Just who WAS Dr. Strangelove, really?

Strangelove is such a potent character -- twisted, coldly rational, his 
mechanical arm likely to spring into a SEIG HEIL at the slightest 
provocation -- that many people have speculated on who Strangelove might 
be "based" on.

At one point in the film, Turgidson asks if "Strangelove" is a "Kraut" 
name. Stains, Muffley's assistant, reports that it had been changed from 
"Merkwerdichliebe." I checked the syllables against a German dictionary 
back in high school, and came out with "strange-love" (merwerdich-

Nelson reports that the name is actually "Merkwuerdigichliebe," which 
translates into "cherished fate."

Several critics have found similarities to Strangelove in the character 
Rotwang in Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS. Rotwang is a mad scientist with a 
mechanical hand who brings down ruin on nearly everyone. Kubrick has 
disavowed any intentional similarities.

But anyway, there are several major guesses as to who provided the basis 
for Strangelove. The favorite seems to be Henry Kissinger, a former 
Harvard professor who served as Secretary of State for Presidents Nixon 
and Ford. At the time of STRANGELOVE's production, Kissinger was at 
Harvard, and had written at least two books on nuclear war by 1960. (One 
was published by the Council on Foreign Relations, and was a Book-of-
the-Month selection.) In his books, Kissinger argued for various 
"strategies," including limited nuclear war, tactical nuclear weapons, 

The case FOR Kissinger: he's German by birth, and the accent is very 
similar, which seems to be the main reason for linking Kissinger with 
Strangelove. Kissinger's subsequent career -- which journalist 
Christopher Hitchens compared to the pathology of a serial killer -- 
certainly matches Strangelove's ruthlessness. (Suggested reading: 
Seymour Hersh's THE PRICE OF POWER.) And given Kissinger's minor 
prominence and Kubrick's thorough research, one could argue it's likely 
that Kubrick thought of Kissinger.

The case AGAINST Kissinger: Frankly, he was far too obscure a figure to 
be "parodied." One would want to parody a widely-known personage, and at 
the time, Kissinger was one of many theorists of the unthinkable.

The second favorite is clearly Werner von Braun, the former Nazi rocket 
scientist who quickly turned his services (and those of his underlings) 
to the U.S. after the war. In the Cold War, von Braun's expertise in 
rocketry was more important to the U.S. than prosecuting him for 
administrating slave labor at Peenemunde and Nordhausen. His books were 
written with a view to the future (I AIM FOR THE STARS), but it was a 
theme in humor at the time to note Von Braun's earlier work (cf. Tom 
Lehrer's song about him, Mort Sahl's subtitle to his book ". . . but 
Sometimes I Hit London.")

The case FOR Von Braun: He was famous. He was German. He had been a 
faithful Nazi. He promoted a self-image of coldly rational theorization 
of pragmatic scientific realities, untempered by such human issues as 
compassion, morals, or values.

The case AGAINST Von Braun: Very little, apart from the fact that he 
wasn't a nuclear scientist, nor a theorist of nuclear deterrence.

A third runner-up is Edward Teller, the Hungarian physicist who worked 
on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, and whose theoretical work was 
instrumental in developing the H-bomb. Teller was also willing to 
denounce Robert Oppenheimer as a security risk, thus ensuring his 
reputation among liberals as a scoundrel. He was also the man who 
convinced Ronald Reagan that the Strategic Defense Initiative was a 
workable concept. Even historian William Manchester, in the Oppenheimer 
passages in THE GLORY AND THE DREAM, said that, eventually, Teller would 
be savagely parodied as DR. STRANGELOVE.

The case FOR Teller; His role in the Oppenheimer affair. His promotion 
of the development of the H-bomb. His continued role in promoting 
nuclear weapons development (he was the head of Lawrence Livermore labs 
for many years). He had a foreign accent that, to an untrained ear, 
might sound German.

The case AGAINST Teller; Teller was Hungarian (as well as Jewish), and FLED the Nazis when 
they overran his country.

I think the best case can be made that Herman Kahn was the best source 
for Strangelove. Kahn was one of the earliest employees at the RAND 
corporation, which had been set by by Gen. "Hap" Arnold to study nuclear 
war. According to THE WIZARDS OF ARMAGEDDON by Fred Kaplan, Kahn was 
notable for developing the linguistic trick of referring to potential 
casualties with the "only" word, as in "only two million kiled." 
"Alluding almost casually to 'only' two million dead was part of the 
image Kahn was fashioning himself, the living portrait of the ultimate 
defense intellectual, cool and fearless, asking the questions everyone 
else ignored, thinking about the unthinkable." Indeed, his book ON 
THERMONUCLEAR WAR (1960), SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN reviewed it as "a moral 
tract on mass murder; how to plan it, how to commit it, how to get away 
with it, how to justify it."

The case FOR Kahn: Dr. Strangelove himself refers to a study he 
commissioned from the "Bland Corporation," a clear play on Kahn's old 
haunts. The similarity to Kahn's own ideas in Strangelove's 
pronouncements -- including the mine-shaft and ten-females-to-each-male 
stuff -- is uncannily similar to Kahn's brand of futurism. And since 
Kahn was the most famous nuclear war theorist at the time, Kubrick must 
have been thinking of his work.

The case AGAINST Kahn: Kahn, despite his name, was American-born, and 
was never a Nazi. Kahn was once asked about STRANGELOVE, and his reply 
was: "Dr. Strangelove would not have lasted three weeks at the 
Pentagon.. he was too creative."

My Best Guess is that Kubrick wanted to satirize the works of nuclear 
intellectuals such as Herman Kahn. Kahn was clearly the most famous, 
though it is not inconceivable that Kubrick was aware of Kissinger's 
work in the field. In order to give an extra spin on the ultrarational, 
"pragmatic" pose, Kubrick added allusions to Von Braun's Nazi past. The 
wheelchair and the physical infirmities were added to give Strangelove a 
bizarre, grotesque appearance. But personally, I believe that Herman 
Kahn was the single greatest influence on the creation of Dr.


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