U.S. Opening the Road to World War III
We Meet Dr. Strangelove
Again in Washington
“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...”
U.S. war secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin (left) together with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken, April 24. After leaving their not-so-secret meeting in Kiev, the Pentagon chief declared that the U.S. aim was to “weaken” the Russian military, opening the door to World War III with nuclear-armed Russia.
By Charles Brover
“And with increasing frequency, the Russians are reminding the world of the size and power of their nuclear arsenal, an unsubtle warning that if President Vladimir V. Putin’s conventional forces face any more humiliating losses, he has other options. American and European officials say they see no evidence the Russians are mobilizing their battlefield nuclear forces, but behind the scenes, the officials are already gaming out how they might react....”
–New York Times, 28 April 2022
The U.S. is hurtling and stumbling irrationally toward world war, possibly nuclear war. Together with its allies in the imperialist North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Washington is sending increasingly heavy offensive weaponry to the fascist-infested Ukrainian military. But the U.S. has set its broader sights on Russian downfall as a dramatic example of U.S./NATO military prowess and an implied threat to China. The U.S. vows to defeat Russia and degrade its military so it will be “weakened” for years to come as Pentagon chief General Lloyd Austin has said. The compliant and war-addled liberal press functions as a 24-hour-a-day martial band for Ukrainian fascist “freedom fighters.” (How soon the media forget their propaganda campaign leading to the Iraq invasion.) The press and a crowd of militarist talking heads chime in calling for Ukrainian military victory and a no-fly zone.
While economically a capitalist regional power, Russia still holds a formidable nuclear arsenal established during the Soviet era. So the U.S. war machine “games out” nuclear war plans while publicly dismissing as strategic fancy the possibility of nuclear war. This is not new, U.S. intelligence regularly pooh-poohs its adversaries’ warnings of perceived existential threat. Most famously, during the early months of the Korean War, China said that it would enter the war if the U.S. advanced north to the banks of the North Korean/Chinese border on the Yalu River. “Just bluffing,” said U.S. intelligence. General MacArthur promised President Truman in 1950 that the war would be over by Thanksgiving and the troops home by Christmas. So when the U.S. troops reached the banks of the Yalu, they were utterly surprised as more than 300,000 Chinese troops routed the U.S. Eighth Army and drove them far to the south.
In the face of capitalism’s relentless irrational drive to war, and thus ultimately to human annihilation, one might expect robust protests in the streets. But in the absence of authoritative revolutionary leadership, we find instead wall-to-wall support for widening war aimed at nuclear-armed Russia. Can the war in Ukraine lead to a nuclear world war? Will the right-wing nuts and crazed liberal warmongers who run this country really do it? It is as if our current political reality meets again the Cold War parody prophesies of the 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
The brilliant antiwar satire by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern, written in the shadow of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, features Dr. Strangelove, the president’s wheelchair-bound scientific advisor and “former” German Nazi. This fictional figure was an amalgam of Werner von Braun, who developed the V-2 rocket for Hitler in World War II and then built rockets for the U.S.; the warmongering Dr. Edward Teller who developed the H-bomb; and Herman Kahn, the Rand Corporation “theorist” and author of the infamous 1962 Naval War Review article “Thinking About the Unthinkable,” who using game theory argued that some people would survive a nuclear war.
In the movie, the stage is set as an air force base commander Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper dispatches B-52 bombers armed with hydrogen bombs to strike targets in the Soviet Union. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Buck Turgidson, briefs President Merkin Muffley in the Pentagon War room. Turgidson “games out” the pending nuclear first strike by the U.S., advocating letting the attack go forward and even expanding it. According to an unofficial study, he says, this would only result in “modest and acceptable civilian casualties” from a “badly damaged and uncoordinated” Soviet military. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops,” the Pentagon chief chillingly remarks.
Fiction? In the early years of the Cold War, the U.S. Strategic Air Command had elaborate plans to kill many times that number of people in Soviet bloc countries. And today, the Pentagon think tank “theorists” are again “thinking the unthinkable,” this time toying with threatening a first strike against China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state which proletarian revolutionaries defend against imperialism and counterrevolution. Is today’s Gen. Austin channeling his fictional predecessor Gen. Turgidson as the U.S. blithely seeks to “degrade” the nuclear-armed Russian military while threatening China?
