E19 -

The all‐​star Cato Foreign Policy team joins us for Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable film about nuclear warfare, Dr. Strangelove

Hosts
Landry Ayres
Senior Producer
Guests

Christopher Preble was the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He currently works as the co‐​director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Emma Ashford is a research fellow at the Cato Institute with expertise in international security and the politics of energy. Her research focuses on the politics and foreign policies of petrostates, particularly in Russia and various Middle Eastern countries.

John Glaser is associate director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. His research interests include grand strategy, basing posture, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the rise of China, and the role of status and prestige motivations in international politics.

Eric Gomez is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute. His research focuses on U.S. military strategy in East Asia, missile defense systems and their impact on strategic stability, and nuclear deterrence issues in East Asia. He has presented research on these topics at annual meetings of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association, and the 2018 Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) Fall Conference. In the summer of 2019, he attended the Strategic Force Analysis Boot Camp hosted by Georgetown University and Sandia National Laboratories.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb hit theaters in 1964 a mere few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not to mention it was also the height of the Cold War when Americans were worried about nuclear annihilation and mutually assured destruction. This satire lives on today as the best black comedy about nuclear warfare ever written.

Transcript

00:00 Landry Ayres: For more than a year, ominous rumors have been privately circulating among Pop & Locke listeners that Natalie and Landry had been hard at work on what was hinted to be the ultimate episode. A doomsday podcast. Sources trace the intelligence of the top secret project to the perpetually fog‐​shrouded wasteland of the Cato Foreign Policy Department. What they were recording or why it should be done, only they could say.

[music]

00:36 Landry Ayres: Welcome to Pop & Locke, I’m Landry Ayres.

00:38 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

00:40 Landry Ayres: Joining us today to tell us how they learn to stop worrying and love the bomb, and to discuss Stanley Kubrick’s classic black comedy, Dr. Strangelove are the Cato Foreign Policy all stars including, Director of Foreign Policy, John Glaser.

00:56 John Glaser: Hello.

00:57 Landry Ayres: Director of Defense Policy Studies, Eric Gomez.

01:01 Eric Gomez: Total commitment.

01:02 Landry Ayres: Research Fellow, Emma Ashford…

01:04 Emma Ashford: Hey, there.

01:05 Landry Ayres: And co‐​director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council and former Catonian, Chris Preble.

01:13 Chris Preble: Hey, everybody.

01:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, so as Jack D. Ripper said, “War is too important to be left to politicians.” What do we think about this?

[laughter]

01:25 Chris Preble: Yeah, if you watch these movies, I think you wouldn’t feel that way. Although among Peter Sellers… The three roles that Peter Sellers plays in Dr. Strangelove, he does do a pretty good job of playing a completely befuddled US President. All three characters are great, but I think one of the things the movie zeroes in on is militarism run amok and he pokes fun at military officials and the pathologies that they can get into. I think that quote speaks to a long‐​running tension in civil military relations. The politicians feel they have to protect the country from warmongering military officials say is the stereotype, and then on the other side, the military thinks these bumbling politicians don’t know a thing about war, and “They should just let us run it.” And so, I think that’s what he was zeroing in on with that line.

02:29 Emma Ashford: The flip side, I think is war is too important to be left to the generals. The idea that they’re pretty narrowly focused. In Dr. Strangelove, what you see is this just completely befuddled president who… He definitely approved everything that caused the incident that happens in the film. He approved this plan where a command launch authority was delegated down the levels. He approved shutting off their communications. He did all of these things. He obviously didn’t understand what he was doing, and the military pushed him that way by telling him, “It was something we had to do.” But John’s right, it’s all about this tension between what the military thinks is necessary to win and fight a war, and what politicians might actually think about how we conduct foreign policy.

03:14 Chris Preble: By the way, befuddled is a great word there, ’cause I was re‐​watching this and it’s amazing how clearly Sellers made the decision to make the President a straight man. He’s around all these goofs and this broad comic acting. And he’s such a straight man as the President, which is an unorthodox choice, I think, if you’re making a political satire.

03:36 Natalie Dowzicky: So, a few of you hinted at this tension between the military professionals and the politicians, and I was wondering if you guys thought that was still a tension that’s going on today, even though this was a satire in the 1960s and… [chuckle] Speak to that a bit and how that has become a reality, not quite to the extent of the satire, but how our real world situations are oddly, or maybe eerily similar to some of these tensions going on throughout Dr. Strangelove.

04:11 Eric Gomez: Civil military relations has become such a big part of the national discussion in the wake of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, going out with Donald Trump when he cleared Lafayette Square of protesters about a month ago. And then there’s been questions throughout Trump’s presidency too, of the status of civil military relations, and is Trump doing things that are inappropriate from norms and practices. When it comes nuclear commander control though, I think that in one respect, I think that’s okay. A lot of the things that Dr. Strangelove examines were really unique to the time period and the early Cold War had… We did have a lot of pre‐​delegation of launch authority to generals and military officers, mostly ground‐​based ones in Europe that were right on the front line between the US and Soviet Union who wouldn’t really have the time, if an attack came, to get an order from the President. They’d have to make the life or death decision to use a nuclear weapon right away. So that kind of tension I think is definitely gone now but we’re seeing a lot of the civ military relations problems elsewhere.

05:26 Eric Gomez: Another aspect that has come up a lot during the Trump presidency is, “Should the president have unilateral authority to order the use of a nuclear weapon? Or should the Congress be involved?” It’s unclear to me if this is just a Trump concern and it goes away as soon as he leaves office, whenever that might be or if it’s something that’s going to be more enduring. But throughout the Cold War, the debate happened pretty early on, and it was decided the President should have the final say‐​so. Other countries have different authorization authorities, where different people have to be involved, but in the United States, it’s really easy for the President to order the use of a nuclear weapon.

