Friday, April 29, 2022

Nukes in the news -- again

Not enough people have seen "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

It's satire, sure, with a concept that a loony nuke base commander could trigger a nuclear war. General Jack D. Ripper is obsessed with Commies poisoning "our precious bodily fluids." His executive officer, a British captain, comes close to derailing the general's plans but, as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and mega-kiloton atomic warheads.

"We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day."

Dr. Strangelove's closing lines, sung by Vera Lynn as the Russians' Doomsday Machine causes bombs to go off all over the world.

That's all, folks!

The movie's over. We laugh. Shake our heads. Punch the remote to "Bridgerton."

The premise seemed ridiculous to moviegoers in 1964. It seems ridiculous again. But not quite so. There is an unhinged megalomaniac in Russia threatening to use nukes if the West doesn't stop arming Ukraine. 

"Dr. Strangelove" got its start with a novel, "Red Alert," by Peter George. It's a thriller. I read it as a teen, that and "Fail-Safe," co-written by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Also, Nevil Shute's "On the Beach." I read about nuclear Armageddon. It seemed so far-fetched. At the same time, I was reading the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift series. They sparked my imagination, turning me into a lifelong fan of fiction. Tom Swift's dirigible/biplane hybrid ("Tom Swift and His Airship, or, The Stirring Cruise of the Red Cloud") seemed as real to me as nuke bombers and missiles that could incinerate the planet. I was lost in a fantastic world that I never really grew out of.

At the same time, my father worked on installing Atlas missiles in hardened silos from Washington state to Kansas (Wyoming too). He was a contract specialist, an accountant with Martin Co. (Martin-Marietta). He was charged with making sure that the missiles and their underground homes were built correctly and within budget. We moved around with Dad and his work. I never really thought about how his job might lead to a cataclysm. But he did. He recommended that I watch Strangelove and read World War III novels. He didn't talk much about his work but I know he wanted me to be a reader and an informed citizen. 

Our family got a lot out of the Cold War. It never was a hot war, as some predicted, but it shaped me. 

So now, when Putin mouths off about nukes, I hear General Jack D. Ripper. I should take the guy more seriously as I live in the crosshairs of Nuclear Alley here in southeast Wyoming. If MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) arrives, I will have precious little time to worry about it. I never really stopped worrying nor did I learn to love the bomb. 

I revel in its absurdity.

"We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day."

Vera Lynn's singing takes us back to World War II. When Vera sang, British soldiers listened. They were in the fight of their lives around the globe. At home too, as Hitler waged a saturation bombing of a civilian population. Putin now saturates Ukraine with rockets and terror tactics. 

My father, a World War II G.I., liked Vera Lynn. Later, when I had a chance to think about it, I wondered if he minded that Vera Lynn's song had been used for a fiery conflagration that ended the world. He was especially fond of "The White Cliffs of Dover" which he must have heard many times in England as he trained for the Normandy invasion.


There'll be bluebirds over/the White Cliffs of Dover/tomorrow,/just you wait and see

And this:

There'll be love and laughter/and peace there after,/tomorrow,/when the world is free

There may be a song like this for Ukraine. There should be.  

1 comment:

Ann McCutchan said...

A fine, thoughtful column, Mike. Thank you.