Dr. Strangelove

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What I Learned Since I Stopped Worrying and Studied the Movie: A Teaching Guide to Stanley Kubrick 's Dr. Strangelove

Dan Lindley, University of Notre Dame

Dan Lindley is assistant professor in international relations and security studies at the University of Notre Dame. Lindley worked for several arms control and research organizations in Washington, D.C. before receiving a Ph.D. from MIT. Lindley has published and spoken on U.N. peacekeeping, internal conflict, the Cyprus problem and Greco-Turkish relations, collective security, the U.S. intervention in Panama, the role of ideas in international politics, and SDI contracting. Introduction

John Pike, former director of space policy at the Federation of American Scientists, once said to me: "Everything there is to know about nuclear strategy can be learned from Dr. Strangelove." "Everything" is only a mild overstatement. I show Dr. Strangeloveannually to Notre Dame audiences to teach about nuclear war, and I will continue to do so until nuclear weapons and war itself are no longer problems. The film offers lessons about war, politics, and history and can serve as a teaching aid for classes in introductory international relations, foreign policy, defense policy, causes of war, organizational politics, and Cold War history.1 In this teaching guide I cover three tasks, all of which highlight concepts and themes in Dr. Strangelove. First, I use the film as a springboard to discuss deterrence, mutually assured destruction, preemption, the security dilemma, arms races, relative versus absolute gains concerns, Cold War misperceptions and paranoia, and civil-military relations (in this order). Second, I put these concepts into their historical contexts to teach about Cold War history. Third, I show how closely Dr. Strangeloveparallels actual events and policies. I conclude with the story of how an article by Thomas Schelling led to the making of the film. Dr. Strangelove, Nuclear Strategy, and the Cold War

Dr. Strangeloveis a black comedy about a renegade U.S. Air Force General, Jack D. Ripper, who orders his B-52 bombers to drop their nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. This attack may set off a doomsday device that will kill all life on the surface of earth.2 The doomsday weapon is unrealistic. However, if one views it as analogous to mutually assured destruction (the near total destruction of the U.S. and Soviet Union inevitable in a real nuclear war), then almost everything that happens in the movie could have actually happened. The most important theme of the film is that it makes fun of the sad, perverse, and absurd reality that the U.S. and the Soviet Union could destroy each other within 30 minutes. Unlikely and improbable, yes. Possible, yes. Dr. Strangelove also highlights the range of procedures and strategies involved in maintaining the nuclear standoff. Why did the U.S. have bombers constantly in the air, already well on their way to their targets? Why might individual base commanders have had the authority to use nuclear weapons at their own discretion? Why were our forces on hair-trigger alert? Why might a doomsday device seem to be a logical step? The single, simple answer to these questions is the U.S. 's (and Soviet Union 's) quest to make nuclear deterrence credible. Think about deterrence and the need for credibility as you read this and watch the film. Finally, remember that the U.S. and Russians can still easily destroy each other and that several other countries have nuclear weapons. The Cold War is over, but nuclear danger is not. When Stanley Kubrick made Dr. Strangelovein 1963, there were 34,000 nuclear weapons on earth. Today, there are 31,500.3The doomsday device is alive and well. The Definition of Deterrence

The eccentric nuclear strategist Dr. Strangelove4 defines deterrence when he says: "Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy t. t. t. tthe fearto attack" (55:09).5 Because deterrence...
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