06:08 Emma Ashford: I mean, I have to say, I actually disagree with you Eric on that. This is not a Trump administration problem. Dr. Strangelove is getting at an issue that has been basically the same even before the Cold War, but certainly from the start of the nuclear period. The idea that generals might try and force a policymaker to maintain a commitment overseas, force them to show their resolve. Under Obama, we ended up with a general fired because he gave an interview to, I think it was Rolling Stone, in which he basically tried to force Obama to keep troops in part of Iraq. Today we’ve got generals like HR McMaster, they’re talking about, “Oh, well, if we don’t keep troops in Syria, we’ll lose the oil,” and then they’ll try to manipulate policy makers. So I don’t really think there’s a substantial difference on that front from the movie, and actually I’d go even further. I think that the absurdity of how nuclear deterrence actually works, when you get down to brass tacks. I think that’s still the same today. Maybe it’s not as easy to have that one man unilateral launch that you don’t intend at a lower level, but the whole idea of, can we knock out another country’s nukes before they knock out ours? A lot of that absurdity continues today in things like conflict with North Korea that we’ve been talking about having.

07:34 Chris Preble: Right, I think the hair trigger alert that was the norm during this period when this movie was made in 1964, and the use it or lose it dynamics, I think those have been moderated since the end of the Cold War, but are ramping up again. And so we talk about strategic stability, and Eric, you know this as well as anyone, you’ve written about this. But I think when I watched this movie again, and this would have been maybe the fourth or fifth time that I’ve watched it, I was struck by really two things. 1] It is striking to me that a filmmaker would make a movie about such a serious subject and make it as a comedy 15 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. And in thinking back in sort of the tension of the Cold War period, and you had people building bomb shelters in their backyards, and how the grim reality of nuclear Armageddon, and I think it’s a credit to Stanley Kubrick, who’s one of the greatest directors, I believe, in modern cinema, and to the actors. Because George C. Scott was not a comedian, not a comedic actor, he was a dramatic actor, and yet the role he plays is absolutely brilliant, and Peter Sellers, who of course is a genius and plays three different roles in this film, and plays all of them incredibly well. So I look back on this and thinking about it as a historian of the Cold War, and really marvel at the audacity of making a comedy about this subject at that time.

09:28 John Glaser: So it’s funny because my understanding at least is that Kubrick initially bought the rights to a dramatic thriller novel called Red Alert, and they tried to write a script that was a dramatic thriller, and they realized that they couldn’t because it was too absurd and hilarious, so they switched to a satire early on in the writing process. So it’s funny that you note that.

09:53 Emma Ashford: In some ways, I almost wonder if it might actually have been easier to write a dark comedy about nuclear war in that era when people were actually aware of it, when all the kids are having duck and cover drills, and there’s all the civil defence drills. I almost wonder if that sort of… This is just gallows humor, right? People think they’re probably gonna die next year, and so it’s hilarious because it’s the only thing you can do about it, is laugh because it’s so absurd. And I do wonder if a similar kind of movie produced today, I don’t think you’d get that same kind of reaction from a population that never really thinks about nuclear weapons anymore.

10:29 Chris Preble: Right, so think about someone trying to make a comedy about terrorism, I guess, what is it? The…

10:34 Emma Ashford: Four Lions?

10:35 S?: The Four Lions.

10:36 Chris Preble: The Four Lions, which of course, is not well known here in the United States, but it’s well known in the UK.

[chuckle]

10:41 Eric Gomez: Just among nerds like Emma and me.

[laughter]

10:43 Chris Preble: But let’s remember… So I actually went back and watched a movie…

10:47 Eric Gomez: Why did you just single me out? I’ve seen Four Lions.

[laughter]

10:54 Chris Preble: That’s an episode for another Pop & Locke, but there was a dramatic film made about this subject in 1964, it’s called Fail Safe. I actually went back and watched that one again, which I hadn’t seen for a very long time. It stars Henry Fonda as the President of the United States, and that one is very grim, and the parallels between these two movies are really quite striking because it’s also premised on an accidental launch and the attempt to shoot down an aircraft before it carries out its attack, just as in Dr. Strangelove, but it ends in tragedy, this horrific tragedy.

11:33 Eric Gomez: Well, hold on, just because Strangelove is funny, doesn’t mean it’s not tragedy.

11:37 Chris Preble: Well, right.

11:37 Eric Gomez: We’re talking about nuclear holocaust.

11:38 Emma Ashford: Not dark, not dark.

11:40 Chris Preble: Yes, not just the annihilation of all life on Earth, so…

[laughter]

11:44 Chris Preble: So that’s what’s striking to me, is how we look back on that film, and it is a comedy, it’s intended as a comedy, and some of it’s just the subtlety, so many little subtle things in the script and in the film. But it is possible, it was possible to make dramatic films during that period. The truth is that Fail Safe just isn’t as good, it’s not as good a movie. The acting isn’t as good, the script isn’t as good, and ultimately it’s far inferior to Dr. Strangelove.

