When Dr. Strangelove first came out in 1964, when Communist paranoia had run amok in the United States and political correctness was at an all-time high, politicians, critics, military personnel, academics, and even many fairly apolitical American citizens were horrified by the film. The mere suggestion that a general could single-handedly start a nuclear war that would literally destroy the world scared everyone to death (pun intended).
Never mind the fact that the entire film was a satirical comedy film meant to poke fun at the “nuclear hysteria” that was pervasive throughout American society at the time. Obviously, no one really thought that such a scenario was even remotely possible. However, this was understood by many to be one of those jokes that just wasn’t acceptable given the context of the time. It was viewed as “offensive,” “triggering,” and even “dangerous.” The film did surprisingly do quite well at the box office, as what I suspect was a silent majority of Americans rather enjoyed the film and even took pleasure in playing around with the fantasy of nuclear Armageddon in their minds. However, the “intellectual elites” made sure to tell the rest of America that this film was entirely unacceptable, “an evil thing about an evil thing” as one general described it. This film would go down in history as an insensitive aberration, a joke that simply went too far.
Back in 1964, there were two sides to the argument over this film. Advocates of one side would say, “The premise of this film is a ludicrous conspiracy theory. This film is entirely unacceptable given the fact that we are in the midst of a dangerous era of nuclear tension and an arms race with Russia. Some jokes are too off-color and may incite hysteria, violence, etc.” Proponents of the other school of thought would say, “Obviously we agree on the concept that this film is unrealistic and impossible. However, a joke is a joke, and the Constitution protects our freedom to express whatever satirical, wild ideas we choose in the media.” Both sides at least agreed that only crazy conspiracy theorists would suggest that “the nuclear” (wink, wink) could ever be used without the president’s consent. The discussion was about whether it’s okay to even joke like that.
But, in a very dramatic fashion, a real-life “plot twist” occurred. Nearly forty years after this film was released, we discovered that Jack the Ripper could very well have happened, for, in fact, President Eisenhower had secretly pre-delegated nuclear authority as president. Commonly referred to as “Ike’s Hair Trigger,” this pre-delegation allowed high-ranking military officials to quickly respond to nuclear aggression from Soviet forces if an emergency situation occurred and speedy retaliation was necessary. This would allow the military to use nuclear forces against foreign enemies without having to go through the proper channels and gain executive approval. Usually this would be used in a situation where the president was not immediately available, whether he was out of the country, ill, injured, or deceased, and the U.S. had to act quickly. While this seems crazy in a relatively peaceful time like today, one would have to have lived during the Cold War to understand how necessary the ability to be ready to bomb a country at literally a moment’s notice, seemed at the time.
Obviously, what has been described as a conflict between “always” and “never” occurred as a consequence of this pre-delegation. If the generals had pre-delegated authority to use nuclear force at any time during war, how could they suddenly be stripped of that power in an era of peace? President Kennedy struggled with this conflict upon becoming president and learning the shocking secrets of Ike’s nuclear pre-delegation plan.
I just want readers to stop and attempt to soak in the irony of this situation. In 1964, people who even joked about this were basically destroyed by generals, politicians, and film critics for suggesting “crazy,” “dangerous” things about our military. Nearly forty years later, when it was almost too late to matter, we suddenly discovered that this satirical film, intended to be so over-the-top that it would be viewed as comical, was actually not satirical at all…it accurately predicted what was going on in the government at the time. This is like your brother comes home late at night, covered in mud and carrying a shovel, and asks you to help him with a little something. You joke back, “What, you want me to bury a dead body or something?” and he responds, “Umm…yeah.”
Such an irony makes you think about conspiracy theories in the context of modern day. The media is a powerful thing. It can convince us that a theory is entirely ludicrous and that anyone who suggests it may be true is a complete nut job. The media can ruin someone’s entire life by leveling damaging character assassinations, degrading their reputation and credentials, and making the general public lose all respect for them by branding them as a “conspiracy theorist.” However, it is possible that many of these theories, which are considered so bizarre they are effectively banned from public discourse by media elites who like to tell Americans what and how to think, may in fact be proven true forty years from now. My question to pose to anyone reading this would be, “What modern-day ‘conspiracy theories’ may actually be more plausible than the media and Washington insiders want you to think?”
Especially given the context of 2016, when we have a presidential election between the two most disliked, distrusted people ever to run for the White House, maybe it would be wise to start erring on the side of conspiracy theories since one of these monstrous individuals will soon be the most powerful person in the world. Perhaps we should stop calling every strange-sounding idea a conspiracy theory, and do a little more critical thinking, rather than letting the media and political elites tell us what is true and isn’t true. Now, I’m not saying Hillary Clinton is literally a demon, or that President Obama smells of sulfur, but I do think the degree of transparency and accountability to the people that our government has lost over the years should be compensated for by a proportional increase in public suspicion of our elected officials. Maybe some of the most far-fetched ideas really aren’t as far-fetched as they may seem…
My philosophy is such: “I hate conspiracy theories, until they turn out to be true.”