Dr. Strangelove and Decoding Trumpspeak: The Threat of Nuclear War Today

Continuing a yearly tradition of watching Dr. Strangelove on New Years Eve, I realized how just how close nuclear war is today.

My family watches Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb every New Years Eve. This tradition started years ago on the last New Years Eve my wife’s mom had on this world. She was already very ill and she had never seen Dr. Strangelove, so we took it out for her to see. Partly to honor her, we've watched it at this time of year ever since.

Each year, I write something about that year's viewing. Often, it concerns how scary the 1960s were, or perhaps an appreciation of the people that have averted several very close calls, when the world might have fallen into Global Thermonuclear War. While the occasion is always a bit melancholy, it has generally been upbeat. The world has come a long way since 1964.

This year marks a regression for the U.S. and therefore for the world as a whole. I could go on at some length about many ways in which I think we have faltered and in which the world has faltered, but in keeping with the Cold War nature of Dr. Strangelove, I'll just focus on nuclear war.


For the first time in a very, very long while, we have moved closer to nuclear war.

We have elected a President who, to judge by his statements, apparently has not heard of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, SALT I, SALT II, START, New START and all the other attempts, formal and informal, to keep more nations from developing nuclear weapons and to reduce the number of nuclear weapons the world has.

For the many people that love the President-Elect, I don't share your love... but I am not going to debate. Let's assume he is the greatest thing since sliced bread in oh, so many ways. Let’s assume there is some past golden age that he is taking us back to... and that he knows the secret of how to get there.

But we need to be aware of what he has said about nuclear weapons:

  1. The President-Elect has suggested that Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia might develop nuclear weapons and “I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us.” Nuclear proliferation, Trump told CNN, “is going to happen anyway.”

The more nations with them, the more possibility of a mistake, the more possibility of a nuclear arms race. Can you imagine Kim Jong-un facing a nuclear South Korea? And our troops are specifically there to act as a "trip-wire" for our involvement in guaranteeing the South Korea’s territorial integrity.

We're in the Middle East up to our eyeballs and he wants at least some nations there to develop nuclear weapons? In fact, the very nation that most of the 9/11 terrorists came from?

  1. The President-Elect recently said we should engage in a nuclear arms race “until the world comes to its senses.”

President Reagan, whom most of the President-Elect's supporters remember with reverence, wanted to abolish nuclear weapons. He entered into negotiations with the Russians to reduce nuclear weapons. Every Republican President since then has followed suit in attempting to decrease the number of nuclear weapons. The START I treaty grew out of Reagan's negotiations and was signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Reagan understood that an increase in weapons means an increase in tensions, an increase in possibility of accident, an increase in possibility of a nuke falling into the wrong hands by theft, by coup d’etat, or by an anomalous election result.

  1. The President-Elect has suggested on many occasions that he might use nuclear weapons—against ISIS, among others—and asked the question, why make them if we aren't going to use them?

We all understand that Presidents do not generally rule out the use of any weapons. The U.S. has specifically not adopted a "no first use" doctrine. We don't rule them out...but it is almost unprecedented to "rule them in."

I get that the President-Elect's supporters agree with him that they want to torture ISIS members, kill ISIS members and kill their families, too—to show them we mean business and get them to stop. But I'm not used to Presidents talking about using nuclear weapons in this way. This kind of nuclear talk is what I remember from old Cold War Soviet Premiers, not U.S. Presidents.

I know that the President-Elect's admirers will point out that he has said he hates nukes and isn't the kind of person to use them. While this seems to me to undermine deterrence, it also seems to contradict some of his more pro-nuke statements.

I know it makes his supporters feel completely at ease, but I am personally confused. Which of his statements am I supposed to believe?

I've finally realized that the President-Elect's supporters have a secret decoder ring. That is the only answer to how they could know that when he says he can just "grab pussy" he doesn't mean it. But when he says he'll throw Hillary in jail, he does mean it (maybe).

Since this is true, I know you supporters can use your rings to ignore or interpret all the seemingly crazy statements he makes that misguided idiots like myself take seriously, while allowing you to believe all the contradictory statements that almost make sense but just mystify misguided idiots like myself who can't figure out which contradiction to believe.

But when the Chinese start arming their artificial islands and hardliners in South Korea mumble about maybe going ahead with making their own nukes, I have to assume I am not the only person missing a secret decoder ring. Vladimir Putin has said he doesn't take the arms race statements seriously, which may mean he does have the secret decoder ring—or perhaps he just doesn't take the President-Elect seriously.

I'm willing to try to play along with the notion that the President-Elect really has a "very good brain" so that he can just consult with himself on foreign policy. I can now see that, with your rings, you completely get where he is coming from and feel completely at ease.

But without a decoder ring, I can't make out what he is saying and I don't think a lot of the world's leaders have the rings either. The President-Elect may do the right thing because he is so smart, but the rest of the world without the decoder rings may be like me and fail to understand and they'll make the mistake.

For the first time since I started watching Dr. Strangelove every year, I'm actually worried that the "accidental" nuclear war it depicts is closer than it was last year.

Thurman Lee Hester Jr., PhD, is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and is active in the Indian community of central Oklahoma. He is currently the Director of American Indian Studies at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma at Chickasha and of the Howard Meredith Indian Humanities Center there. Lee (as he is usually known) has been elected to the National Caucus of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. He has served as Chairman of the Board and President of the Oklahoma Choctaw Tribal Alliance and was their first Cultural Committee chair, serving in that role for more than a decade. His academic training is in philosophy and he is co-founder (with Dennis McPherson) of Ayaangwaamizin: The International Journal of Indigenous Philosophy.