[music]

12:20 Landry Ayres: Emma, one thing you mentioned was the aspect of gallows humor and the comfort that the audience most likely would have had with a movie like this because it was close to reality, it felt real, it was something they were dealing with everyday. I think for perhaps people that have never seen this before, like Natalie…

12:42 Natalie Dowzicky: Like me? [chuckle]

12:42 Landry Ayres: I’m just gonna out her and say that she hadn’t seen this movie before we recorded this. For people who have not seen this movie before, or perhaps didn’t live through a period like that, I feel like it might be hard to believe that something as absurd like this could be seen as an accurate depiction of what was going on at the time. How accurate is the plot of this movie? Obviously, there’s some absurdism involved, but I think the root of some of that absurdity is the distance it has to reality. How close to reality is Dr. Strangelove?

13:24 Emma Ashford: Oh, where do you wanna start?

13:27 Eric Gomez: Wait, this isn’t a documentary.

[laughter]

13:29 Emma Ashford: Go for it, Eric.

13:31 Eric Gomez: Yeah, so there are several aspects in the film that existed in one form or another, maybe not necessarily in the early 1960s when the film came out, but did exist in the Cold War. There was an equivalent of a doomsday machine. When the Soviet Union was worried about the possibility of leadership decapitation from US submarine launched ballistic missiles as they got more accurate in the ‘70s, and also the fear of decapitation attacks by US ground‐​based nuclear forces in the 1980s, the Soviets implemented a system called Perimeter. What Perimeter was designed to do is, it would have a series of sensors throughout the country, and if it detected a mix of inputs like radiation or the vibrations of nuclear detonation, it would automatically send a launch order to a specially modified missile that would fly above the Soviet Union and relay go orders to Soviet nuclear forces. And initially designed, I believe it did not have a human in the loop to verify what was going on, which gets pretty scary. That’s pretty darn close. And it didn’t happen in the 1960s, but it did happen in the Cold War.

14:47 Eric Gomez: Other aspects, when they’re talking about the ridiculous mineshaft gap at the end of the movie, there was the missile gap, and during the Kennedy administration where the US was definitely afraid that the Soviets had more missiles than us, and it all became about arms racing with them and it turned out that the intelligence reporting wasn’t great. On the characters of General Ripper and General Buck Turgidson, basically combining aspects of General Curtis LeMay, who was the first commander of strategic air command, a big believer in strategic bombing, kind of nuts in many respects and who, I think, one of the famous quotes… I don’t remember it word for word, but it was something akin to, “If I think that we’re in it with the Russians, I’mma feel comfortable telling my bombers to go even if I don’t get an order from the President.” So these sorts of things, like I know, absurdity and satire, yeah, but the point of good satire is that it’s uncomfortably close to reality, and there’s a lot of things in this movie that are uncomfortably close to the reality of different parts of how nuclear deterrence thinking and policy happened in the United States during the Cold War.

16:01 Emma Ashford: Yeah, it’s just honestly, it’s actually, if you start to strip out the jokes and strip out some of the sillier personalities, honestly, it really could be. You can see how they started thinking out that it would be a dramatic film. We have a lot of first time accounts from people that worked in the nuclear space during that era. And a lot of the arguments that we hear in the film are really things that they were actually talking about, the idea that in the late 1940s, early ‘50s, before the Soviets really ramped up their production, that the US actually had an advantage in nuclear weapons and, “Well, maybe we should just clobber the communists now while we still have the advantage and before they can strike back.” That was an actual debate that happened in the policy sphere and among military command. And then you hear it in the film and it sounds so absurd. It was a real debate that we actually had. We’ve got firsthand accounts from people, actually, the Bruce Blair who unfortunately died just a couple of weeks ago, he ended up running Global Zero, one of the campaigns to end nuclear weapons. He was a former missile silo… He worked in a missile silo in his military service, and he basically publicly said that he came around to thinking nuclear weapons should be banned when he figured out how to get around the safeguards and just launch all the nukes himself. And so…

17:20 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, gosh.

17:21 Emma Ashford: Yeah, I don’t know if he was right but that’s what he believed and then dedicated his whole life to try to end nuclear weapons. As Eric says, a lot of these things, we’re joking about them, they seem really absurd, but almost all of them are barely a step away from reality.

17:39 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I have a pretty important question. How accurate is the depiction of the War Room? Because I… [laughter] When I was watching this I was like, “Oh, I kinda could see this being a thing.” But I was just curious that whole idea of getting everyone together and having discussion in this like… For the… I’m assuming most of the listeners have seen this movie even though I hadn’t seen it, but this big round table with an entire map of the world and they’re in this… It’s like a dark room. I’m wondering if you think discussions like that occur in rooms like that or how accurate that those scenes were in the location that they were as well?

18:28 Emma Ashford: A big room full of white men making decisions.

[laughter]

18:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes.

18:32 Chris Preble: Yeah, that’s accurate.

18:35 Eric Gomez: Yeah. America’s most precious national security secret is the big board.

[laughter]

18:41 Chris Preble: I had two thoughts, I had two thoughts. The ceiling in that room is ridiculously high based on… You can judge based on the screens themselves. And of course, we have seen pictures of the war room in the White House, in the bunker, which is in the basement. So it has a pretty low ceiling, it’s pretty tight quarters. But my other favorite little tidbit from that room is the enormous buffet table laid out with every kind of food you can imagine, and the Soviet ambassador shows up, he’s complaining, he’s like, “You don’t have any fresh fish? Where’s the fresh fish?” It’s like…

[overlapping conversation]

19:22 Eric Gomez: He asked for Cuban cigars, and they say, “Of course.”

19:23 Chris Preble: Yeah, yeah, Cuban cigars. So I thought that was hilarious, that it was like the kind of spread you would see for a football team or something. Eat as much as you possibly can, it’s all free basically.

