.. ve, Kahn concludes that a Doomsday device would not be a rational deterrent because it could not be controllable. Finally, like the infamous Werner Von Braun, Strangelove seems to have significant, high level connections with Nazi Germany (i.e. “mein Fhrer”), and similarly care little about what side of the battle he is on. Dr. Strangelove represents scientific obsession; Strangelove is brilliant and thrives of the application and success of his own genius. However, his role as the Director of Weapons Research is done not out of a feeling of duty to America or even out of a dislike of the USSR, rather he applies his brilliance out of narcissism, an erotic passion for nuclear power, and a love of the “game” of war.
Dr. Strangelove’s indifference to the country and president he serves is revealed at the very end of the film when he becomes so carried away in his excitement about the destruction of the world that he confuses the President with “mein Fhrer.” While clearly implying that Strangelove was once a prominent Nazi who had personal contact with Hitler, I do not believe that this ejaculation means that he is still deep down a Nazi or even harbors a particular alliance to Hitler. Instead, Strangelove’s accidental digression into the past, suggests his excitement for war and destructive power. Not since World War II, when he served Hitler, has Strangelove experienced so much destructive power concentrated all at once. As a man that is part machine, Strangelove is essentially ‘turned-on’ by the electric charge released from so many atomic bombs – thus, at the very end of the film; he is able to walk again.
As a critique on the scientists involved in the creation and improvement of nuclear technology, the Strangelove character is a damning statement. Indeed, while Strangelove himself is not identified as “the enemy” in the film, he is clearly the creator of the true “enemy” – the nuclear bomb. Furthermore, Strangelove is an amoral character that seems to lack any remote semblance of an ethical code of conduct. As a scientist and a strategist, Strangelove is a calculating machine whose job is only to maximize wins and minimize losses during war. Thus, the fact that Strangelove creates machines, reasons like a machine (solely through rational numerical formulism), and has literally become a physical manifestation of a machine, implies that the scientists involved in nuclear armerment must give up much of their humanity during their quest to create perfect war machines. There are two different types of academics that played essential roles in the Cold War – the hard-scientists (like Strangelove) and the theoreticians (like Groeteschele).
While Dr. Strangelove creates the weapons of destruction, Professor Groeteschele strives to provide a theoretical framework that justifies the use of such “killing devices.” Indeed, Groeteschele is obsessed with game theory and nuclear strategy. By definition, the purpose of game theory is to maximize one’s wins and minimize one’s losses through abstract mathematical formulism. Such formulism must involve numerical calculations made by mutually informed players competing against each other (each with imperfect information about the capabilities or intent of the other). This method of strategy was extremely popular during the Cold War and remains a significant method of strategic theory.
Through this form of theorizing and calculation, Groeteschele strives both to deter the Russians from attacking (and, in the case of attack, to maximize the American wins). The relationship between the game theory of Groeteschele and the machines of Strangelove is particularly provocative. Indeed, both methods of strategy involve abstract formulism – measuring human life on purely numeric terms. Both nuclear warheads and game theory are void of morality or value, reducing both human life and weapons of mass destruction to the level of artificial tokens that are consistently applied and measured against theoretical outcomes. Thus, the role of Professor Groeteschele is that of a calculating machine, and as such a ‘machine,’ Groeteschele, like Strangelove, lacks humanity.
While this lack of humanity manifests itself physically in Strangelove, it dominates the psychology of Groeteschele, who generally abandons emotion for cold rationality. Groeteschele’s abandonment of his own humanity for the maintenance of his rational faade reveals his obsession with being the perfect game-player. Interestingly, Groeteschele, unlike Strangelove, does not care about the beauty of nuclear warfare or the energy it releases, to him, bombs merely represent the tools a nation must employ in order to win “the game” against the enemy. As a man whose job is to advise politicians when they should commit “mass-murder” and how many people they should try to kill, Groeteschele must mutate his impression of his enemy into something less than human. Indeed, in order to justify the destruction of the Soviet peoples, the Professor has to develop his own myth that the Russians are actually truly rational, calculating Game players (i.e. the perfect opponent).
