The plot of this film is already well-known, but I’ll rehash it here for my purposes: A rogue U.S. Air Force general, Jack D. Ripper, initiates a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. It’s then revealed that the Soviets have constructed a doomsday device which, at the first sign of a nuclear strike, will automatically release a Cobalt bomb into the atmosphere, destroying all life on earth and rendering the surface uninhabitable. The ultimate weapon for the era of M.A.D. and Détente.

Scary stuff, right? At the height of Cold War tensions, it didn’t seem all that unlikely that the U.S. and Soviet Union would end up annihilating each other, and Dr. Strangelove‘s “doomsday bomb” was Kubrick’s withering critique of the ultra-macho and myopic mindset of the U.S. and Soviet military—a mindset that could lead to ultimate destruction. And here’s the scariest part: The doomsday bomb is real, and it’s still active.

Last fall, Wired did a must-read exposé on the not-so-secret existence of a Cold War relic: a Soviet doomsday system called “Perimeter,” also known by the ominous name of Mertvaya Ruka, or “Dead Hand,” within official circles. And the system sounds like it was cribbed directly from Dr. Strangelove: ground-based detection devices, at the sign of a nuclear attack on Soviet territory, would then turn on a computer system that monitored the Soviet chain of command. If certain conditions were met, launch authority for a massive, world-ending nuclear counterattack would be transferred to a secure underground bunker, where the press of a button would initiate the ultimate apocalypse.

Ciné Files: Dr. Strangelove’s Real-Life Doomsday Machine :: Movies :: Columns :: Paste

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