19:35 Landry Ayres: And it plays a plot point later, a scene that was actually cut from the end of the film right when Dr. Strangelove stands up and takes a few steps, originally in the cut of the film, he falls flat on his face, and basically after a series of circumstances, a huge custard pie fight erupts between all the members of this council. And it is this crazy absurd scene where they’re all pie‐​ing each other in the face and this room is covered in custard everywhere until at one point he gets up and tries to shoot himself in the head but is stopped. And they ended up cutting it because it was, I believe, the Kennedy assassination happened and some of the lines and the circumstances, they just thought it was too close and too dark to what had just happened, so they ended up cutting it.

20:26 Landry Ayres: And I think some of the performances from the actors, they didn’t play it as straight and serious as Kubrick had wanted it. And you can see this, I think John pointed out a little bit earlier before we recorded, about how some of the actors tend to break character a little bit and laugh at each other a lot. And they just couldn’t hold it in during that final scene, and it ruined the message of what they wanted this pie fight as this absurd war‐​like scenario to symbolize. So it also, it shows the hubris of the entire thing, but also does play a story point in the original screenplay that Kubrick had worked on.

21:10 Chris Preble: But we still have the line, one of the best lines in movie history, “Gentleman, you can’t fight in here, it’s the war room.” [21:15] ____ [laughter] they started wrestling with each other and…

21:18 Natalie Dowzicky: So I actually knew that line existed before I ever saw the movie. So I wasn’t completely a Dr. Strangelove newbie. Another thing that I thought was funny along those lines is within the first few two… I think it was the second or third scene in the movie where they’re in a room on the base and there’s a giant sign that says, “Peace is our profession.” And it’s like on top of the white board. And I just was like, “This is too real.” But I was just laughing ’cause I knew this whole movie was gonna be about nuclear warfare. I said, “That’s an interesting image to open up the movie with.”

21:56 John Glaser: Something related, I didn’t know… Chris said he’s watched this movie like four or five times, I’ve probably watched it like 40 or 50 times, but not until last night did I realize that on the desk in the big war room is a binder that says, “World Targets in Megadeaths.”

[laughter]

22:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, yes, yeah.

[laughter]

22:18 Emma Ashford: You know that “Peace is our profession” is actually true, right? That was the motto of the Strategic Air Command. So again, just another one of those things where you look at it, you laugh and you can’t believe that it’s true, but holy crap, it was true.

22:30 Eric Gomez: Well, when you get into the discussion of nuclear deterrence… And so this is something where I think all honest analysts of this stuff need to come to grips with the fact that you’re trying to explain something that hasn’t happened yet, since the use of nuclear bombs against Japan, which were coming up on the 75th anniversary. But the whole study of deterrence is how to not have something happen. And the problem with that is, you don’t know if your theory works or if it doesn’t work, because you don’t have the case of it happening. And you don’t want a case of it happening. And so there’s a certain natural absurdity to nuclear deterrence thinking that you just have to grapple with because, yeah, in the minds of deterrence theory and in the minds of the United States Strategic Air Command and the way that this country talks about nuclear weapons, these are things that are supposed to not be used. These are things that are supposed to prevent conflict. So that’s I think where the “Peace is our profession” bit comes from. And maybe they’re right. That’s the thing about deterrence theory, you don’t know. Maybe it does work. Maybe it does deter war or deter certain types of war. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to separate out, “Does that work? Or have we skated by on a lot of dumb luck?” And…

23:58 Chris Preble: That’s exactly… Yeah, dumb luck. That’s exactly what I keep coming back to. It’s so easy to imagine scenarios that are depicted in this film playing out both in terms of accidental launch, but also personal reliability. And wondering how it is over 75 years, we’ve managed to avoid an accidental detonation. We’ve come close, we’re told, but not that close in the grand scheme. Not as close as… They came very close in this film to stopping the attack because they were basically telling the Soviets where to shoot at. Or recalling the bombers, things like that. But how close have we come, and can we expect to go another 75 years on the basis of dumb luck? I think it’s a worthwhile question.

25:05 Emma Ashford: I think for me actually, one of the things that this film really actually puts at the forefront is the idea that even if deterrence does work, and Kubrick brought onboard Tom Schelling, who was the man who basically created all of our frameworks for thinking about deterrence theory, he was a real expert, but I think the film highlights that even if all of that works, we’ve still got the human factor, we’ve got accidental launch. There’s things that you cannot predict, you can’t prepare for. It’s The Jurassic Park problem, right? Life finds a way.

[laughter]

25:41 Emma Ashford: And so we deal with these cases, like Chris alludes to, in the Cold War where we came very close to accidental launch of nuclear weapons. The case that I think about a lot when this comes up is a man called Stanislav Petrov, who was a mid‐​tier Soviet Defense officer tasked to man basically a radar device. And one day, his radar just showed that the US was invading, en masse, all the bombers were coming over, and the Soviet Union had 10 minutes to respond if it didn’t want its nuclear capability to be destroyed. And he hesitated and he said, “This is strange. Nothing else makes sense here. There’s no increased tensions in Berlin. This doesn’t make sense.” And he didn’t launch. And it was a radar anomaly. It was a weather anomaly. And so if he hadn’t done that, we probably would have had a nuclear war. And so, there are these cases where we just came so close. And even if deterrence works, you just can’t control for that problem.

26:47 Eric Gomez: So Emma brought the great point with Petrov and his trepidation, and I think that that’s also on display here in the movie. So there is that human aspect of what if you get it wrong, but there’s also an important human aspect in the history of the Cold War of, there were times when people were like, “This doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel like the real deal,” and they helped to prevent it. And you see that in the movie. The very first reaction of the bomber crew when the code comes in for doing the Wing Attack Plan R is, “Are you sure?” And the captain doesn’t believe it at first, or the pilot doesn’t believe it at first, and he has to double‐​check it, and then they have to radio back into base to double‐​check it. And that’s not supposed to happen, right?

