A Nationalist Classic.
This masterpiece of Stanley Kubrick was produced in 1963 and is a nationalist classic.
Now you should find it strange to hear me argue that this "leftist movie" is a nationalist classic, but it clearly is. For beneath the superficial layer of supposed leftist pacifism is a very extensive and accurate portrayal of an ethnic stereotype that most reading this web site will not instantly recognize.
That is because it is the stereotype of us, as seen by the inner party.
And this is what makes Strangelove so important.
Ultimately, this should come as no real surprise, because Kubrick knows full well any movie about a renegade military initiating nuclear war must be populated with believable characters, and although he has absolutely no interest in producing films which strengthen our understanding, he cannot portray the vision of us shared by his own tribe without showing us precisely what they see, if only we are willing to look.
His vision of us, the outer party, is crystal clear, as is his vision of the core reality which must ultimately drive us.
As I recall, I was a very young man in high school when I first saw this movie in 1963.
All I knew entering the theater was that this was a "pacifist" flick, and I wanted to see what the enemy was saying. I was expecting crude propaganda, but what I saw was quite complex and stunning. It answered a number of questions that had been accumulating as a result of the unintelligible mysteries encountered at that magnet school I attended dominated by inner party kids.
In the first two years of junior high, I witnessed these children of wealth and privilege rail in favor of redistributing wealth, and in favor of confiscatory graduated income taxation. They could easily have begun the wealth redistribution right there on the spot by writing me a big check - something which somehow never happened.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to note that this passion for wealth redistribution was not directed towards the wealthy in any universal sense, but rather a sub-class of the wealthy, defined by criteria that the inner party socialists were stubbornly unwilling to disclose.
I knew immediately that confiscatory taxation was a threat to upward mobility, and thus could have no purpose other than keeping me "in my place". At the tender age of 16, I began to conclude that these "socialist" passions were directed toward me, a thinly veiled yet obvious program of freezing existing status relationships and preventing competition from the peasants.
The welfare programs these confiscations purchased seemed a sop, an afterthought to rationalize the real purpose, and at best an insult to our abilities and resourcefulness, as humans had made remarkable progress over the past ten thousand years without them, depending on family, village and tribe for emergency assistance.
What remained a total confusion was how these wealthy inner party "socialists" could feel so secure in the knowledge that they would be able to guarantee themselves an exemption from the confiscatory effects of their program, an exemption which was entirely unspoken and just as entirely obvious.
Their acquiescence in the high taxes only made sense if they knew they could evade them, or if they felt that their own incomes were so easily taken from others in the first place that their own tax bills were nothing other than an indirect funneling of other peoples' money into governmental institutions that they controlled. These people were far too smart to be mistaken about such things.
But the greater mystery lying behind it all was just how these inner party kids defined themselves and how these political attitudes and instruction were spread amongst themselves. None of that effort was publicly visible in high school.
The important words from these inner party classmates of mine always meant their opposite. And so I began searching for answers. At age 14 I subscribed to National Review magazine. At age 15 I began frequenting the John Birch society book store in hope of finding those answers.
Naturally, the logic of free market individualism attracted me, for it seemed that the best way to stop them was to hamstring the socialist state and cripple its power to limit my upward mobility by limiting its powers generally.
I was much taken with the doctrines of Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer and the rest of the laissez faire individualists, because their doctrines seemed a logical way of defending myself against the predations of these "socialists" who always seemed to speak in riddles meaning the opposite of what they say.
But even at age 16 I had this nagging doubt about the effectiveness of a universalist response to a particularist urge on the part of obvious adversaries.
Now I must also confess that while my family's residence was on the wrong side of the tracks, my immigrant Anglo Saxon parents selected it because it lay upon the edge of an upscale elementary school district that was overwhelmingly from the same tribe.
And I noted with dismay that none of the kids from my own elementary school seemed interested in any of this once we arrived in high school. With few exceptions, none seemed to spot the inherent contradictions behind the urge for wealth redistribution nor did any seem adept at guessing what the hidden agendas might be.
On the whole, my social friends from similar ethnic background seemed remarkably complacent and unconcerned about the emotional forces behind the riddles that were rapidly shaping the contours of public life in America. While many were quite talented in English and math, very few seemed to have the capacity to recognize what was going on politically at the most elemental level.
And because pacifism (remember that this is before 1967!) came from the same crowd as "redistribution of wealth", I suspected and feared that as gun control was a program to render me individually defenseless, so pacifism was merely a means of rendering people like me collectively defenseless.
It was all of a piece.
And thus armed, I marched into the movie theater at age 16, and saw for the first time Dr. Strangelove.
