Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
- The world’s destruction by nuclear war.
- The English actor, Peter Sellers’ three hilarious roles (pictured right
below) including Doctor Strangelove. A broken leg stopped him taking another part (the Texan pilot Major
- The sexual innuendo of the characters’ names (Strangelove, Kissof etc.)
- Its alternative title: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
This was the year nuclear war was narrowly avoided in the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when Russia (then
called the Soviet Union) threatened America by putting missile sites in Cuba.
Stanley Kubrick (pictured right, also its producer and co-writer).
His other films included:
- A Clockwork Orange (highly controversial because of its violence).
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (a classic science fiction movie).
None (the musical My Fair Lady, pictured right, won the major
Doctor Strangelove (Peter Sellers), an eccentric nuclear bomb expert - pictured right.
Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers), the American president.
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), British air force officer.
Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), American air base commander.
Insane American air force commander, Jack D. Ripper (pictured right), puts his 34 B52
bombers on “Condition Red” for a bombing raid on Russia in response to an imaginary Russian attack.
Each B52 has nuclear bombs equivalent to 16 times the power of all the bombs and shells used in
World War Two.
Ripper believes in:
- asking questions later.
He seals off his base, so that it is impossible to reverse the “Condition Red” order or contact him.
When the British air force officer, Lionel Mandrake, tries to persuade him to stop the raid
(pictured right), Ripper:
- locks him up in his office.
- insanely believes that the bombing raid is justified (to prevent a Russian plan to
fluoridate American drinking water).
In the Pentagon’s huge War Room, General Turgidson (Ripper’s strongly anti-communist boss)
tells the American president, Merkin Muffley, that he is powerless to recall the
The president is furious that Ripper has ordered the attack, because he knows this will lead to World War
Turgidson (pictured right) wants to support Ripper's planes with a total nuclear attack, so that Russia can
be annihilated before it can retaliate. He gives the president a choice: kill 20 or 150 million Russians.
Alexei de Sadesky, the Russian ambassador, tells the president that the Russian leader,
Dmitri Kissof, can’t be contacted because he’s drinking and having sex (Sadesky is pictured right
below - Muffley is on the right) .
The American president:
- orders an attack on Ripper’s base (to get the recall code from him).
- finally talks to the drunk Kissof on the telephone.
- apologizes profusely for the B-52’s that are now approaching Russia.
- tells Kissof to shoot them down.
The Russian ambassador then discloses the Doomsday Machine that will be activated
automatically by a nuclear attack on Russia, destroying all life on Earth.
The Russians built it fearing that the Americans might have one. The president consults an ex-Nazi nuclear
weapons expert, Dr. Strangelove (pictured right), who tells him that the Americans had rejected a
Doomsday Machine as an ineffective deterrent because it would be difficult to make public.
Back at the air base, Ripper:
- still rants on about Russia’s plot to fluoridate America’s water.
- shoots himself (after his base surrenders).
Mandrake works out the recall code, and it is transmitted to the bombers. But one B-52 doesn’t turn back, led by
the patriotic Texan cowboy, Major “King” Kong.
It drops two huge nuclear bombs and Dr. Strangelove is exhilarated by the thought of the Earth’s destruction
with a select few (similar to Hitler’s Aryan race) who would be safe in deep, underground mine
- even calls the president “Mein Führer”.
- miraculously regains his ability to walk.
The Doomsday Machine is activated and the world is destroyed (pictured right), ironically accompanied by Vera
Lynn’s British wartime song, We’ll Meet Again. Of course, nobody will.
Lessons for leadership and ethics
1. Politicians must rule
The nuclear war is started by Ripper without the president’s approval, and General Turgidson wants to drop lots
2. Prejudice is perilous
Ripper and Turgidson’s fanatical anti-communism blinds them to the fact that a nuclear attack would
destroy the world.
The mad, racist Nazi, Dr. Strangelove, also relishes global destruction.
3. Duty before desire
The Russian leader can’t be contacted about the nuclear attack, because he is drinking and having sex!
The Russian people's desire for consumer goods encourages the Russians to build the Doomsday
Machine as a cheaper alternative to nuclear bombs.
4. Co-operation is vital
Nuclear bombs and the Doomsday Machine are products of the arms race between America and Russia, resulting from
mutual fear and ignorance about the other side’s military strength.
Turgidson tells the president a nuclear attack is better than risking America's security (when this threat is
just a figment of his bigoted imagination).
It would be much better, if they co-operated to reduce their arms, replacing suspicion
5. Macho is madness
Trigger and Turgidson’s desire to bomb the Russians comes from their association of military strength with
This link is emphasized by the sexual inferences in the characters’ names.
- Mandrake is a herbal aphrodisiac.
- merkin and muff are American slang words for female pubic hair!
6. Decisions are difficult
Turgidson gives the president two options: kill 150 million Russians or 20 million!
The president doesn't want a nuclear war but he is driven into it by circumstances outside his
Ripper's decision to attack Russia is supported by General Turgidson's and Major Kong's fanatical
Key quotes on war
War is too important to be left to politicians, Ripper.
We don’t want to start a nuclear war, unless we really have to, do we?, Mandrake (to
Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!, President Muffley (to Turgidson
Peace is our profession, slogan on signs at Ripper's air base.
Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack,
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)