By convincing himself of this, Groeteschele is able to view the Soviets as merely being instruments of calculation and abstract formalism, rather than human beings. Indeed, in defense of his argument that the Americans should strike first so that the Russians will concede, Groetechele states that the Russians are “Marxist-fanatics, not normal people .. they don’t reason the way you reason, they’re not motivated by human emotions such as rage and pity .. they are calculating machines, they will look at the balance sheet, and they will see that they cannot win. [and] the Russians will surrender.” In the previous statement, Groetechele reveals much more about himself than about the Russians: his own religious-like adherence to rational game theory has allowed him to nurture a dangerously nave view of the contemporary world.
Clearly, the Russians are human beings, and as human beings, they are sometimes motivated by human emotions. Fail Safe is essentially a film against the art of deterrence and game theory. Lumet’s first criticism of game theory occurs when the machine malfunctions (due to new Russian interference technology). In a “game” in which both players are wielding weapons of mass destruction, Lumet suggests that rational prediction cannot always prevent confrontation through deterrence theory. Indeed, the fact that the machine’s error escaped Groeteschele’s original calculations weakens the validity of game theory. Furthermore, in game theory, the informed players rarely have a complete picture of the capabilities or intent of their enemies. Because of this, tragic and irrational mistakes can be made.
Lumet’s most damning critique of Groeteschele and his rhetoric of rational destruction comes from the voice of General Black. Indeed, Blackie realizes that both Americans and Russians are human beings, and that rather than trying to destroy Russia for the sake of preserving American culture, we should seek to preserve humanity in general: “You know what your saying – Justifying murder, in the name of what .. to preserve what? Even if we do survive, what gives us the right? Are we better than what we say they are .. what gives us the right to live then? What makes us worth surviving, when we are ruthless enough to strike first – fighting for your life isn’t the same as murder!” While there is no such thing as morality when it comes to rational choice, general Black suggests that deeply held morality and a respect for life should transcend rationality and the quest for economic and political supremacy. While Groeteschele makes decisions through maximizing the ratio of gain to loss, Blackie relies on his personal ethical code. Emerging as both a martyr and a hero, Blackie is willing to take responsibility and sacrifice his life for a mistake that he adamantly tried to prevent.
The dichotomy between General Black’s sincere morality and Groeteschele’s rational indifference to moral principles reveals Lumet’s intolerance of amorality. Ultimately, Lumet suggests that large-scale warfare (with such high stakes) cannot be reduced to any type of abstract formalism – machine or human. Instead, contemporary warfare must operate under a code of ethics that respects human life and international differences. Mr. Lumet’s pacifistic comment in the beginning of the film seems to most accurately represent the underlying message of fail Safe: “In a nuclear war, everyone losses, war isn’t what it used to be.” Both Fail Safe and Dr.
Strangelove explore the new (Cold War) American ideology from the standpoint of an accidental nuclear disaster. By blatantly revealing the absurdity of game theory (particularly Mutual Assured Destruction as an adequate deterrence for war), Kubrick and Lumet call into question the dominant pro-armerment American ideology. In order to examine the entire macrocosm of possible nuclear disasters, both directors choose to include a character that embodies the contemporary ‘nuclear intellectual.’ Indeed, scientists and theoreticians (like Groeteschele and Strangelove) played a prominent role in defining and perpetuating the new Cold War culture. These academics not only became the architects of nuclear bombs but they were also faced with creating a viable theoretical framework within which the use of these weapons would be both recommended and justified. However, both Kubrick and Lumet suggest that in order to apply their brilliance towards mass destruction and death, intellectuals must give up a portion of their humanity, becoming increasingly more like the devices they create and defend. The mutual catastrophes that occur in Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove show the inevitability of human weakness and scientific fallibility.
Through the development of Professor Groeteschele and Dr. Strangelove, both Lumet and Kubrick illustrate the catastrophic possibilities of relying solely on science and mathematics to resolve international conflicts. Ultimately, modern, high stake warfare requires a more humanistic, ethical code of right and wrong. Film and Cinema.