Here are some edited excerpts from the film:*
GENERAL BUCK TURGIDSON: Mr. President, if I may speak freely, the Russkie talks big, but frankly, we think he’s short of know how. I mean, you just can’t expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our boys. And that’s not meant as an insult, Mr. Ambassador, I mean, you take your average Russkie, we all know how much guts he’s got. Hell, look at all them Nazis killed them off, and they still wouldn’t quit….
As you may recall, sir, one of the provisions of Plan R provides that once the go code is received ... CRM 114 [a fictional radio device on board the B-52 aircraft] is designed not to receive at all.
PRESIDENT MUFFLEY: You mean to tell me, General Turgidson, that you will be unable to recall the aircraft?
TURGIDSON: That’s about the size of it... I don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn the whole program because of a single slip up, sir….
Turgidson proceeds to outline his arguments for escalating the nuclear first strike.
One, our hopes for recalling the 843rd Bomb Wing are quickly being reduced to a very low order of probability. Two, in less than fifteen minutes from now the Russkies will be making radar contact with the planes. Three, when they do, they are going to go absolutely ape, and they’re gonna strike back with everything they’ve got. Four, if prior to this time, we have done nothing further to suppress their retaliatory capabilities, we will suffer virtual annihilation. Now, five, if on the other hand, we were to immediately launch an all-out and coordinated attack on all their airfields and missile bases we’d stand a damn good chance of catching them with their pants down. Hell, we got a five to one missile superiority as it is. We could easily assign three missiles to every target, and still have a very effective reserve force for any other contingency. Now, six, an unofficial study which we undertook of this eventuality indicated that we would destroy ninety percent of their nuclear capabilities. We would therefore prevail, and suffer only modest and acceptable civilian casualties from their remaining force which would be badly damaged and uncoordinated.
PRESIDENT MUFFLEY: General, it is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.
TURGIDSON: Well, Mr. President, I would say that General Ripper has already invalidated that policy. (Laughs)
MUFFLEY: That was not an act of national policy and there are still alternatives left open to us.
TURGIDSON: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, the truth is not always a pleasant thing, but it is necessary to now make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
MUFFLEY: You’re talking about mass murder, General, not war.
TURGIDSON: 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... depends on the breaks.
MUFFLEY: I will not go down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolph Hitler!
TURGIDSON: Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American people than with your image in the history books….
When it is revealed in the film that the Soviets have created a doomsday machine as a nuclear deterrent, set to automatically detonate in the case of a nuclear attack on the USSR, the figure of Dr. Strangelove appears.
DR. STRANGELOVE: (Considering the Doomsday Machine) Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy ... heh, heh ... at the bottom of ah ... some of our deeper mineshafts. The radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep. And in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided.
MUFFLEY: How long would you have to stay down there?
STRANGELOVE: Well let’s see now ah, (searches within his lapel) cobalt thorium G. (notices circular slide rule in his gloved hand) aa ... nn ... Radioactive half-life of uh ,... hmm ... I would think that uh ... possibly uh ... one hundred years.
MUFFLEY: You mean, people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?
STRANGELOVE: It would not be difficult mein Führer! Nuclear reactors could, heh... I’m sorry. Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plant life. Animals could be bred and slaughtered...dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.
MUFFLEY: Well I... I would hate to have to decide … who stays up and … who goes down.
STRANGELOVE: Well, that would not be necessary Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer....
MUFFLEY: But look here doctor, wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?
STRANGELOVE: No sir... the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhhh! (Right arm reflexes into Nazi salute.)….
TURGIDSON: I think we should look at this from the military point of view. I mean, supposing the Russkies stash away some big bomb, see. When they come out in a hundred years they could take over!... In fact, they might even try an immediate sneak attack so they could take over our mineshaft space. I think it would be extremely naive of us, Mr. President, to imagine that these new developments are going to cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mineshaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow ... a mineshaft gap!
STRANGELOVE:...sir! (Stands up out of his wheelchair) I have a plan. Heh. (Pauses, realizing that he is standing) Mein Führer, I can walk!
The movie ends with the B-52 commander, Major T.J. “King” Kong, riding a nuclear bomb, hooting and waving his cowboy hat as the song “We’ll Meet Again” plays, until the bomb detonates over its target.