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.