Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Irony

"High Alert"

The voice-over describing Operation Dropkick creates situational irony with the scene immediately succeeding it. We are told that a patrol of bombers are kept on alert, airborne for 24 hours a day to safeguard against a nuclear attack, and we expect to find a flurry of activity within the bomber. Instead, we are shown a crew that is bored, distracted, and never expecting to have to take any real military action. This scene points to the absurd and contradictory nature of a “cold” war: though the bomber is armed with the deadliest weapon known to man, and everyone should be afraid of the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the lack of active warfare numbs those involved to the gravity of their situation and the “war” they are fighting.

"Peace is our Profession"

This slogan appears on a poster behind General Ripper as he orders a nuclear attack, and is emblazoned across a sign at Burpelson Air Force Base as the gunfight proceeds between the Burpleson soldiers and the Army unit sent to take over the base. The paradox is immediately obvious to the audience. This is an example of dramatic irony—the military believes its policies exist to promote peace, and so does much of the American public, when in fact we see these policies doing just the opposite. It can also be seen as a commentary on the larger manipulation of language by politicians and the military to alleviate the anxiety of war by using more positive synonyms for things like death, annihilation and mass murder.

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.” -Pres. Merkin Muffley

This quote from Dr. Strangelove made it onto the list of the most memorable movie quotes in the first 100 years of Hollywood (compiled by the American Film Institute), and stands as the ultimate expression of verbal irony in the film. The admonition comes from the President of the United States and is directed to Turgidson and the Soviet ambassador, who are wrestling within the confines of the underground bunker from which US military and political leaders are attempting to resolve the nuclear crisis.

"You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.” -Col. “Bat” Guano

Col. “Bat” Guano’s almost inconceivably oblivious threat to Col. Lionel Mandrake is another great example of irony—in this case, dramatic irony. While Mandrake is feverishly trying to get enough change to make a long-distance phone call to Washington to deliver the recall code, Col. Guano is far more concerned with the destruction of property owned by the Coca-Cola Company. Col. Guano is unaware of the nuclear crisis and its consequences, and the audience's understanding of this issue puts his odd statement in perspective.

"I'm going to make you Mrs. Buck Turgidson" (dramatic irony)

On the phone with his mistress (and secretary), Buck Turgidson is satirized as a sexist buffoon: he tells her that he “deeply respects her as a human being,” and goes on to say “some day, I am going to make you Mrs. Buck Turgidson.” This is a moment of dramatic irony—Turgidson believes he is being respectful to Miss Scott, without realizing the sexism in his words.

"The Russkies have already clobbered Washington"

On the B-52, no one on the crew can believe that they have been issued a go-code to drop their nuclear bombs, and some think it might be a test of some kind. Major Kong says that he knows General Ripper would not issue the go-code unless Washington D.C. and several other cities had already been taken out by a Soviet nuclear strike. The audience, however, knows that nothing of the sort has happened. The film is characterized by this kind of dramatic irony, in which the audience consistently knows things that the characters in the film do not realize about their situation.

"Put everything you've got into those two sectors and you can't miss"

President Muffley tells the Soviet Premier to focus all of his defenses on the bomber's primary and secondary targets, without realizing that the plane has switched targets because of fuel loss. This is another example of the film's constant dramatic irony, in which the audience knows things that the characters in the film do not realize about their situation.