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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Glenn Kent, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Lt. Gen. Glenn Kent spent most of his career, beginning in 1953, in Air Force planning, and research and development. He rose to become Director of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group in 1972. In this second interview he discusses the development of U.S. defense policy in the 1960s. He describes his struggles with Alain Enthoven and the weapons-cutting Kennedy administration "whiz kids," arguing for the future development of Air Force bombers. He explains the damage limitation study he prepared for the Defense Department, in which he laid out a plan that could save 70 percent of the population in the face of a Soviet attack. He adds, however, that Soviet reactions to an ABM system might change the percentages. Secretary McNamara, despite his confidence in the study, decided that the public would not go for outspending the Soviets 3-to-1 in order to save 70 percent of the population or, as he put it, to leave 60 million dead. Instead, the administration relied heavily on mutual assured deterrence, which Lt. Gen. Kent argues is a better term than mutual assured destruction. He closes with an analysis of whether a national arsenal should feature more bombers or missiles.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Glenn Kent, 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 the 1960’s Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara confronts the possibility of nuclear war and changes his views on questions of strategy and survival.

McNamara was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. By the 1960’s the Soviets’ increased nuclear capabilities raised disturbing questions. What would the United States do if attacked? American strategy had been “massive retaliation.” But, as McNamara explains, it became increasingly apparent to the Soviets that the US was unlikely to respond. If the United States did launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the remaining Soviet forces would destroy the US. McNamara’s Defense Department developed a new strategy. “Flexible response” was based on a “ladder of escalation” from conventional to nuclear options. But by 1967, McNamara, who tried to create rules for limited nuclear war, concluded, “The blunt fact is that neither... can attack the other without being destroyed in retaliation. And it is precisely this ... that provides us both with the strongest possible motives to avoid a nuclear war.”



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Raw video

Media Type


Minuteman (Missile)
Soviet Union
Antimissile missiles
Enthoven, Alain C., 1930-
United States. Air Force
Brown, Harold, 1927-
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Nuclear weapons
United States. Department of Defense
Mutual assured destruction
United States
United States. Congress
B-52 bomber
Polaris (Missile)
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Kent, Glenn A., 1915- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Glenn Kent, 1986 [2],” 03/13/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 23, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_85FF804B75B84EA69B16C07701E32348.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Glenn Kent, 1986 [2].” 03/13/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 23, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_85FF804B75B84EA69B16C07701E32348>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Glenn Kent, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_85FF804B75B84EA69B16C07701E32348
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