Stanley Kubrick's (from a script co-written with Terry Southern and Peter George) jet-black, unforgettable nightmare comedy of nuclear Armegeddon, hysteria, and sexual innuendoes seems to get better with each passing year. The Cold War may be over, but the nightmare of nuclear holocaust hasn't ended, and indeed the slow collapse of the military-industrial complex only seems to make nuclear disaster of some sort more inevitable over time. (The possibility of nuclear terrorism, environmental disaster of some sort, or nuclear war between unstable powers such as India and Pakistan is currently growing at a frightening rate.) Kubrick had the audacity to show us what a sick joke the whole prospect of the arms race is, and even today a frightening number of people fail to get the punchline. I find myself returning to this movie time and again, when I'm despondent and feel like laughing at what a sick joke the world can be.
- See also: The Language of Film – a short essay written the day after Stanley Kubrick passed away. Dr. Strangelove was a stepping stone to my understanding of movies and film, and I paid tribute to it (and to its creator) with this essay.
- Also worth visiting: Kubrick on the Web. A lot of people say they're "big" fans of Stanley Kubrick, and yet the only Kubrick films they've seen are 2001, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket. You people don't know what you're missing until you've seen the likes of Paths of Glory! Kubrick's other films are good as well, though I still say The Shining is his worst. This page will bring you almost all everything you ever wanted to know about Stanley Kubrick, and then some.
- In August of 1992, I posted a comment on Dr. Strangelove to the FIDOnet Film Echo. This message was retrieved and integrated into the Stanley Kubrick FAQ, which can be seen here under the subject, "Is Truth Stranger Than Fiction?" The Kubrick FAQ can be found at: www.krusch.com/kubrick/
Time Magazine's cover story on their August 10, 1992 issue talked about newly released data of the US Military's "Doomsday Plan," developed in the 1950s in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It seems that last-case scenario plans dealing with nuclear war were not only designed: several times, the White House came dangerously close to giving the "go" to activate them. The Soviets had a similar plan, of course.
Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, doesn't it?
What's especially ironic about this newly declassified "doomsday blueprint" is how it was predicted so accurately, 28 years ago, in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. Thinking about this subject gave me an urge to turn on the TV and watch this Cold War masterpiece one more time.
Don't forget that even though the Cold War is fading behind us, the threat of nuclear destruction has not ended. There are still thousands of nuclear warheads in existence, carefully aimed at almost every spot on Earth. What would happen if a situation arose where someone, perhaps someone insane, actually took action to start a nuclear war?
The possibilities make Dr. Strangelove less outlandish and more realistic. The Time article never mentions Dr. Strangelove – but nonetheless there are similarities between it and the movie.
In the movie, the nuclear survival plan made sure to include the top military and political leaders of the country – after all, they certainly didn't want to suffer the consequences of their own mistake. In real life, a huge "Underground Pentagon" was built to shelter the members of Congress, and the top military leaders of the armed forces too.
In Dr. Strangelove, the disaster comes through implementation of an insane idea called "Plan R." ("R for Romeo" – sex, sex, sex!) Well, it turned out that the real-life Underground Pentagon was called "Site R!"
In the movie, the generals talk about running the country even though the world is coming to an end. In real life, every federal agency was given a plan on how to survive even after a nuclear attack.
In the movie, there was the Big Board that monitored the entire country, and the Soviet Union too. In real life, there was the Bomb Alarm board, dotted with hundreds of lights that would flash on to indicate the sites of nuclear explosions.
About the only thing the real-life Doomsday Plan doesn't have that Dr. Strangelove did was the sex. Or does it? Apparently the real-life plan – which was called "Plan D" – makes sure that the inventory of the underground Presidential bomb shelter included birth-control pills: "not because of any anticipated sexual activity but so that female officials would not have to interrupt their pill-taking cycles."
The article doesn't say why female officials were taking these pills in the first place.
Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!
From the Kubrick FAQ:
- (Here are excerpts from the August 10 article [by Ted Gup]):
- Outpost Mission was but a fragment of a vast and secret doomsday plan devised by senior U.S. officials who spent their lives preparing for the unthinkable – nuclear war. Their mission: to ensure the survival of the U.S. government, preserve order and salvage the economy in the aftermath of an atomic attack. Still others were charged with rescuing the nation's cultural heritage, from the Declaration of Independence to the priceless masterpieces of the National Gallery of Art. Now, with the end of the cold war, many doomsday operatives are breaking their silence for the first time. Confronted with the potential horrors of atomic warfare, they drafted detailed contingency plans and regulations that, while trying to save constitutional government, would have radically transformed the nation's political and social institutions.
- What they envisioned was an America darkened not only by nuclear war but also by the imposition of martial law, food rationing, censorship and the suspension of many civil liberties. "We would have to run this country as one big camp – severely regimented," Eisenhower told advisers in a top-secret memo dated 1955. Nor is it a matter only of remote historical interest. Many of those doomsday regulations would still be put into effect after a nuclear attack, and while preparations for rescuing the nation's leaders and cultural treasures remain in place, efforts to shield the civilian population were virtually abandoned decades ago. . . .