27:32 Emma Ashford: Right.

27:33 John Glaser: If you think about nuclear use and credibility and all this other fine‐​grain stuff that goes into deterrence, if you get that order, you’re just supposed to do it. You’re just supposed to go ahead and do it because the penalty of delay could be unacceptable defeat. But time after time again, in the movie and in real life, people do delay, people do question. And oftentimes that has made the difference between no detonation or detonation.

28:07 John Glaser: But there’s a flip side to that coin, because it’s not just that kernel of human goodness that is relevant in this case and that might save us, it’s also human frailty. Jack Ripper’s descent into madness that centers around this Cold War paranoia, is part of the equation too, and I think, as a satire, a lot of what the movie is trying to say is, people are frail and flawed, and that’s why we need to be very careful about giving them lots of coercive power.

28:41 Eric Gomez: Yeah, there’s both sides of that human nature happening at the same time. And it happens at the same time in real life.

28:47 Chris Preble: So just in this case, so Ripper, at some point, I love the… I actually found the screenplay because the line where they get the message from Ripper calling in to the duty officer, “I’ve ordered my bombers for the sake of our country and our way of life,” and he’s basically urging them to launch the attack, and then his message ends, “God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity of essence and our natural fluids, God bless you all.” And Turgidson is relaying this message to the rest of the people in the war room, and he says, “Then they hung up. We’re still trying to figure out the meaning of that last phrase, sir.”

[laughter]

29:26 Chris Preble: And the President responds, “Well, he’s obviously psychotic.” And what’s interesting when you think about this is, yes, Ripper is obviously psychotic and played as such throughout the course of the film, but Turgidson is only a small‐​quarter turn away from being crazy, and yet he is not portrayed as crazy. He’s portrayed as goofy, but not psychotic. And so there’s a very, very fine line between a guy who deliberately launches his bombers on his own authority because of the attack on his precious bodily fluids, and the other gentleman who is prepared to take advantage of this accidental launch to then launch a full strike because that will catch the Ruskies with their pants down. That’s how close these two individuals are between psychosis and crazier than a March Hare and wise, strategic logic on the part of a senior general.

30:22 Emma Ashford: I do like to… I think the film is actually quite subversive on that front, and I find it, frankly, amazing that it can be so subversive so soon after the Red Scare. Because you watch this, and Chris is right, Ripper and Turgidson are just two sides of the same coin, and it really does invite the audience, I think, to question, well, obviously one guy is insane, maybe the other guy is insane too. And it really invites them to question the whole concept of mutually assured destruction and an arms race with the Soviets in a way that, for the time, I think was perhaps risky even for the director and the people filming it.

31:00 John Glaser: Emma’s right. This movie got reviewed like hell. There’s a lot of people that called it…

31:07 Natalie Dowzicky: Really? [laughter]

31:07 John Glaser: Yeah, called in to question Kubrick’s patriotism, said he was… This was a propaganda win for the Soviets. And it’s interesting because, yeah, it is a sort of subversive film in the way that Emma says, but I think all these years later, most of what people think about it is how amazingly accurate it was as we were saying before, which should tell us something about what is considered subversive today, and whether 50 years from now we’ll go, “Oh, the crazies were actually dead‐​on.”

31:40 Emma Ashford: I don’t know. I think… I mean, not to take us completely off‐​topic here, but I think we’re already getting there, right?

[laughter]

31:45 Emma Ashford: People now are looking around and saying, “Hey, maybe Osama Bin Laden was kind of right about getting America bogged down in the Middle East and how it was really bad for America.” I feel like we might actually be getting there on some of those points, which is incredibly disturbing.

32:00 Landry Ayres: Yeah, little did people know that Kubrick was actually gonna be responsible for getting us to the moon anyway.

[laughter]

[music]

32:11 Chris Preble: Actually, can I just pause for a minute? ‘Cause I do wanna comment on Stanley Kubrick as a filmmaker. So, I had a rule for my son before he went to college that there were certain films that he had to watch, and one of the criteria was, he must watch a Stanley Kubrick movie, other than Eyes Wide Shut. So if you think about this filmmaker…

[laughter]

32:28 Chris Preble: For a whole bunch of reasons. But anyway, if you think about this filmmaker and how brilliant the range of films that he did, okay. So, 2001 is clearly a cutting edge science fiction film. Full Metal Jacket is a cutting edge war film. Before that was Paths of Glory, which is another terrific war film, and then this dark comedy, and The Shining, which is I think one of the best horror movies ever made. His skills as a filmmaker are all on display in this movie because he was the writer as well as the director, and then he conceived of this. And I think, again, when you compare it to some other films of that era, other films that I like, like On the Beach, which was a very, very dark film about the aftermath of a nuclear war, or something like Seven Days in May, which also came out just like a month or two within the release of Dr. Strangelove, and yet, this is the film that transcends all of the other movies of that same genre in that period.

33:42 Natalie Dowzicky: There are some other things I was thinking about while watching the film, more trying to consider if they were realistic or not, and since I have all of you experts on. So, the comment about B-52 bombers all being within two hours of their target from Russia and then flying 24/7, 365, how much would something like that cost?

34:02 Landry Ayres: I’m expecting exact numbers from all of you.

[laughter]

34:06 John Glaser: Well, it certainly is true that in order to conduct that kind of attack, it requires the kind of global military presence that we started having in the Cold War. And having a global military presence does require a lot of money, costs a lot.

