Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Strangelove, indeed

Photo credit: NASA
Nothing phallic here, right?
Back in September 2001, Dan Lindley published a teaching guide to "Dr. Strangelove" that covered much of the familiar ground about the film's treatment of nuclear deterrence strategy.
The most important theme of the film is that it makes fun of the sad, perverse, and absurd reality that the U.S. and the Soviet Union could destroy each other within 30 minutes.
I use "Dr. Strangelove" in my film class, primarily as a critique of nuclear deterrence strategy. Many former civilian and military leaders around the world now argue for abolition of nuclear weapons and they repeatedly insist that nuclear deterrence strategy is absurd. Ridiculous. I've been working on this theme for a chapter in my comedy book. 

The first time I ever showed the film in a class was while I was a term/visiting professor at Northwestern. To fulfill part of my overload teaching assignment, the department chair had allowed me to teach a small seminar on nuclear deterrence. The handful of students and I watched a video of the film very late in the term after everyone had a strong feel for deterrence theory and the class had read many original declassified documents about nuclear planning, threats, etc.. Back in those days -- around 1990 -- the film did not replay regularly on cable television. Streaming media was not ubiquitous and it was a real treat to be able to see Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece.

Did I mention that every student in that small seminar was male? No women had signed up.

In more recent years, I've adapted the film class to a wider audience of political science students. The course still focuses on "Global Politics Through Film," but it is now regularly taught as one of our senior capstone seminars, a "culminating undergraduate experience." To capture a wider range of ideas from the discipline, I have been addressing some of the other prevalent themes of the film:
Indeed, the gender politics in the film are obviously quite provocative, essentially equating male sexual fantasies with war and nuclear planning. The latest Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation suggests that absurd nuclear fantasies continue to influence today’s security policymakers.
I was reminded about this today when I happened across a magazine article about the politics of the Pentagon's F-35 aircraft, also known as the most expensive weapon the U.S. has ever attempted to build. Needless to say, it has been a controversial weapon given those costs, plus various setbacks, delays, and uncertainties about the piloted weapon's purpose in an age of drone warfare. Still, one alleged impetus for the new fighter echoes a theme that Stanley Kubrick emphasizes in "Dr. Strangelove":
"There's always this sexual drive for a new airplane on the part of each service," says Tom Christie, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester from 2001 to 2005. "Persistent, urgent and natural."
That's a gendered lesson about "Dr. Strangelove" that Lindley does not overtly discuss in his film teaching guide. Perhaps it is what he had in mind when he calls nuclear exchange scenarios "sad, perverse, and absurd."

P.S. Coincidentally, I also recently read a book review by Akemi Johnson that discussed What Soldiers Do; Sex and the American GI in World War II France by Mary Louise Roberts. This paragraph gives you an idea of that book's thesis about gender and IR:
“The history of war,” Roberts writes, “cannot be separated from the history of the body.” Beyond combat, the bodies involved—the ones that physically connect, flesh upon flesh—are usually those of male soldiers, arrived from a foreign land to liberate, destroy or occupy, and those of female civilians, attracted or yanked into the military world. The interactions between them are intimate yet iconic, private yet political. A rape by an American soldier threatens to expose harsh realities about American hegemony; another GI’s part in an international romance suggests an entire country’s willing deference to benevolent US control. Harnessed for propaganda and protest, tangled in injustices like institutional lynching, these sexual relationships are essential to understanding war and its aftermath. 

Visit this blog's homepage.

For 140 character IR and foreign policy talk, follow me on twitter.

Or for basketball, baseball, movies or other stuff, follow this personal twitter account.

No comments:

Post a Comment