Air Force's 1963 film may have been an answer to 'Dr. Strangelove'

"Well boys, I reckon this is it: nuclear combat, toe to toe with the Russkies." — Maj. T.J. "King" Kong

More than 45 years ago, actor Slim Pickens delivered those words in "Dr. Strangelove," a seminal Cold War black comedy.

In the film, a rogue Air Force general, Jack Ripper, convinced that fluoridated water is a communist plot, orders a nuclear attack on the Soviets, triggering Armageddon.

It's a tad late, but the United States Air Force has more to say on the matter.

"SAC Command Post," an 18-minute film made in 1963 belittling the possibility of such an unauthorized U.S. nuclear strike, has been unearthed at the National Archives in College Park, Md.

There's no evidence it was ever released publicly. But now it can be seen on a George Washington University Web site, where it was posted last Friday.

The film includes a tour of the Strategic Air Command's underground control center near Omaha and mentions that several measures have been taken to allow control center operations to continue even during a nuclear attack. Special air conditioners, for example, would filter out "nuclear contaminants." The "gold phone," which would be used to receive the orders triggering a nuclear attack, also is shown.

The film also went to great lengths to emphasize that procedures were in place so that, in the narrator's words, "World War III can't be triggered by an unauthorized launching of a nuclear bomb."

"They went to a lot of trouble to produce this," said William Burr, a senior analyst in charge of the nuclear history documentation project for the National Security Archive, an independent research organization at George Washington University.

Burr discovered the film last year after he heard that the National Archives had a cache of Air Force films. Reviewing index cards describing the collection, he found "SAC Command Post" and ordered a DVD copy.

Burr figured that it was made in 1963, from the date on an Omaha World-Herald newspaper shown in the film. "Dr. Strangelove" wasn't released until the next year. But there had already been newspaper stories about it, including a New York Times interview in which director Stanley Kubrick outlined the plot, complete with the psychotic general who believed fluoridation was a conspiracy to sap and pollute our "precious bodily fluids."

The SAC film also countered "Fail Safe," a 1962 novel that would be made into a movie in 1964. It was about an attack order accidentally sent to a SAC bomber, which carried out a nuclear strike.

One mystery is why the SAC movie was never released. Burr said it's possible that the timing was simply wrong. By the time "Dr. Strangelove" came out, President Lyndon Johnson was trying to smooth relations with the Soviet Union.

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