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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [2]

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. In this interview, the focus is on a number of issues that surfaced in the years after World War II. These include the state of the nuclear stockpile and the desirability, in his view, of having the military take custody of nuclear weapons. In 1949, he backed increased production as the cheapest means of promoting national security. He also advocated a growing role for nuclear weapons in military planning, and he recounts the competition between the Air Force and Navy over control of certain systems. On the subject of the hydrogen bomb, his position is that if a country has the capability to develop a new weapon “you’re derelict if you don’t do it.” He questions allegations about the immorality of the H-bomb, asking rhetorically whether morality depends only on the size of the weapon. Gen. Nichols recalls several particular events and issues from the period, including the “tremendous” impact of the Soviet atomic test and the influence of the Klaus Fuchs episode, which he says contributed to the expansion of the H-bomb program and “killed any cooperation with Britain.” Similarly, the Korean War helped resolve various custody and testing questions in the military’s favor, and precipitated further arguments over the use of nuclear weapons. Gen. Nichols was closely involved in that debate as well as deliberations over whether to develop an anti-ballistic missile system. He also reflects on the Robert Oppenheimer security case, a subject he claims to know more about than anyone. In his view, the controversy, which he explores in detail, “ruined a damn good man,” although he believes Oppenheimer was not entirely blameless.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Weapon of Choice, The
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Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 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

The United States and the Soviet Union, former allies, become adversaries in a “Cold War,” and nuclear weapons become the weapon of choice for both sides.

From 1947 to 1953 the threat to use nuclear weapons became the principal currency of conflict. During the Korean War, Texas Congressman J. Frank Wilson said, “We are dealing with mad dogs ... we must treat them accordingly. I urge the atomic bomb be used if it can be used efficiently.” Against this background, President Harry Truman made crucial decisions that affected the history of the Nuclear Age. The United states deployed the B-36, a huge intercontinental bomber. It started mass production of atomic bombs. In 1952, the US exploded the first hydrogen bomb, a quantum leap in destructive force. Less than a year later, the Soviet Union exploded its own hydrogen bomb.



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Raw video

Media Type


Soviet Union
Johnson, Louis Arthur, 1891-1966
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
Lilienthal, David Eli, 1899-1981
Webster, William H.
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Gray, Gordon, 1909-1982
United States. Navy
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (U.S.)
United States
Hydrogen bomb
Clay, Lucius D. (Lucius DuBignon), 1897-1978
Groves, Leslie Richard
Hickenlooper, Bourke B. (Bourke Blakemore), 1896-1971
Military Liaison Committee to the U.S. Department of Energy
Nuclear weapons
Norstad, Lauris, 1907-1988
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
United States. Air Force
United States. Army
Forrestal, James, 1892-1949
Antimissile missiles
Hoover, J. Edgar (John Edgar), 1895-1972
Korean War, 1950-1953
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Nichols, Kenneth D. (Kenneth David), 1907- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [2],” 03/04/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 24, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_530DEA48C5C04B6589587680E4BEDAE0.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [2].” 03/04/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 24, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_530DEA48C5C04B6589587680E4BEDAE0>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Kenneth Nichols, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_530DEA48C5C04B6589587680E4BEDAE0
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