Now before I begin to recall my own reactions to the film, I should note that later in life, I purchased the 1985 videotape from RCA/Columbia Home Pictures, and on the back of the cardboard dust-jacket is the most remarkable explanation of the movie imaginable. The reviewer argues that the two generals, Ripper and Turgidson concocted a scheme to bomb Russia, and that the brains behind the scheme belong to Dr. Strangelove.
The movie itself is quite clear that the opposite is true. The scheme is the idea of Ripper alone, a base commander, and the dialog makes clear that Turgidson, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs knows who Ripper is, but does not know him personally. And indeed, it is clear from a remark to one of his fellow officers that Turgidson never knew of or met Dr. Strangelove, a special advisor to the president, before the emergency meeting following launch of Ripper's nuclear bombers. Further, it is clear that Turgidson is disposed to be suspicious and hostile towards Strangelove because of his German nationality (remember that this movie is set in 1956).
In fact, this movie does have a universalist message in the thick outer layer of its many meanings. Kubrick's very argument is that the all of the bureaucratic "fail-safe" plans and safeguards to prevent an unauthorized nuclear attack are rife with unanticipated holes. Obviously if all the key players who designed and later implement the fail-safe system conspire to defeat it, then an unauthorized attack is inevitable. But such an interpretation of the movie is not only contrary to the dialog, but it defeats Kubrick's very message, namely, that the best laid bureaucratic plans and safeguards have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by those who are quite a distance removed from the centers of power that develop and maintain the system.
There is no safety in bureaucracy.
The nature and limitations of central planning and bureaucracy is a persistent theme throughout Kubrick's films, especially, his two later masterpieces, 2001 Space Oddessey and A Clockwork Orange.
At its core, Kubrick's demonstration of the vulnerability of bureaucratic safeguards and indeed, the ineptness of bureaucracy itself, is profoundly anti-modern.
And it is the inevitable corollaries to this anti-modern theme that give the dust jacket reviewer trouble digesting the message. For if bureaucracy is vulnerable to the particular agendas of bureaucrats (base commanders) then the end product of modern universalist bureaucracy is not predictable and universalist, but rather particularist and "personnel dependent," a conclusion that could cause the masses of outer party sheep to wander off in all sorts of directions that the producer and current owners of this film clearly do not want them wandering.
As I watched those scenes which introduced Ripper in the first 30 minutes of the movie, I felt a sense of profound humiliation.
What puzzled me so intensely back in those days were the obvious similarities and connections between Communism and liberalism, and the obvious sympathies of liberals toward communism including its many slaughters.
Ripper explained it all as a conspiracy, and regales us with fluoridation of the water as proof of this conspiracy. And of course, this was exactly the nonsense I heard at the John Birch Society. Here we have millions of people being killed under the frighteningly vague titles of "wrecker" and "enemy of the people" and not one liberal demands that communist apologists set forth the precise elements of these crimes.
Fluoridation is the least of our problems. It was absurd and humiliating.
And yet as the rest of the movie unfolds, I realize that Ripper is clearly portrayed as the most intelligent of the outer party officers. Significantly, he is the only officer without a Southern accent.
It became clear to me that while Ripper was intended to be perceived as a comically deranged lunatic by us, Kubrick was careful to make a much larger point to a narrower audience. The reason why "we" are so dangerous, is because the smarter we are, the more likely we are to latch on to pure theoretical abstractions as explanations for much simpler things.
It is a racial characteristic. Neither Ripper nor any of the other outer party officers portrayed in the movie ever asks the question "who benefits from communism?" If the program is obviously flawed at delivering economic growth maybe its objective is something other than economic growth! Indeed, the most obvious beneficiaries are those who acquire power under the system and when you look at the early politburos, you will see that there wasn't a Russian anywhere to be found. All were inner party and minority nationalities.
And that tells you communism probably has a lot more to do with race than with economics.
But of course Ripper will have none of it. Communism is a universalist economic ideology. The fairly obvious notion that the universalist economic doctrine is a mask or device for the acquisition of power over potentially hostile races never crosses his mind, despite his obvious high IQ.
And the universalist ideology is spread not by broad and easily identified groups of people who expect to benefit, but rather by a tiny conspiratorial cabal that is impossible to identify.
The second aspect of Ripper's mental process that Kubrick elaborates in some detail is his obvious failure to ask "is nuclear war in my interest?" Rather, Ripper is more than willing to undertake a crusade to rid the world of this universalist abstraction by initiating a nuclear war despite its obvious fatal consequences to himself.
