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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Thomas Lanphier, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Thomas Lanphier was a fighter pilot in World War II (credited with shooting down the plane carrying Admiral Yamomoto in 1943); after the war he served as Special Assistant to the first Secretary of the Air Force, then Special Assistant to the Chairman of the National Security Resources Board. He was a Vice President of General Dynamics in the 1950s, which acquired the company Convair. He begins the interview by describing a meeting he attended with President Truman and his top advisers at which the North Korean invasion of South Korea was discussed. Recalling his time at Convair, he discusses various weapons and missile development activities he was involved with. He also describes perceptions of the missile gap issue at the time, which leads to a discussion of his role in the national debate. A challenge for industry at the time, he notes, was how to determine the best ways to address future threats without having official access to intelligence about the nature of those threats. Confiding that there were other means of obtaining that information, he recalls a meeting with CIA Director Allen Dulles at which Mr. Lanphier conveyed his view that Soviet missile capabilities were greater than the CIA estimated. This eventually led to Mr. Lanphier’s resignation from Convair, amid allegations he was trying to gin up business for his company, and a six-month public campaign on his part to press his argument. He defends his actions as not politically motivated, but acknowledges that they constituted for President Eisenhower an example of the undue influence of the military-industrial complex.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Thomas Lanphier, 1986

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

For the destructive power they deliver, nuclear weapons are cheap and efficient. In the 1950’s the United States begins to rely on nuclear, rather than conventional, weapons for its defense.

As nuclear policy evolved during the Eisenhower Administration, three factors combined to produce a new American reliance on nuclear weapons: pressure to control the federal budget (the “bigger bang” argument); competition as each branch of the American military adapted nuclear weapons to its mission; and Soviet bluffs that fueled American fears about a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap.” On October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to orbit Earth, shocked Americans and delighted the Soviets. A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on board. Both the Soviets and the Americans knew that a booster capable of carrying a dog into space could also deliver a nuclear warhead across a continent in 30 minutes.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


U-2 (Reconnaissance aircraft)
General Dynamics Corporation. Convair Division
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Scoville, Herbert
Soviet Union
Photographic reconnaissance systems
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
National Security Council (U.S.)
Hydrogen bomb
MacArthur, Douglas, 1880-1964
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Defense contracts
Dulles, Allen, 1893-1969
Symington, Stuart, 1901-1988
United Nations
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Nuclear weapons
United States. Congress
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Korean War, 1950-1953
United States. Dept. of Defense
United States
Military-industrial complex
San Diego, CA
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Lanphier, Thomas (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Thomas Lanphier, 1986,” 03/07/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 28, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7D5B4D37FFC441D4924F9C64D2135822.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Thomas Lanphier, 1986.” 03/07/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 28, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7D5B4D37FFC441D4924F9C64D2135822>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Thomas Lanphier, 1986. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7D5B4D37FFC441D4924F9C64D2135822
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