[extropy-chat] i am a strange loop

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Sun Apr 29 16:13:43 UTC 2007

Stathis Papaioannou :
>I always thought it was Edward Teller he was parodying.

Nope. (Good try, though)

>Teller has a book published about 15 years ago called Conversations on
>the Dark Secrets of Physics.  Check it out.  I think Sellers' Dr.
>Strangelove was intended as a composite character that has elements of
>Teller and Verner von Braun.  Teller's book describes the origin of
>terms megadeaths, overkill, etc, the ethereal world that the early
>nuke weapons people found themselves.  Herman Kahn has a book called
>Thinking About the Unthinkable which covers some of the same ground.

You almost had it.

Kubrick modelled the Dr. Strangelove character after Herman Kahn.


Repost of  14 October 2004 wta-talk and extropy-chat message.

From: Amara Graps <amara at amara.com>
Subject: Dr. Strangelove - the "documentary" :-)

some large pieces from this wonderful article about the
Dr. Strangelove Movie   ........   "that was a documentary!"



Truth stranger than 'Strangelove'

Fred Kaplan NYT
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Dr. Strangelove," Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film about nuclear-war plans
run amok, is widely heralded as one of the greatest satires in
American political or movie history. For its 40th anniversary,
Columbia TriStar is releasing a two-disc special-edition DVD next

One essential point should emerge from all the hoopla: "Strangelove"
is far more than a satire. In its own loopy way, the movie is a
remarkably fact-based and specific guide to some of the oddest, most
secretive chapters of the cold war.

As countless histories relate, Kubrick set out to make a serious film
based on a grim novel, "Red Alert," by Peter George, a Royal Air Force
officer. But the more research he did (reading more than 50 books,
talking with a dozen experts), the more lunatic he found the whole
subject, so he made a dark comedy instead. The result was wildly
iconoclastic: Released at the height of the cold war, not long after
the Cuban missile crisis, before the escalation in Vietnam, "Dr.
Strangelove" dared to suggest that our top generals might be bonkers
and that our well-designed system for preserving the peace was in fact
a doomsday machine.

What few people knew, at the time and since, was just how accurate
this film was. Its premise, plotline, some of the dialogue, even its
wildest characters eerily resembled the policies, debates and military
leaders of the day. The audience had almost no way of detecting these
similarities: Nearly everything about the bomb was shrouded in secrecy
back then. There was no Freedom of Information Act and little
investigative reporting on the subject. It was easy to laugh off "Dr.
Strangelove" as a comic book.


The most popular guessing game about the movie is whether there was a
real-life counterpart to the character of Dr. Strangelove (another
Sellers part), the wheelchaired ex-Nazi who directs the Pentagon's
weapons research and proposes sheltering political leaders in
well-stocked mineshafts, where they can survive the coming nuclear war
and breed with beautiful women. Over the years, some have speculated
that Strangelove was inspired by Edward Teller, Henry Kissinger or
Werner Von Braun.

But the real model was almost certainly Herman Kahn, an eccentric,
voluble nuclear strategist at the RAND Corporation, a prominent Air
Force think tank. In 1960, Kahn published a 652-page tome called "On
Thermonuclear War," which sold 30,000 copies in hardcover.

According to a special-feature documentary on the new DVD, Kubrick
read "On Thermonuclear War" several times. But what the documentary
doesn't note is that the final scenes of "Dr. Strangelove" come
straight out of its pages.


Toward the end of the film, officials uncover General Ripper's code
and call back the B-52s, but they notice that one bomber keeps flying
toward its target. A B-52 is about to attack the Russians with a few
H-bombs; General Turgidson recommends that we should "catch 'em with
their pants down," and launch an all-out, disarming first-strike.

Such a strike would destroy 90 percent of the U.S.S.R.'s nuclear
arsenal. "Mr. President," he exclaims, "I'm not saying we wouldn't get
our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10-20 million killed,

If we don't go all-out, the general warns, the Soviets will fire back
with all their nuclear weapons. The choice, he screams, is "between
two admittedly regrettable but nevertheless distinguishable postwar
environments - one where you get 20 million people killed and the
other where you get 150 million people killed!"

Kahn made precisely this point in his book, even producing a chart
labeled, "Tragic but Distinguishable Postwar States." When Strangelove
talks of sheltering people in mineshafts, President Muffley asks him,
"Wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished
that they'd, well, envy the dead?"

Strangelove exclaims that, to the contrary, many would feel "a spirit
of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead." Kahn's book contains a
long chapter on mineshafts. Its title: "Will the Survivors Envy the
Dead?" One sentence reads: "We can imagine a renewed vigor among the
population with a zealous, almost religious dedication to

Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
INAF Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario (IFSI), Roma, ITALIA
Associate Research Scientist, Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Tucson

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