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- liebe). 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, etc. 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. Strangelove. (B.S.)
Back to Table of Contents.