Dr. Strangelove is a brilliant, satirical, provocative black satire regarding doomsday and Cold War politics that features an accidental, inadvertent, pre-emptive nuclear attack. The undated, landmark film was the first commercially-successful political satire about nuclear war, has been inevitably compared to another similar suspense film released at the same time – the much-more-serious and melodramatic Fail-Safe (1964). However, this was a cynically objective, Monty Python-esque, humorous, biting response to the apocalyptic fears of the 1950s. The novel’s primary concern was the threat of an accidental nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove himself did not appear in the novel, however – he was added by Kubrick and co-screenwriter Southern.

            The mid-1960s film’s nightmarish, apocalyptic theme was about how technology had gone haywire and had dominated humanity. The film’s anti-war fears actually became a plausible scenario, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the heated-up intensification of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.

            Dr. Strangelove takes passing shots at numerous Cold War attitudes, such as the “missile gap“, but it primarily focuses its satire on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD), in which each side is supposed to be deterred from a nuclear war by the prospect of a cataclysmic disaster for both sides, regardless of who “won”. Herman Kahn in his 1960 On Thermonuclear War used the concept of a doomsday machine in order to mock mutual assured destruction; in effect, Kahn argued, both sides already had a sort of doomsday machine. Kahn, a leading critic of American strategy during the 1950s, urged Americans to plan for a limited nuclear war, and later became one of the architects of the MAD doctrine in the 1960s.

            The prevailing thinking that a nuclear war was inherently unwinnable and suicide was illogical to the physicist-turned-strategist. Kahn came off as cold and calculating; for instance, in his works, he estimated how many human lives the United States could lose and still rebuild economically. This attitude is reflected in Turgidson’s remark to the president about the outcome of a pre-emptive nuclear war: “Now I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I am saying no more than 10 to 20 million people killed. Tops!” Turgidson also has a binder is labelled “World Targets in Megadeaths”.