Satirizing the Cold War
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 universal cataclysmic disaster regardless of who "won". Military strategist and former physicist Herman Kahn, in his 1960 On Thermonuclear War, used the theoretical example of a doomsday machine to illustrate the limitations of MAD, which was developed by John von Neumann; He merely meant that the MAD doctrine shouldn't be pushed to extremes. It worried him that the military might like the idea of a doomsday machine and build one!  Kahn, a leading critic of MAD, urged America to plan for a limited nuclear war, and later became one of the architects of a doctrine that superficially resembled MAD, but allowed for limited nuclear warfare. He actually consulted with Kubrick on the doomsday machine concept for the film. Kahn came over as cold and calculating, for example in his willingness to estimate how many human lives the United States could lose and still rebuild economically, but this was unfair, as he was not really advocating nuclear warfare. (He simply meant that if it came to nuclear war, there might in fact be a limited one, and we should keep our options open.) Kahn's cold analytical attitude towards millions of deaths is reflected in Turgidson's remark to the president about the outcome of a preemptive nuclear war: "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks." Turgidson has a binder that is labelled "World Targets in Megadeaths", a term coined in 1953 by Kahn and popularized in his 1960 book On Thermonuclear War.
The plan to regenerate the human race from the people sheltered in mineshafts is a parody of Nelson Rockefeller's, Edward Teller's, Herman Kahn's, and Chet Holifield's 1961 plan to spend billions of dollars on a nationwide network of concrete-lined underground fallout shelters capable of holding millions of people. This proposed fallout shelter network has similarities and contrasts to that of the very real and robust Swiss civil defense network. Switzerland has an overcapacity of nuclear fallout shelters for the country's population size, and by law, new homes must still be built with a fallout shelter. If the US did this it would violate the spirit of MAD and destabilize the situation, because the US could launch a first strike and be safe against a retaliatory second strike. See Mad--Theory section.
To refute early 1960s novels and Hollywood films like Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove which raised questions about U.S. control over nuclear weapons, the Air Force produced a documentary film—SAC Command Post—to demonstrate its responsiveness to presidential command and its tight control over nuclear weapons.
In the months following the film's release director Stanley Kubrick received a fan letter from Legrace G. Benson of the Dept. of History of Art at Cornell University interpreting the film as being sexually-layered. The director wrote back to Benson and confirmed the interpretation, "Seriously, you are the first one who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intromission (the planes going in) to the last spasm (Kong's ride down and detonation at target)."