
The Cloak And Dagger ď Ž
As the Cold War progressed, both sides fell into a cloak and dagger mentality. Spying on each other became a major preoccupation of the Western and Soviet Bloc nations.
Cold War Slang/Terminology
MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction This concept used the premise that any side that launched a first strike nuclear attack would be “deterred” from doing so because the “other side” would launch a retaliatory strike. Thus, since neither side could win, neither side would attack.
Cold War Slang/Terminology ď Ž ď Ž
Failsafe: The point beyond which U.S. Strategic Bombers could not be recalled. At the height of the Cold War, at any given time fully one third of all available, functioning strategic bombers were airborne and flying holding patterns at Failsafe.
DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness DEFCON 4: Normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures DEFCON 3: Increase in force readiness above normal readiness DEFCON 2: Further increase in force readiness, but less than maximum readiness. DEFCON 1: Maximum force readiness.
The “Strategic Arsenal”
The U.S., and for that matter, Soviet and Chinese, Strategic Nuclear Arsenal is three pronged:
Bomber based – strategic bombers Land based – ICBMs in silos or portable launch Naval based – boomer subs
The “Strategic Arsenal”
By dividing the nuclear arsenal into three attack modes, it assured that enough of the nukes “would get through.” This approach maintains the “deterrent” needed to make sure that the other side does not launch a first strike.
First Strike? What’s The Big Deal?
If MAD theory prevents a first strike then why worry? If one side can get enough of a time advantage in not being detected, meaning a first strike can be launched and succeed BEFORE a retaliatory strike can be launched, then the nation that launched the first strike WINS.
Again, why worry? ď Ž ď Ž
The U.S. has satellites, radar, spies, etc. Surely we would know of an intended first strike? The problem is 15 minutes is needed to launch the retaliatory strike. It may be less now, but still some time is needed to contact the President, have the President make the decision, give the GO order, verify the GO order, and to launch the missiles. This is why missiles in Cuba was so frightening. The communists had first strike capability due to the short range of the land based missiles.
Boomers, missile subs, are the most dangerous part of the naval arsenal. These nuclear powered boats are able to stay submerged for 6 months at a time. They submerge and then go to their positions and wait. They can literally wait just off the coast of the enemy’s shoreline. Boomers have the best first strike capability of any of the three nuclear arms. Boomers are the reason Hunters exist. It is the job of Hunters to “hunt” Boomers.
SAC – Strategic Air Command
SAC is the military organization in charge of the land based and air based missiles. There are three primary strategic bombers in the U.S. arsenal:
B-52 – the workhorse B-1 Stealth
Reagan’s vision of “Star Wars” would give the U.S. first strike capability with impunity. Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars or SDI) is a multiple pronged defense system designed to shoot down incoming ICBMs. The ability to knock down ICBMs, mainly in outer space, give the U.S. the ability to wage nuclear war and win.
Reagan’s desire to build such a system led to the Soviet’s spending the USSR into bankruptcy. They simply could not afford to maintain their strategic nuclear force, a conventional force, the police state, AND build their own Star Wars system.
Cold War Mentality
As it is with anything in the United States, some Americans simply ignored the Cold War. Others let it control their every thought and action. Others took it seriously. Most were aware of it and had an understanding of what could happen.
The Cold War and American Society
Films often reflect what is happening at that time period in American society. The Cold War spawned many films on the subject, both during and after the Cold War. Some were funny, some serious and some were a mixture of both.
Films Are A Reflection Of The Times
Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy, Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, made audiences laugh, just as it was intended to. It also scared them.
Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove
Sterling Hayden as General Jack D. Ripper
George C. Scott as General Turgidson
The B-52 The Leper Colony
Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong - Commander of the Leper Colony Pickens would be featured in the film’s most memorable scene as he rides one of the bombs down to impact.
