WGBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with John Scali, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John Scali was a reporter for ABC during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and Ambassador to the United Nations from 1973-1975. In the interview he gives a detailed account of his role in the crisis. He describes being contacted by Alexander Fomin (his real name was Aleksandr Feklisov) from the Soviet embassy, who told him that the Soviet Union might be willing to pull its missiles out of Cuba under United Nations inspection, if the U.S. would publicly promise not to invade the island. Mr. Scali reported this to Dean Rusk and Roger Hilsman, who took the information to President Kennedy. Mr. Scali returned to tell Fomin that the Americans were agreeable; however, before a deal could be finalized, reports came out that Khrushchev was pursuing a completely different agreement. After considerable deliberation, Kennedy decided to ignore all other reports and trust that the information from Fomin and Scali was accurate. The President made a speech to that effect, which contributed to the resolution of the crisis. Mr. Scali also explains that even as a reporter he understood that he could not disclose his role as it might humiliate the Soviet Union. Kennedy repeatedly asked him to delay publicizing his account, until eventually Hilsman wrote a book, scooping Scali’s story.

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
At The Brink
Program Number



Interview with John Scali, 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

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


Castro, Fidel, 1926-
United Nations
Feklisov, Aleksandr, 1914-2007
Soviet Union
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Hilsman, Roger
United States
United States. Dept. of State
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Lippmann, Walter, 1889-1974
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Salinger, Pierre
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
International relations
Dobrynin, Anatoly, 1919-2010
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Scali, John (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with John Scali, 1986,” 02/21/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 26, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_9F236717EB2649008E00E863CAAF296A.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with John Scali, 1986.” 02/21/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 26, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_9F236717EB2649008E00E863CAAF296A>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with John Scali, 1986. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_9F236717EB2649008E00E863CAAF296A
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.