Approaching Doomsday

There were those of us who fought against this. But in the end, we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. And at the same time, our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our Doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we’d been spending on defense in a single year. But the deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a Doomsday gap.

Dr. Strangelove premiered 50 years ago today — above, the Russian ambassador (Alexi de Sadeski) explaining to the president of the United States (Merkin Muffley) how the world got headed down the path to self-annihilation. Below, the opening paragraph of P. D. Smith’s recent cultural biography Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon:

Homo sapiens is the only species that knows it will die. The thought obsesses us. From the earliest marks made on cave walls to our most sublime works of art, the fear of death haunts our every creation. And in the middle of the twentieth century, human beings became the first species to reach that pinnacle of evolution — the point at which it could engineer its own extinction.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.