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Dr. Strangelove redux

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Certainly it’s mere coincidence that new concerns about Russian testing of mid-range missiles come at a key and quite relevant pop-culture moment. Of course, I’m speaking of the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

One of the greatest of American movies, Dr. Strangelove was a dark and acid-edged satire of the Cold War. It depicted a crisis that brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of mutual destruction. And it did so with wicked humour and all-too-unfortunate truth.

The atomic age spawned the nuclear arms race, which, we were led to believe, began to slow down at the time of the great rapprochement signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. But the post-Cold War Russians of late, under the swaggering Vladimir Putin, seem to want to test the limits of the mid-range missile ban the two leaders agreed to more than a quarter of a century ago, or at least to test the nature of American leadership on the issue.

The Russians, according to a report published Wednesday by The New York Times, may have conducted flight tests of a new cruise missile as far back as 2008, and the State Department has been pressing the issue. "There’s an ongoing review process," a State Department spokeswoman said, "and we wouldn’t want to speculate or prejudge the outcome."

Oh for the days when we could make light of such matters. Kubrick and his co-screenwriter Terry Southern made brilliant, comic stabs at the American military-industrial complex and Russian duplicity, even during the era of the Cuban missile crisis, when President John F. Kennedy stared down the Russians 150 kilometres off the Gulf Coast and the two nations averted a nuclear confrontation by a hair’s breadth of diplomacy.

Imagine President Barack Obama picking up the special phone and calling Putin as Peter Sellers’ President Merkin Muffley did to alert his Russian counterpart:

"Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bom ... The Bomb, Dmitri... The hydrogen bomb!... Well now, what happened is... ahm... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing..."

Well, I can think of worse ways of spending an hour and a half than contemplating the world of war today and revisiting this satirical classic.

 

Steve Paul is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

 

— McClatchy Tribune Services

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