The Bombs: Hi There! & Dear John
The plot was a dark comedy, a satire of the seriousness of the escalating Cold War and threat of Nuclear annihilation. Kubrick’s film mocked the ultra-serious American military (Understand that war is always serious to the American Military – they will be the first to die when the fighting breaks out – a fact Kubrick conveniently overlooked). It also pointed out how technology had run amok and one single, simple human error could bring about the holocaust everyone feared. While meant as a comedy, the film also had a frightening message.
The 1964 original and the 2000 TV remake
Failsafe â€“ Colonel Jack Grady
Dr. Strangelove Without The Laughs
The film Failsafe, also released in 1964, has been described as Dr. Strangelove without the laughs. While repeating many of the themes in Dr. Strangelove, the film still was a success and frightened many audiences. It’s theme of technology run amuck and the effect of a single human error still rings true today.
Blast From The Past (1999)
This comedy looks at what life would be like if someone actually lived in a fallout shelter and emerged from one after a nuclear attack. The film makes fun of the idea of a fallout shelter (not too funny during the Cuban Missile Crisis) as well as many of the norms of the 50s and 60s (fashion, style, etc.) While the fears that are mocked in the film may seem silly to young viewers who did not live through the most intense part of the Cold War, they were certainly real enough to those who did.
13 Minutes ď Ž ď Ž
This recent film starring Kevin Costner tells the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. What the film does not portray was the fear that many Americans felt when they learned of the situation.
Planet of the Apes
Based loosely on the novel by Pierre Boulle, this film centers around “a world gone mad.” Humans traveling in space and time return to a post-apocalyptic earth only to find that talking apes now rule the planet. Taylor, played by Moses, I mean Charleton Hesston, is the key human character who discovers at the film’s conclusion that it was humans who were responsible for the destruction of human society as a result of a nuclear war.
Planet of the Apes ď Ž ď Ž
The film spawned a total of four sequels, a television series, comic books, etc. The premise that made the entire concept work was the acceptance of the audience that a nuclear holocaust was not only possible, but inevitable.
Spy Thrillers ď Ž
Spy thrillers became a popular genre during the Cold War. In the West the British and Americans were the good guys and the Soviet (or Red Chinese) Communists were always the bad guys. When you went to a film, as soon as you saw the communist character, you knew who the bad guy was.
Themes In More Modern Films
The popular Terminator films took the fear of nuclear holocaust and replaced the U.S. and the Soviet Union with a post- apocalyptic war between humans and machines – the Terminators. The Mad Max films, which launched Mel Gibson’s career, were also post-apocalyptic. The concept had become so ingrained in society that films could base an entire premise on the fact that a nuclear holocaust had taken place and the movie viewers would not question the fact.
Nuclear Holocaust & Literature
Alas, Babylon, Malevil, On The Beach and other similar books were popular during the Cold War. All described life after a nuclear holocaust. Again, the key to the success of the story was the reader’s willingness to believe that a nuclear holocaust, can and did happen.
In an effort to allay public fears, designated fallout shelters were marked in public places, such as basements of buildings. Some of these markers can still be seen today – LSU still has not taken down their fallout shelter markers in their older classroom buildings. These shelters would have done nothing to save people’s lives from the radioactive fallout from a nuclear bomb.
Fallout Shelters & Survivalists ď Ž
Some individuals, so convinced that the holocaust was inevitable, built personal fallout shelters and stocked them. Some of these individuals became obsessed with the coming holocaust they began to make extensive preparations to survive AFTER the nuclear war.
Never Underestimate Fear ď Ž ď Ž
The fear of a nuclear holocaust was real to many people. The Soviets behaved in ways that the average American could not understand. Steeped in a culture that has historically been permeated with paranoia, the Russians did not trust anything the Americans did.
The Communist Manifesto
To top it all off, the Communist Manifesto and the writings of Lenin all stated quite clearly that capitalism could not co-exist with communism. One or the other has to go. Capitalist America was frightened by this idea as much as by the threat of war.