scenes: the attack begins – Premier Kissov on the line – “water is the source of life” – Cobalt Thorium G – Ripper’s life essence
The barely-restrained tension dominating the film begins to escalate when the army attacks Burpleson Air Force Base. We are shown a group of soldiers at the perimeter of the base, armed with a machine gun. They comment on how realistically the “commies” have impersonated US army troops. Once the trucks get close enough, the Burpleson soldiers open fire on the Army troops.
In the next scene, President Muffley is on the phone with the Soviet Premier, thanks to the ambassador’s help. The Soviet Premier is drunk and with a mistress. Muffley has a long conversation with the drunk Premier (who is not heard) in which he must calm the Premier down, soothe his ego, and explain the situation. The Premier is so drunk that the President must speak to him like a child. In Russian to the ambassador, the Premier explains that work on the Soviet Doomsday Machine is completed and the machine is armed, which de Sadeski relays to the President and the rest of the War Room.
Back in Ripper’s office at Burpleson, Mandrake almost shakes with fear as Ripper tries to calm him down. Ripper begins explaining to Mandrake that “water is the source of all life,” and that he believes the Russians have been poisoning the American water supply with fluoride. Fluoridation was a recently-introduced public health measure at the time, and Mandrake becomes more distressed as he realizes the extent of Ripper’s insanity. Suddenly, gunfire breaks through the window in the office and ricochets around the room. Excitedly, almost gleefully, Ripper takes a machine gun out of his golf bag and prepares to fight back. He tries to get Mandrake to help him, who finds excuses not to help, but finally capitulates.
A cut to the War Room finds de Sadesky still explaining the Doomsday Machine. Turgidson is in disbelief, and thinks that de Sadesky is lying to make the Americans work harder to get the planes back. De Sadesky explains the discovery of “Cobalt Thorium G,” which has a radioactive half-life of 93 years. De Sadesky tells them that the Doomsday Machine is connected to a network of computers that will unleash the bomb if a nuclear weapon is detonated in the Soviet Union, and that it is designed to explode if any attempt is made to disarm it. He explains that it was the cheapest way to ensure deterrence by mutually assured destruction, and that the Soviet Union only went through with it when they found out that the US was working on something similar.
At this moment Dr. Strangelove, the title character, is introduced for the first time. Muffley asks him if it is true that the US was working on something similar, and he rolls in a wheelchair out of a dark side of the War Room. He is wheelchair-bound, has a black glove on one hand, and has all the attributes of a stereotypical mad scientist (dressed grimly, wild white hair). He has a heavy German or Austrian accent. He explains that he did commission a study of such a project, but determined it was not practical as a deterrent, though it is relatively easy to pull off. Strangelove explains some of the technology and theory behind such a weapon, while Turgidson and Stainsy (seated next to him), discuss Strangelove’s German background. Strangelove criticizes the Russians for not telling the world about the Doomsday Machine, which makes it useless as a deterrent. De Sadesky explains that it was to be announced soon, as a surprise, because the Soviet Premier loves surprises.
A cut to the exterior of Burpelson shows the gun fight unfolding in front of a sign that reads “Peace is Our Profession.” In Ripper’s office again, Ripper and Mandrake continue to return fire out of the window. In between bursts, Ripper continues his diatribe against fluoridation. Mandrake asks Ripper when he first developed his theory about fluoridation’s sinister source, and Ripper says that he first became aware of it “during the physical act of love.” He tells of an incident in which he was overcome with fatigue and a feeling of emptiness during sex, and he realized that he had been a victim of “loss of essence.” He goes on to brag about his sexual prowess, and claims the problem has not occurred now that he has started drinking only grain alcohol and rainwater.
In this section of the film, scenes in the War Room and at Burpelson escalate the conflict, and reveal the film’s underlying logical criticism of the mutually assured destruction doctrine.
