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Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and EthicsDr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics


Dr. Strangelove (1964)


Famous for...

  • The world’s destruction by nuclear war.
  • The English actor, Peter Sellers’ three hilarious roles (pictured right below) including Doctor Strangelove. A broken leg stopped him taking another part (the Texan pilot Major Kong). Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics
  • The sexual innuendo of the characters’ names (Strangelove, Kissof etc.)
  • Its alternative title: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb


Set in...

America, 1962

This was the year nuclear war was narrowly avoided in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when Russia (then called the Soviet Union) threatened America by putting missile sites in Cuba.


 DirectorDr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

Stanley Kubrick (pictured right, also its producer and co-writer).

His other films included:

  • A Clockwork Orange (highly controversial because of its violence).
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (a classic science fiction movie).

 Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics


None (the musical My Fair Lady, pictured right, won the major Oscars).



Key charactersDr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

Doctor Strangelove (Peter Sellers), an eccentric nuclear bomb expert - pictured right.

Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers), the American president.

Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), British air force officer.

Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), American air base commander.


The storyDr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

Insane American air force commander, Jack D. Ripper (pictured right), puts his 34 B52 bombers on “Condition Red” for a bombing raid on Russia in response to an imaginary Russian attack.

Each B52 has nuclear bombs equivalent to 16 times the power of all the bombs and shells used in World War Two.

Ripper believes in:

  • trusting no one.
  • shooting first.
  • asking questions later. Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

He seals off his base, so that it is impossible to reverse the “Condition Red” order or contact him.

When the British air force officer, Lionel Mandrake, tries to persuade him to stop the raid (pictured right), Ripper:

  • locks him up in his office.
  • insanely believes that the bombing raid is justified (to prevent a Russian plan to fluoridate American drinking water).

In the Pentagon’s huge War Room, General Turgidson (Ripper’s strongly anti-communist boss) tells the American president, Merkin Muffley, that he is powerless to recall the bombers.Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

The president is furious that Ripper has ordered the attack, because he knows this will lead to World War Three.

Turgidson (pictured right) wants to support Ripper's planes with a total nuclear attack, so that Russia can be annihilated before it can retaliate. He gives the president a choice: kill 20 or 150 million Russians.

Alexei de Sadesky, the Russian ambassador, tells the president that the Russian leader, Dmitri Kissof, can’t be contacted because he’s drinking and having sex (Sadesky is pictured right below - Muffley is on the right) .

The American president:Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

  • orders an attack on Ripper’s base (to get the recall code from him).
  • finally talks to the drunk Kissof on the telephone.
  • apologizes profusely for the B-52’s that are now approaching Russia.
  • tells Kissof to shoot them down.

The Russian ambassador then discloses the Doomsday Machine that will be activated automatically by a nuclear attack on Russia, destroying all life on Earth.Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

The Russians built it fearing that the Americans might have one. The president consults an ex-Nazi nuclear weapons expert, Dr. Strangelove (pictured right), who tells him that the Americans had rejected a Doomsday Machine as an ineffective deterrent because it would be difficult to make public.

Back at the air base, Ripper:

  • still rants on about Russia’s plot to fluoridate America’s water.
  • shoots himself (after his base surrenders).

Mandrake works out the recall code, and it is transmitted to the bombers. But one B-52 doesn’t turn back, led by the patriotic Texan cowboy, Major “King” Kong.

It drops two huge nuclear bombs and Dr. Strangelove is exhilarated by the thought of the Earth’s destruction with a select few (similar to Hitler’s Aryan race) who would be safe in deep, underground mine shafts.Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics


  • even calls the president “Mein Führer”.
  • miraculously regains his ability to walk.

The Doomsday Machine is activated and the world is destroyed (pictured right), ironically accompanied by Vera Lynn’s British wartime song, We’ll Meet Again. Of course, nobody will.


Lessons for leadership and ethics

 Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

1. Politicians must rule

The nuclear war is started by Ripper without the president’s approval, and General Turgidson wants to drop lots more bombs.


2. Prejudice is perilous

Ripper and Turgidson’s fanatical anti-communism blinds them to the fact that a nuclear attack would destroy the world.

The mad, racist Nazi, Dr. Strangelove, also relishes global destruction.

 Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

3. Duty before desire

The Russian leader can’t be contacted about the nuclear attack, because he is drinking and having sex!

The Russian people's desire for consumer goods encourages the Russians to build the Doomsday Machine as a cheaper alternative to nuclear bombs.


4. Co-operation is vitalDr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

Nuclear bombs and the Doomsday Machine are products of the arms race between America and Russia, resulting from mutual fear and ignorance about the other side’s military strength.

Turgidson tells the president a nuclear attack is better than risking America's security (when this threat is just a figment of his bigoted imagination).

It would be much better, if they co-operated to reduce their arms, replacing suspicion with trust.


5. Macho is madnessDr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

Trigger and Turgidson’s desire to bomb the Russians comes from their association of military strength with sexual prowess.

This link is emphasized by the sexual inferences in the characters’ names.

For example:

  • Mandrake is a herbal aphrodisiac.
  • merkin and muff are American slang words for female pubic hair!

 Dr. Strangelove - Leadership and Ethics

6. Decisions are difficult

Turgidson gives the president two options: kill 150 million Russians or 20 million!

The president doesn't want a nuclear war but he is driven into it by circumstances outside his control.

Ripper's decision to attack Russia is supported by General Turgidson's and Major Kong's fanatical anti-communism.


Key quotes on war

War is too important to be left to politicians, Ripper.

We don’t want to start a nuclear war, unless we really have to, do we?, Mandrake (to Ripper).

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!, President Muffley (to Turgidson and Sadesky).

Peace is our profession, slogan on signs at Ripper's air base.

Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack, Dr. Strangelove


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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