Dr. Strangelove
or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

In Stanley Kubrick's dark comedy Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb The rationality of Cold War nuclear policy was called into question. A less-than-sane general, concerned that "the Russians are taking over our bodily fluids" orders a nuclear attack that the President's staff, gathered in The War Room, tries to stop. As we discussed in class, it may sometimes be "rational to be irrational" especially when deterrence requires both harsh punishment and strong credibility that one is willing to punish. "The Doomsday Machine" serves that purpose, but leaves little room for error.


Scene Cast

Muffley: What... what is it, what?
DeSadeski: The fools... the mad fools.
Muffley: What's happened?
DeSadeski: The doomsday machine.
Muffley: The doomsday machine? What is that?
DeSadeski: A device which will destroy all human and animal life on earth.
Muffley: All human and animal life? ... I'm afraid I don't understand something, Alexiy. Is the Premier threatening to explode this if our planes carry out their attack?
DeSadeski: No sir. It is not a thing a sane man would do. The doomsday machine is designed to to trigger itself automatically.
Muffley: But surely you can disarm it somehow.
DeSadeski: No. It is designed to explode if any attempt is ever made to untrigger it.
Muffley: Automatically? ... But, how is it possible for this thing to be triggered automatically, and at the same time impossible to untrigger?
Strangelove: Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. 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.
Turgidson: Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines, Stainsy.
Muffley: But this is fantastic, Strangelove. How can it be triggered automatically?
Strangelove: Well, it's remarkably simple to do that. When you merely wish to bury bombs, there is no limit to the size. After that they are connected to a gigantic complex of computers. Now then, a specific and clearly defined set of circumstances, under which the bombs are to be exploded, is programmed into a tape memory bank. ... Yes, but the... whole point of the doomsday machine... is lost... if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?
DeSadeski: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.