The Sellers Market

Blog Post created by anadyr on Nov 19, 2017

Ah yes, the 1964 Stanley Kubrick classic, Dr. Strangelove.  It's where I saw it for the first time that sticks in my mind.  I was a junior officer assigned to the National Military Command Center (NMCC), also known as the war room, in the Pentagon. For a couple years I worked overnight in this dimly lit place surrounded by clattering teletype machines, hot to the touch Xerox machines, and enough telephones to make A. G. Bell jealous.


We had huge (by the standards of 1969) televisions hanging from the ceiling, most of which contained flickering images of force readiness around the world. Senior enlisted personnel manned the machines, and made the terrible coffee that we needed to stave off sleep. A general officer sat in a glass enclosed office near the entrance, watching us watch him.


You entered the NMCC by showing your badge to a never pleasant Marine guard, a man whose career depended on making you feel inadequate, at least that was the way it seemed to me.  Once in a while he'd grab the badge hanging around my neck, and pull it toward him for a closer look, then as my neck was about to snap, he'd let it go, and with a wave of his hand let me in, through a heavy door.


The room had so much cabling they'd installed a fake floor, which like the one that Disco phenoms later used, which seemed to be fit for dancing and not walking. There was a constant hum and clatter in the room. My job was to man the southeast Asia desk, keep track of what was happening in South Vietnam, an unenviable task.


drs.jpgIt must have been a holiday outside in the real world  because for the first time we were allowed to see broadcast TV on the monitors above out heads. Sure enough, the movie on CBS was the movie, Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, starring the incredibly talented Peter Sellers in the title role. Most of the senior officers were intent on pretending to not be watching the movie, but as a low-level peon I had little to lose. I watched the on screen depiction of the room that I was sitting in, and marveled at the black humor and the irony that the  movie contained.


Every scene was played or overplayed well. The story line was very well-crafted. It was an Oscar nominated film, released just a few months after the Kennedy assassination.


I laughed out loud when one of the characters, President Merkin Muffley said "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."  I guess I was the only one laughing.  My career did not end, but I still can see that movie in my head.


war.jpgI wonder how many of the folks I worked with felt the same way. We were a serious bunch of folks, and humor was in short supply in those days and in that place.


We're almost fifty years down the road. Teletypes are gone, Xerox machines are called something else, the NMCC still exists, I guess.


This movie, which I've seen a few times since, continues to make me smile, to laugh, and to think.