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Additional Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
      Bridges To Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Additional Helpful Background

"Dr. Strangelove" is a classic which contains several of the most memorable sequences and characters ever recorded on film.

The scenes of note in this film include:

  • The pilot of the bomber (Major T.J. 'King' Kong), after he confirms the order to attack the Soviet Union, puts on his Stetson hat as he drawls, "Well boys, I guess this is it. Nuclear combat, toe to toe with the Ruskies."
  • General Jack D. Ripper obsesses about losing his "vital bodily fluids" to women and to the Communists.

  • The character of Dr. Strangelove is patterned (somewhat exaggerated for comic effect) on theoreticians who took thermonuclear war as a realistic policy alternative, foreign policy experts who developed strategies in which the use of nuclear weapons was seen as a possible alternative, and German engineers who had worked for the Nazis but after WWII were recruited by the U.S. for their technical expertise. (See discussion in the Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet.)

  • When told of a Soviet doomsday machine which will trigger nuclear explosions designed to destroy the world, General 'Buck' Turgidson whispers to a confidant "Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machine things," satirizing those generals who never saw a weapon they didn't want to use.

  • At the end of the movie, the bomber pilot (Major 'King' Kong) straddles the falling bomb as if he were riding a bucking bronco, yelling "Yahoo" and whipping the bomb with his Stetson.

  • The movie has excellent black humor and is brilliantly written, acted, and directed. It should be shown to all children.

    The first long range missiles were the German V-1 and V-2 rockets which terrorized England during WWII. At the end of the war, the United States and the Soviet Union competed to capture and keep the top German engineers. The engineers who had built the V-1s and V-2s became the backbone of the American space program for decades. The most famous of these engineers was Dr. Wernher Von Braun (1912 - 1977). The character of Dr. Strangelove is in part a take off on these engineers. (See The Right Stuff for an exploration of how the seven original U.S. astronauts forced NASA, over the objections of the formerly German engineers, to install manual controls in the space capsules.)


    Additional Discussion Questions:

    Continued from the Learning Guide...

    1.  What was the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction? Did it work? Suggested Response: Each superpower, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. could destroy the other with nuclear weapons, no sneak attack or defensive measures would work. Thus, it was insane for either to use nuclear weapons. As to whether it worked, we're still here, aren't we?

    2.  During the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were pursuing a policy of mutual assured destruction (MAD), why were missiles that could permit a defense against nuclear attack seen as dangerous and destabilizing? Suggested Response: The idea behind MAD was that neither party could survive a nuclear strike by the other. Defensive weapons upset that equation.

    3.  Why did Dr. Strangelove call the President "mein Führer"? Who was the Führer? Suggested Response: He wqs German and had worked for the Nazis in WWII.

    > 4.  Did you agree with Dr. Strangelove's suggestion that the Americans should try to defeat the doomsday machine by living in tunnels for a hundred years at a ratio of 1 man to 10 women?

    5.  What did you think of King Kong (the pilot)? Suggested Response: He was blind to what he was doing. He was an anachronism, with his frame of reference relating to an earlier type of war.

    6.  During the Cold War, there were some people who accepted the inevitability of a nuclear war and tried to plan for it. Many people objected that this type of thinking desensitized leaders, making them more likely to start a nuclear war with casualties of 20 - 50 million Americans and as many Russians. Which position makes sense to you? Explain your reasoning. Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question. We should never lose our sensitivity where death and injury are concerned. Whether planning for nuclear war decreases one's sensitivity depends upon the person. However, it should be pointed out that this was a real dilemma during the Cold War. General Curtis LeMay, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis thought that nuclear war with the Russians was inevitable and that the Cuban Missile Crisis provided a good occasion to start one. Statement by McNamara interviewed in "The Fog of War" See also Thirteen Days by Robert F. Kennedy, p. 119, statement attributed to "one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" At that time the U.S. had a large lead over the Russians in nuclear weapons and delivery devices. However, the Russians could still destroy most of the major cities in the U.S. and Western Europe. Had President Kennedy taken LeMay's advice, nuclear war would have been much more likely. But President Kennedy believed that since nuclear war would cause casualties in the hundreds of millions, it should be avoided if at all possible. He therefore engineered a resolution of the crisis in which the Russian missiles were removed, the honor and prestige of the U.S. was increased, and there was no nuclear war. See Learning Guide to "Thirteen Days".

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions


    1.  Describe the leadership style of President Muffley. What did he do with all the bad advice that was given to him?

    2.  What did you think of General Turgidson (played by George C. Scott)? Was he a leader or a follower? Did he show good judgment in some of the solutions that he proposed?

    3.  Did you think that President Muffley, as portrayed in the movie, provided good leadership?

    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
    (TeachWithMovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
    and  uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)

    1.  Was President Muffley right to try to call back the bombers and to give the Soviets information so that they could shoot down the bombers that could not be called back?

    2.  Was the Soviet Ambassador doing the right thing when he tried to take pictures of the War Room? If the roles were reversed, would you have expected the U.S. Ambassador to try to take pictures of the Soviet War Room?

    Bridges to Reading:

    This film was originally intended to be based upon the novel Red Alert by Peter George, III. We have not read it.

    Links to the Internet:

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

    Selected Awards:  1964 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Kubrick), Best Actor (Sellers), Best Adapted Screenplay; 1964 British Academy Awards: Best Film; 1964 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Director (Kubrick). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" film. This film is ranked #26 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). It is ranked #3 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time (2006).

    Featured Actors:  Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones, Peter Bull and Tracy Reed.

    Director:  Stanley Kubrick.


    In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

    • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995;
    • Guts & Glory: Great American War Movies, Lawrence H. Suid, 1978, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.;
    • Kennedy's Wars by Lawrence Freedman, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000, pg. 20 (for reference to RAND corporation intellectuals);
    • "Dr. Strangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of Liberal Consensus" by Charles Maland, an article in Hollywood As Historian - American Film in a Cultural Context - Revised Edition, Peter C. Rollins, Ed., 1983 and 1998, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. [The quotation from Kubrick is taken from an interview with him by Joseph Gelmis in The Film Director as Superstar (New York, Doubleday, 1970), p. 309. We found it in the Maland article at page 196; the quote from Morris Dickstein is at pg. 197 of the Miland article.

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