And as you examine European history it is tough to argue that Kubrick is wide of the mark.
We do have powerful mental tendencies toward abstract ideologies and crusades that are wildly contrary to our own interests. His point is fairly taken. It is a racial characteristic, a propensity or inclination shared by most of us. And indeed it is the most intelligent and best educated among us who are most inclined to crusading, witness the barons and dukes who left their estates unguarded in the 12th and 13th centuries, rode to the holy land on horseback, and bleached its sand with their bones.
Wildly contrary to their own interests!
A more recent and potentially far more destructive example is our passionate committment to diluting our own Euro populations by promoting free immigration and racial integration despite a stunning and absolutely uniform Twentieth Century record of violence and discord in all multi-racial and multi-ethnic nations throughout the World.
Next we meet the chairman of the joint chiefs, Turgidson. He is also quite intelligent and has the best imitation of a Southern Accent that George C. Scott is capable of rendering. All things in life relate to his bureaucratic agenda which is "the missile gap". In comparison to Ripper, Turgidson appears quite sane, and yet he also regards Communism as a pure theoretical abstraction.
Like Ripper, he never asks the broader question of "who benefits?" Nor does he recognize that the typical Russian peasant or Russian soldier has little or nothing to do with communism. Indeed, communism as an instrumentality of power acquisition is a practice restricted to a very tiny slice of the Soviet population.
And as I have stated elsewhere, once the inner party was removed from power, communism withered on the vine in the Soviet Union as the ethnic Russian KGB and military officers couldn't figure out why the screwed up system was ever cobbled together in the first place. (Actually, I am exaggerating here, as I suspect most of them understand full well why it was patched together, and by whom. But if I am wrong in that suspicion then even our very distant kinsmen in Russia are doomed as we are!)
Next, we are introduced to Dr Strangelove himself.
When I walked into the theater, I expected Strangelove to be the very likeness of Dr. Werner von Braun, the German scientist responsible for our missile technology and space program.
Now Von Braun was well know and often pictured in the media of the time, a large and muscular fellow, the very stereotype of the Aryan physique which our modern culture destroyers love to portray as movie villains.
Well, we didn't get anything remotely resembling von Braun.
The characters previously introduced and developed in this movie are all quite human and believable. We have all seen people like them.
But Strangelove is something else.
He is a shriveled cripple in a wheelchair with an effeminate voice and gestures. Ironically he could "pass" for a member of the inner party.
The symbolism is quite striking and I understood immediately. Strangelove does not really exist, but then he MUST exist, because these outer party leaders are so utterly lacking in the basic political instincts necessary for survival that there just has to be someone like Strangelove hiding behind the throne or they would have perished long ago.
Strangelove's role is absolutely essential. It must exist somewhere. But Strangelove the character is not at all believable.
The dramatic tension is nicely balanced, as Strangelove the character provokes sympathy rather than fear, even as his message is as fearsome as it is inevitable.
For when it becomes clear that the one damaged bomber commanded by Slim Pickens has missed the recall signal and will get through and find a target, thereby detonating the doomsday device designed to guarantee retaliation, Strangelove lays out the consequences and the only logical response with stunning clarity.
They must use a computer to identify a few thousand of the most intelligent men and ten times as many of the most attractive women, set aside provisions for a 90 year underground stay until the radiation dies down, and in the meantime go about the business of producing the master race. Since Ripper, in combination with the Russian doomsday device, has triggered a massive acceleration of the pace of evolution, we have no choice but to take advantage of it and produce desirable results.
Just as the existence of Strangelove is an inevitability, it is equally inevitable that he will give Nazi counsel, for sooner or later these strange but numerous people with their wild abstractions and dangerous crusades must have someone competent looking out for their collective survival in a competitive world. In times of extreme danger, it is inevitable what his advice will be. A group cannot survive without struggle, and to survive it must prevail over its competitors.
It is inevitable.
Strangelove is a hardball pitch straight down the middle toward the primal fear of Kubrick's fellow tribesmen. (Indeed a reader plausibly suggests that Strangelove is clearly modeled on Dr. Edward Teller, a Manhattan Project nuclear scientist and inner party member, thus compounding the ambiguity and upset, as it is probably their own tribesmen hiding behind the throne who, when faced with annihilation, will be forced to advise these fools to behave like Nazis.)
And indeed, the very strangeness of Strangelove's demeanor, his mechanical arm that insists on giving the Nazi salute at inappropriate times, allows those sitting around me at the theater to laugh and dismiss him as a comic freak.
But I knew that my inner party friends at school would not dismiss him at all.
Nor did I.