As the army unit approaches the base and the soldiers there comment on how realistic the trucks look, we more fully understand Ripper’s announcement that the enemy may come disguised as Americans. From this we are able to draw the conclusion that Ripper put a lot of thought into this plan, and that his psychotic break is not so much a sudden episode as it is a deeper problem that has been going on for a long time. This revelation drives home the extent of the failure of the human reliability tests that Muffley mentions earlier when scolding Turgidson.
Muffley’s conversation with the drunken Premier demonstrates incompetence on the Russian side as well, and escalates the situation by making a resolution harder to achieve. Muffley’s behavior on the call is consistent with his characterization: he is the straight character, surrounded by incompetence and trying to overcome it, yet incredibly ineffectual. The revelation of a “Doomsday Machine” dramatically raises the stakes by taking away the option to negotiate the Soviets down from a mutually assured destruction type of retaliation.
The doomsday machine that the ambassador describes is the Soviet equivalent of the US policy that allows a lower general like Ripper to issue a nuclear strike. It is used not only to show the absurdity of the MAD doctrine, but also to specifically criticize a policy that allows someone other than the president to issue a nuclear strike. It is used as part of a logical argument often called “reductio ad absurdum,” which disproves a statement or concept by showing that it inevitably leads to a ridiculous or impractical conclusion. The political and military leaders in the War Room think that the doomsday machine is an insane idea, and fail to see the parallel between it and their policies. As the ambassador further explains the doomsday machine and “cobalt thorium G,” this criticism of mutually assured destruction becomes more clear. Turgidson’s excitement and assertion that he “wish[es] we had one of them doomsday machines” drive home the idea that such a strategy is a logical extension of US policy in the film.
Dr. Strangelove is then introduced to explain some of the paradox of the MAD doctrine, simultaneously showing that a doomsday machine is the only possible credible application of MAD, but pointing out that a practical MAD policy relies on the denial, but ultimate use, of a more flexible policy. He asserts that the doomsday machine was not practical as a deterrent, for reasons such as the present situation. The audience understands that were it not for the doomsday machine, or if the machine could be stopped, the Soviets and Americans in the film would ideally come to some kind of diplomatic agreement that did not thrust to world into a century-long nuclear winter. This points out that in the real world, during an unfolding nuclear crisis, the idea of MAD would likely be abandoned for a more flexible retaliation in order to mitigate loss of life and global catastrophe. Understanding this, we come to the conclusion that MAD itself, without a doomsday machine, cannot be a credible threat because we know that when the time comes it will likely be avoided. Therefore, the only credible use of MAD is the doomsday machine, and a credible MAD policy and a practical MAD policy are not compatible with one another. Thus, a both credible and practical MAD doctrine must rely on paradoxical thinking or the denial of certain facts, often referred to as doublethink.
Dr. Strangelove is also used to satirize Operation Paperclip, in which the US government brought over 1,600 scientists and engineers from postwar Germany, many of whom had been members or leaders in the Nazi Party. The United States government overlooked a number of potential war crimes charges which could have been brought against men like Strangelove in exchange for their help in developing nuclear weapons for the US. The main inspiration for Strangelove is Wernher von Braun, who had been a part of the rocket development program for the Nazis and was a member of the Nazi party. In this scene, Strangelove also helps satirize the RAND corporation, which he refers to as the BLAND corporation, and furthers the exposition by explaining how the doomsday machine works, and how it is unable to be stopped.
Ripper’s explanation of his fluoridation theory further raises the stakes by demonstrating the extent of his psychosis. We are now able to understand his obsession with his “precious bodily fluids,” which resonates with real fears some people in the US had at the time about the fluoridation of water. Just as this conversation is reaching a climax, they are interrupted by gunfire entering the office, and Ripper’s calm eagerness to fight the intruders continues his characterization as insane and violent. When we find out that Ripper first developed his theory about fluoridation during the “physical act of love,” we are again shown the link between sex and the military that the film aims to highlight. Ripper’s obsession with sexual prowess is at the center of his hatred of the communists and starts the nuclear crisis. This draws out the use of the bomb as a sexual instrument, and its detonation as an orgasm, a theme that the film continuously reiterates.