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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Theodore Sorenson was Special Counsel, adviser and speechwriter to President Kennedy. In this brief second interview he describes the various courses of action proposed during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. He explains Kennedy's situation having returned from the Vienna Summit with Khrushchev and worrying that the Soviets might actually close off allied access to West Berlin. His preferred method, which Kennedy ultimately followed, was a "combination of carrots and sticks" -- standing firm against such a Soviet action but also opening negotiation channels. He recalls his emotional reaction to Carl Kaysen's proposal to use nuclear weapons preemptively, which he believes never reached Kennedy's desk.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
At the Brink
Program Number



Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [2]

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.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Berlin (Germany)
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Rowen, Henry S.
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Nuclear weapons
Kaysen, Carl
Soviet Union
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
United States
Nuclear survivability
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Sorensen, Theodore C. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [2],” 03/07/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 11, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_39BD47B8AF14474BBB6395DFF0B0833D.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [2].” 03/07/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 11, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_39BD47B8AF14474BBB6395DFF0B0833D>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_39BD47B8AF14474BBB6395DFF0B0833D
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