50 years after ‘Strangelove,’ Gen. Jack Ripper on drugs


Sterling Hayden as Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper in 'Dr. Strangelove'

Sterling Hayden as Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper

This January marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. From a New Yorker story about the mainstream critics who dismissed the movie’s storyline as implausible:

Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. [Director Stanley] Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove”‘s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war…

The Cold War is over and nobody got nuked, so the chances of a nuclear catastrophe caused by a mistake or a rogue officer are slim to none, right? If you think so, you haven’t been following the recent Air Force scandal:

A US Air Force investigation into illegal drug use by officers charged with overseeing and launching nuclear missiles expanded on Wednesday when the military announced the suspension of dozens of additional officers for cheating on proficiency exams.

The cheating came to light during the investigation of the drug scandal, the Air Force said. The drug probe was first announced last Thursday.

In all, 11 Air Force officers are suspected of illegal drug use, and 34 officers have been implicated in cheating, according to the military…

Brilliant political satires do more than caricature people who wield too much power. They make it clear that a caricature, in some cases, can be the same thing as a realistic portrait.

I’m thinking of all the primary cast members in Dr. Strangelove, but especially of George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson — “Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines” — and Sterling Hayden as Brigadier Gen. Jack D. Ripper, who is convinced fluoridated water is at the heart of a Commie plot to pollute our “precious bodily fluids.” As if our home-grown coal industry isn’t perfectly capable of polluting us on its own.

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