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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [3]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Kenneth Nichols served as Director of U.S. Army Research and Development, worked on the Manhattan Project and was the Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. One of his principal roles was to help with development of the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. In discussing the concept, he concedes that it may never be perfect but that even at 60-80% effectiveness it would be an important factor for the Soviets to consider. He adds that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) should be seen in the same way. He blames the civilian “intelligentsia” for cancelling the ABM program – a decision he deplores – criticizing their reliance on abstract numbers and cost figures and their ignorance of the “psychology” of war. He goes into some depth explaining and defending the program, arguing that a missile defense system would encourage not first-strike thinking but genuine control of nuclear weapons.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
At the Brink
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Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [3]

Series Description

The first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, changed the world forever. This series chronicles these changes and the history of a new era. It traces the development of nuclear weapons, the evolution of nuclear strategy, and the politics of a world with the power to destroy itself.

In thirteen one-hour programs that combine historic footage and recent interviews with key American, Soviet, and European participants, the nuclear age unfolds: the origin and evolution of nuclear weapons; the people of the past who have shaped the events of the present; the ideas and issues that political leaders, scientists, and the public at large must confront, and the prospects for the future. Nuclear Age highlights the profound changes in contemporary thinking imposed by the advent of nuclear weapons. Series release date: 1/1989

Program Description

In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States are at the brink of nuclear war, the 13 most harrowing days in the nuclear age.

“I remember leaving the White House at the end of that Saturday and thinking that might well be the last sunset I ever saw,” recalls former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara of Black Saturday, the day the Cuban missile crisis pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. Aleksandr Alexseev, Soviet ambassador to Cuba at the time, recalled, “We and the Cubans decided that, in order to avoid a United States invasion, we should supply Cuba with missiles.” The US effort to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs was an expression of President Kennedy’s disbelief about the missiles in Cuba while it surprised Soviet leader Khrushchev according to his speechwriter,Feodor Burlatsky. Major General William Fairborne, speaks about how “We loaded whole blood and a hundred coffins onto the carrier Iwo Jima.” Looking back on those 13 days, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk reflects, “...we’ve got to find some way to inhabit this speck of dust in the universe at the same time.”



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Raw video

Media Type


Antimissile missiles
Civil defense
Compton, Arthur Holly, 1892-1962
Nuclear arms control
Gorbachev, Mikhail
United States. Army
Strategic Defense Initiative
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Laser weapons
Nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
United States. Air Force
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear disarmament
Qaddafi, Muammar
Bell Telephone Laboratories
Mutual assured destruction
Reagan, Ronald
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States. Dept. of Defense
Soviet Union
Nagasaki-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
United States
Deterrence (Strategy)
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Nichols, Kenneth D. (Kenneth David), 1907- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [3],” 07/01/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 18, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_09DF601D131C4B4E812B0A95FA0378A8.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [3].” 07/01/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 18, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_09DF601D131C4B4E812B0A95FA0378A8>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [3]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_09DF601D131C4B4E812B0A95FA0378A8
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