34:22 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes. [laughter]

34:23 John Glaser: It’s expensive to be able to pull something off like that, yeah.

34:26 Emma Ashford: Well, actually, just as an aside, geographically speaking, the era that Dr. Strangelove is set in, where we were mostly using bombers, and they were in the air, a lot of those bombers were based out of the US and Canada because the plan would be that they would fly across the North Pole to get to their targets in the Soviet Union. It’s only later into the ‘60s and ‘70s when we start using more missiles, that a lot of them are based in Europe, and we have debates about basing them in Turkey and elsewhere. So in the very early period, it was actually less global. It might have been as expensive…

35:00 John Glaser: Europe and Asia.

35:00 Emma Ashford: But it was a little less global.

35:01 Chris Preble: Airborne alert was real thing.

35:03 Eric Gomez: Airborne alert was real thing. Right now we don’t do airborne alert anymore, instead you have Minuteman‐​III ICBMs in the center of the United States. So time is an interesting factor here, ’cause the movie is almost exactly as long as it would take for bombers to reach targets. It’s just about two hours’ long, and they say in the opening segment, “The bombers are two hours away from their targets.” Which I didn’t notice until the last time I viewed it yesterday for this, and that’s the sixth time I’ve watched the movie. But you don’t have that anymore. [chuckle] That might’ve been true when the bomber force was the main thing, and you also have liquid fuel missiles which take a while to fuel. But now, most of the US and Russia and Chinese nuclear forces are all based off of solid‐​fueled missiles.

35:56 Eric Gomez: A lot of them are at sea, and their flight times to target… The ICBMs based in the US have about a 30‐​minute flight time. Missiles fired out of a submarine, depending on its location, could be there in far less, in the order of 10–15 minutes. And now hypersonic glide vehicles are also bringing this into play now of, you have these further and further condensed decision‐​making timelines, and you have to make sure you make the right decision at the right time, and you don’t have as much time to spare. This movie might not have been a possible 10 years later, in the early 1970s because at that point, more of the force had shifted to missiles and you didn’t have two hours. [chuckle] It would have been a very short film because you also can’t recall a missile once it’s fired. That’s like this tension between wanting to have in the minds of the planner, “the credible deterrent”, and the effective, it’s like, yeah, quick strikes are, from a military perspective, a good idea, but from a, avoiding the death of everyone on the planet idea, probably not as good.

[laughter]

37:17 Natalie Dowzicky: So would you say there’s not as much room for… You know how we were talking about the tension between someone, not using their head, in the sense that, they were saying that the order, they weren’t sure if the order was correct, and they were questioning the way the order came through. Do you think there’s even less time for that now because of the system that’s set up with missiles rather than B-52 bombers? There’s less people to make decisions, right?

37:40 Eric Gomez: Yes, the timeline is more condensed and I worry about new systems like hypersonic glide and cyber and all this other stuff has further condensing the timeline. The “good news” picture, again, I’ll put good news in quotes. [laughter] The good news picture is that you don’t have the scenario of US‐​Soviet Union or US‐​Russia reaching for the nukes right away. And this is because of arms control agreements, this is because of reductions in the arsenal of many countries. When this movie was made, US‐​Soviet arsenals were in the high thousands each, and now they’re in the low 1000s each. So that helps, right? And the mutual fear of surprise attack isn’t as high anymore. But the problem is, arms control agreements are going away. [chuckle] The Trump administration doesn’t seem very interested in them. And those breaks on things and this renewed focus on competition with China and Russia and more aggressive US posturing in the world, it might come back to bite us in terms of some of these ideas that we thought we left behind, maybe becoming more attractive or popular.

38:55 Emma Ashford: And lest Eric be too comforting here for everybody, I think also important to remember why warning time is actually important. The decision time that we’re talking about, this isn’t policymakers, they don’t get a warning and then it’s about enough time to notify people to get into bomb shelters or something like that. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the time that the President has to decide whether he’s gonna launch all of our nukes in retaliation to wipe out another country. And so we’re talking about, Does the President have 15 minutes, seven minutes, five minutes, three minutes, to decide whether he’s gonna launch our massive nuclear arsenal? That decision window shrinking, that’s a really bad thing.

39:36 Landry Ayres: We do love to keep it light here on Pop & Locke.

[laughter]

[music]

39:42 Emma Ashford: Could we talk about the toxic masculinity in the film for a few minutes?

[laughter]

39:45 S?: Yes.

39:46 Landry Ayres: Absolutely. Yeah, let’s really…

39:47 Emma Ashford: Absolutely.

39:48 Landry Ayres: Let’s keep it light and pivot to toxic masculinity, [chuckle] of which there is plenty.

39:53 Eric Gomez: I think a lot of people don’t realize the opening credits are a strong sexual innuendo. It’s the…

40:00 Landry Ayres: Oh, yeah.

40:00 Eric Gomez: In‐​air refuelling with mildly romantic elevator music in the background?

[laughter]

40:03 Eric Gomez: It is highly suggestive.

40:07 Landry Ayres: Everything in this movie, it’s just…

40:11 Eric Gomez: Yeah, of course when…

40:11 Landry Ayres: I’m watching it now, it’s kind of like… I felt dirty just watching the movie at times.

[laughter]

40:17 Eric Gomez: Slim Pickens jumping out the plane with the thing in‐​between his leg is clearly a big phallic symbol. I mean, Jack Ripper first realizes his conspiracy theory about the Soviets trying to steal away his bodily fluids in essence after the physical act of love, he says, after which he found himself in a state of fatigue and emptiness, which is like, alright, so something’s wrong with this guy’s masculinity that has thrown him into committing to nuclear holocaust. So, yeah.