- Senior Washington officials received an emergency telephone number that bypassed the commercial system and linked them directly to crisis operators, who understood that if the caller uttered the single code word – FLASH – it meant the call was "essential to national survival." Never out of the President's reach were the Presidential Emergency Action Documents and "Plan D," his options for responding to a surprise nuclear attack.
- The doomsday plans took shape during the Eisenhower Administration, spawning an entire bureaucracy and a web of government relocation sites situated around the capital in what became known as the Federal Arc. Each year the government conducted elaborate exercises in which thousands of officials relocated in mock nuclear attacks. Eisenhower and his Cabinet convened at Raven Rock, the 265,000-sq.-ft. "Underground Pentagon" near Gettysburg, Pa., code-named "Site R," or at Mount Weather, a bunker near Berryville, Va., code-named "High Point" (see "Doomsday Hideaway," Time, Dec. 9, 1991). Airborne command posts and reinforced communications ships stood by to receive the Commander in Chief and his advisers. Congress had its own top-secret relocation center buried beneath the Greenbrier, a five-star resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Outfitted with its own Senate and House chambers, as well as a vast hall for joint sessions, the facility was code-named "Casper," and only half a dozen members of Congress knew it existed. . . .
- Few men have a more intimate understanding of the doomsday scenario than Bernard T. Gallagher. Known to his friends as Bud, he was a Strategic Air Command pilot and served as director of Mount Weather for 25 years, until his retirement last March. A robust 70 years old, he wears a white cowboy hat . . . and is an unabashed patriot. As an "atomic-cloud sampler," he flew through the billowing mushrooms of 13 U.S. nuclear blasts in 1952 and 1953. To measure the radiation passing through him, he swallowed an X-ray plate coated with Vaseline and suspended by a string that hung out of his mouth during the flight. . . .
- Though Gallagher has spent his life preparing for nuclear war, he has few illusions about what it would mean. "Through the years, we always reacted like we could handle an all-out nuclear attack," he says. "I don't think people – even our top people in government – have any idea of what a thousand multimegaton nuclear weapons on the U.S. would do. We'd be back in the Stone Age. It's unthinkable."
- Buried within a mountain of superhard greenstone, the 200,000-sq.-ft. Mount Weather has been a primary relocation site for the Cabinet and cadres of federal employees – and was long a primary haven for the President. . . . Before they could be admitted past the facility's 6-ft.-thick steel "blast gate," officials would have to show their special ID cards. . . .
- Mount Weather could hold two, even three times as many people as there were bunks – several thousand in all. . . . So complete is the site's inventory that it now includes birth-control pills – not because of any anticipated sexual activity but so that female officials would not have to interrupt their pill-taking cycles. . . .
- In a White House vault were Eisenhower's standby crisis orders, already initialed by the President, including some that would have imposed martial law. . . .
- As a soldier, Ike had few illusions about the doomsday plans. A "secret" White House memo dated 1956 records his rebuke when a Cabinet Secretary noted that 450 people were evacuated "rather smoothly" during an exercise. Eisenhower "reminded the Cabinet that in a real situation, these will not be normal people – they will be scared, will be hysterical, will be `absolutely nuts.' We are going to have to be prepared to operate with people who are `nuts.'. . . He feared anarchy. "Government which goes on with some kind of continuity will be like a one-eyed man in the land of the blind," the White House memo concluded. . . .
- U.S. doomsday strategists also coordinated their relocation and post-attack production plans with private industry considered vital to national survival. In April 1970, for example, White House emergency planners joined Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey executives in a mock nuclear war exercise. Standard Oil's senior management withdrew to its emergency operating center, buried 300 ft. below the ground at what was once called Iron Mountain Atomic Storage, near Hudson, N.Y. . . . Company officials balked when it appeared the government might take over the firm in wartime. . . .
- There were also elaborate plans for a national censorship office called the Wartime Information Security Program, or WISP (as in whisper). A CBS vice president, the late Theodore F. Koop, had agreed to be the standby national censor, and about 40 civilian executives had consented to work as the unit's staff in wartime. A 1965 internal government memo notes that censorship manuals and regulations had been stockpiled, and a fully equipped communications center was established outside Washington. Press reports in 1970 exposed the existence of a standby national censor and led to the formal dissolution of the censorship unit, but its duties were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo refers to as the "shadow" government. . . .
- With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.'s doomsday planners are engaged in a sweeping reassessment of crisis scenarios. The old relocation centers are under review. Some are to be mothballed, others converted to more mundane uses: record storage and office space. Contingency plans and dusty crisis regulations are being re-examined. Having outlived its enemy and its original mission, the doomsday bureaucracy faces a more immediate threat – irrelevance. But as the last members of the original generation of doomsday planners step down, they do so with cautionary words: the Soviet Union may be history, but new dangers abound – nuclear proliferation, the resurgence of nationalism and the threat of terrorism. "You shouldn't shut the damn door yet," warns Mount Weather's first director, Leo Bourassa. Bud Gallagher, his successor, prefers to cite Plato: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
- – from Time Magazine, August 10, 1992