And the brutal frankness of Kubrick's exposition raised all kinds of prohibited questions in this 16 year old mind.
Is human evolution exclusively driven by individual selection? Or is group selection also a factor as the inevitability of Strangelove would so clearly imply?
If group survival is important and collective defense inevitable, then why was I worrying about shrinking the power of government? Was that an entirely rational response as opposed to harnessing its power and resources to the collective survival?
Political outcomes in the real world were, for the first time, beginning to make a bit more sense as I walked out of that theater.
Below is an exceptionally perceptive addition by a reader:
One interesting point in that movie also is the danger of bureaucracy lacking a self-correcting mode, no matter how well one tries to instill one. The use of "Plan R" by a lower echelon commander is one obvious one. I was also struck watching that movie, the part where the Canadian (British) Air Force officer, Mandrake, is approached by an Army Major (Col.) Bat Guano, played by Keenan Wynn. While the bureaucrats at the top must stop Ripper's bombers, and Mandrake is intent on stopping them as well, Major Guano, the quintessential warrior ant, has very specific and limited orders that don't include talking to Group Captain Mandrake. He muddles about with how Gen. Ripper was shot, whether Capt. Mandrake was a "prevert", going off on his own path without ever once getting close to doing what his masters require that he must to fulfill their intent. He's another dangerous bureaucratic servant. Indeed, this movie has a lot of warrior ants going off in all directions without being clued in to the motivations of their masters. The bomber pilots show this in the best detail. Their orders received, whatever else happens, they can and will proceed to their targets whatever that means. They have orders in hand and the true necessities of those in Washington bear nothing on that. Turgidson is another warrior ant, fully prepared to go full-bore into the nuclear crusade regardless of his own interests. The intentions and necessities of the puppeteers do not and cannot impress upon him. What the IP is confronted with here is a very scary potential scenario. The bureaucratic machine that they rely on, that they think they control, is filled with intelligent people fully capable of acting in furtherance of the goals with which they've been presented and indoctrinated in. The fact that these are not the true goals of the people in control of them is a fact that they cannot be allowed to become aware of, and that disconnect makes potential for very dangerous mistakes. In other words, a common understanding and mutual goal that allows subordinate commanders to properly understand and act in accordance with the commander's intent is lacking, and a move towards the commander's goal resting on the actions and performance of subordinates will not survive a breakdown in communications created by the implicit disorder, uncertainty and fluidity of conflict. Since the IP cannot inform every bureaucrat in their system what their goal is, the system by definition is a clusterfuck, (a very precise and well understood military term) unable to know what it's right and left hands are doing.
* * *
Strangelove is an interesting character to say the least. I didn't get where he came from either. He did indeed seem a radical disconnect from the rest of the characters in the movie. The counsel of reason, he even asked the Soviet Ambassador why they didn't tell the world about their doomsday device, thereby allowing civilization to proceed uninterrupted. Although the model is a few years early, that role could fit with a Henry Kissinger type role, the classic insider, playing a game of "detente", the wheeling and dealing to keep these barbarians from... going back to being barbarians. The Teller model suggestion is interesting, and cuts right to the heart of the message of us being numerous and dangerous aliens. Of course, Teller and many of those like him, like Oppenheimer, who worked on the Manhattan Project, were IP. They hoped that what they were unleashing into the world was first to be turned against Germany, naturally. Of course, that didn't happen, they were forced to settle with Dresden, the horrors inflicted on von Paulus' army, and the ongoing communization and deculturalization of Germany as punishment while the unpredictable cattle went and used the bomb elsewhere. In this light, we can view politics such as pacifism and disarmament not as much as a simple, broad, universalist attempt at weakening our defenses but rather coming from a specific point of view that we are simply too stupid, dangerous and unpredictable to have such power left to our hands. I would put forth that were we to have used the bomb as we were supposed to against Berlin, Muenchen or Hamburg, the prevailing tenets of disarmament, the assumption that we will inevitably use the atom for evil, would find much less of a voice.
Ultimately, of course, Strangelove does offer the Nazi weltanschauung to his new advisees. Ironically, this is probably something the IP would understand well. Is not their entire history predicated on the group, even in small numbers, surviving and keeping cohesion? Under ordinary circumstances, of course, this thinking would be permitted for them alone. But if the alternative is being left to fight for food in the post-apocalypse against still far greater numbers of Europeans, (probably with an even greater numbers disparity, as many of the big cities IP seems to instinctively flock to would be destroyed far more completely than the open, less urbanized stretches of Middle America) then in this case inviting the Europeans to act like Nazis serves, ironically, to further their own group survival. * * *
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