40:48 Emma Ashford: “Oh, it’s okay, the problem has not re‐​occurred Mandrake, I can reassure you of that.” [laughter] I believe, is what he says. Right. This whole film is about sort of the… Just the weird way in which nuclear weapons and toxic masculinity really just got entwined in the early Cold War period, and something that’s continued until this day. So there’s actually some really interesting scholarship, a woman named Carol Cohn, a researcher in political science, is the best known for this, but research on how some of the sort of more… Just things like generals comparing missile length is an actual thing, right? Research on weapons programs were actually focused on making the missiles longer, as absurd and ridiculous as that sounds, it was a real thing. And the whole way through Dr. Strangelove, we just get all these innuendos. And again, in keeping with our theme here, which is the film is very close to reality, that’s also the reality of a lot of discussions of deterrence and nuclear weapons today, right? Does your missile have penetrating capability? Is it a bunker buster? All of these things…

[chuckle]

42:04 Emma Ashford: Just the way that we talk about nuclear weapons is just absolutely chock‐​full of ridiculous innuendos.

[music]

42:13 Natalie Dowzicky: This is Locked In. So, guys, what have you guys been consuming while we’ve been still in quarantine? This is… I’ve lost count of how many days this is now. But other types of movies, TV shows, or maybe even books that you’ve really enjoyed that you think our audience might like as well. Eric, why don’t you go first?

42:32 Eric Gomez: Oh, god. [chuckle] You might regret this ’cause my thing was gonna be Dungeons and Dragons. [laughter]

42:38 John Glaser: Yes!

42:39 Eric Gomez: Thanks to quarantine…

42:41 John Glaser: Yes.

42:41 Eric Gomez: I’m working from home, not having to worry about commutes and when do people get off work exactly. My friends and I have been able to play so much, so much more D&D since this thing began. And it’s been a really fun way to unplug, think about things. I’ve informed one of my groups about this podcast, so I’m not gonna go into any of one of the stories I’m leading them through, ’cause there might be some things in there that I don’t want them to find out yet.

43:15 Chris Preble: No spoilers.

43:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Top secret.

43:17 Eric Gomez: Suffice it to say…

43:18 Landry Ayres: It’s true.

43:19 Eric Gomez: Many of the people I play with are a mix of libertarians and government types. And so I see a lot of them emulate certain aspects of what they do in their characters. So that’s been a very fun way of just getting out of nukes and missile mode, even though I love nukes and missile mode. And yeah, so that’s how I’ve been filling my time. I’ve played over 200 hours online alone…

43:47 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, my gosh.

43:48 Eric Gomez: Online alone in the last four months.

43:50 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh!

43:52 Landry Ayres: Are you playing… Are you writing everything yourself? Are you playing a pre‐​written adventure or anything?

43:58 Eric Gomez: So I run two games, one of them is everything I’ve made up myself with my wife Julie’s help, she’s been great. And the other game is the salt marsh setting, so it’s all pre‐​made, so I don’t have to do as much work for that.

44:15 Chris Preble: My wife Krista and I had been watching Game of Thrones. Krista had never watched Game of Thrones, and I had watched it pretty consistently from the very beginning. And so in some respects, this is either my second or third watch of the series. I re‐​watched the first four seasons before. And it’s been a lot of fun, and I wasn’t sure if she was gonna like it because she’s not a big fan of science fiction and fantasy and things like that, but she really does like it, she appreciates the quality of the filmmaking and the acting and things like that. And I will confess, thinking that I was paying close attention, there have been a few times when she’s asked me a question about who is that person, how is that person related to so‐​and‐​so, and I have had to embarrassingly Google because even I can’t keep track of all the names and their connections. But it has been a lot of fun. And of course, for all Pop & Locke fans, we’ve also been watching Parks and Rec over and over and over again, and…

45:22 Natalie Dowzicky: Ah, so good.

45:24 Chris Preble: My favorite Father’s Day gift from my daughter Caitlin was a Mouse Rat T‐​shirt, which I now wear proudly.

[laughter]

45:29 Emma Ashford: Well, I still, every time I come on this podcast, I regret having kids because I don’t intend to actually watch, I don’t think of. But I thought I would suggest a couple of things that Dr. Strangelove reminded me of. So basically, more modern things I’ve enjoyed the last couple of years that I feel are similar in some ways. The first one is, if you’re interested in nuclear weapons, the decision‐​making process, how a war might play out, there’s a really fun perspective fiction book by a nuclear weapons researcher called Jeffrey Lewis, the book’s called The 2020 Commission, and he basically goes through and writes a future history of the war with North Korea and how Donald Trump manages to get us into nuclear war. And it’s a little scary because it is, again, very close to reality. But if you enjoy Dr. Strangelove, you’re probably gonna enjoy that book. And then the other one is, recently I re‐​watched Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci.

46:33 John Glaser: Ah, yes.

46:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Ah, yes.

46:34 Emma Ashford: And that is probably the closest analogue in terms of another dark comedy that is so dark, you cannot believe that it’s possibly true, and yet, almost everything in it is pretty much true. There’s a few deviations from reality, but everything in that movie pretty much is true, and yet you laugh and laugh and laugh at just the absurdity of it, and people are getting shot in the head all the time. So it’s just so dark and it reminds me a lot of Dr. Strangelove in that way. So those are two things that if you like Dr. Strangelove, you’re gonna like those.

47:07 John Glaser: I think my favorite line from Death of Stalin was when… I can’t remember who said it, but it’s like someone said, “I’ve had nightmares that have made more sense than this.”

[laughter]

47:17 Emma Ashford: That goes for this pandemic too.

[laughter]

47:19 John Glaser: Yeah.

[laughter]

47:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.

47:22 Chris Preble: I’m in a perpetual state of showlessness. There’s lots of good shows out there, people tell me about them and encourage me to watch and I just… It’s me, not you, or the shows. [laughter] But I did recently watch the first season of Rick and Morty, which is a decent show. And I’m re‐​watching some HBO Max put up a bunch of Akira Kurosawa films, so I’m gonna be watching some of those.

47:50 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, cool!

47:50 Landry Ayres: Very cool. Well, I… Let’s see here, I have been occupying my time over the past few days since the weekend began with a video game, Paper Mario and the Origami King, which is a lot of fun. So it’s a Mario game, but it’s more akin to if you’ve played any of the Paper Mario games before, like a turn‐​based role‐​playing game. But this introduces a grid‐​like puzzle mechanic where you have to spin this wheel and position enemies before you attack them, but it also exists in a world where everything is made of crafting supplies or paper, and all of the normal people that you’ll be friends with have been folded into origami versions of themselves by this evil prince who’s trying to take over the world and turn the world into origami. And so, it’s really cute and really funny, and it’s really simple, and you just go through and you’re trying to… There’s giant ribbons that have wrapped around Princess Peach’s castle and taken it to the top of a mountain, and you need to destroy the ribbons to set her free. It’s absurd and it’s so much fun, I highly recommend it. Paper Mario and the Origami King, yes.

49:14 John Glaser: Origami is so pretty, so I’m not sure this guy is actually a villain.

[laughter]

49:19 Landry Ayres: Well, that’s the thing, is it… The enemies are all really cute and the folds, it’s like beautiful art, but they’re also evil. So you have to, you have to. For Princess Peach, you have to. For the mushroom kingdom, you have to save Toad. You’re constantly running around and hitting things with a hammer to free them. They’ll be like stuck in a wall and you have to smack ‘em with a hammer and then they thank you for it. It’s very odd. But it’s a good time. I recommend it. It’s a good laugh, and it’s an easy game that’s still challenging and visually interesting. So if you have a Nintendo Switch, go for Paper Mario and the Origami King.

[chuckle]

49:57 Natalie Dowzicky: For me, I have been watching the Amazon Prime show Homecoming, I just finished the first season. The second season just came out. But it’s a sci‐​fi show that…

50:11 Landry Ayres: Kind of like a political thriller too, right?

50:12 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, it’s hard to tell. So basically, the plot of the show, at least for the first season, apparently the second season is very different, but the first season is like these troops are returning home from war, and they supposedly opted into this homecoming facility that was supposed to prepare them to join civilian life, but it turns out, without giving away too many spoilers, that they are actually there against their will and there’s a lot of events that occur that they’re trying basically, you find this out in the second or third episode, that they’re trying to wipe the memory of troops so that they can re‐​deploy them, so they can send them back out. But then it’s also very interesting because it has…

50:57 Natalie Dowzicky: I think it’s… Yeah, Julia Roberts is one of the main characters and she is a psychologist at this homecoming facility, and they didn’t tell any of the people working there what the actual aim of the facility is. So it’s pretty interesting because then you’re seeing Julia Roberts have this really internal struggle when she finds out what she’s actually contributing to, about how she can help these people, but like… And then the government gets involved, then she’s worried about being kidnapped and stuff. There’s a lot of tension over whether or not she can tell the truth about what this facility is doing.

51:32 Natalie Dowzicky: But the ultimate aim is that it’s this private company wants to prove to the DOD that they have this great system for wiping memories, and they wanna sell that system to the DOD. Anyway, the first season’s awesome. I just started the second season. And then other than that, I am patiently waiting for the third season of Selling Sunset to come out. If you want a TV show that is completely mindless and is about real estate brokers in the LA area, so you get to see the great houses that they’re selling, and then you get to see all the drama between these women in their mid‐​30s that live in LA who only really are real estate agents maybe like once a week and do a bunch of other things like, are on soap operas. But it’s like a combination of Fixer‐​Upper and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, [laughter] which sounds weird, but it’s great. Anyway, so I’m patiently waiting for that to come out soon. Yeah, so that’s what I’ve been up to.

52:35 Landry Ayres: If you want to experience the story of Homecoming but don’t have Amazon Prime video or anything, there is… It is based on a podcast that Gimlet Media produced.

52:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Is it?

52:46 Landry Ayres: Yes. I believe only the first season of the TV show is what it is based on, and then they went in their own direction. But it was the first scripted audio drama podcast that Gimlet Media produced, and they were just, I think a year or two years ago actually bought by Spotify as one of the premier scripted podcast producers. So it’s very, very well done production‐​wise, and it also has a really awesome cast. For instance, the lead soldier in the podcast version is Oscar Isaac. So you might like that as well. And I have also watched a lot of the first season of the TV show, and there are some differences. So if you’ve watched one and wanna listen to the other or the other way around, you might enjoy that as well.

53:36 Natalie Dowzicky: Cool.

[music]

53:40 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If you’re sad the episode’s over, don’t worry, we’ll meet again some sunny day. In the meantime, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PopnLockePod. That’s Pop, the letter N, Locke with an E, Pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unravelling your favorite show or movie next time.

[music]

54:09 Landry Ayres: Pop & Locke is produced by me, Landry Ayres, as a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.