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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Chalmers Roberts, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Chalmers Roberts was a long-time journalist who covered international and diplomatic affairs beginning in the late 1930s, joining The Washington Post in 1949. He begins by describing life in the United States in the post-depression 1930s and the growth of interest in Marxism. For many of these Americans, the Hitler-Stalin pact was a turning point. The public's mood about the war was initially against involvement but after Hitler's invasion of the USSR sentiments turned in favor of helping the underdog Soviets. He briefly comments on Winston Churchill and his special appeal to many Americans. Turning to the war, he recalls his reaction to Pearl Harbor, as well as the public's response, and its effect in bringing an end to isolationism. Near war's end, FDR's death came as a major shock after 12 years as president, he recalls. In addition, Truman was not well-known. The public's reaction to Hiroshima, he notes, was largely relief given how many Americans were still in uniform and how anxious the population was for an end to the conflict. He adds that Japan's Kamikaze attacks were fresh in American minds. He personally believes that while the first atomic bomb was crucial to breaking Japanese resistance, the second was "a mistake." On a related theme, he traces the sense of public outrage at mass civilian casualties to events in Spain and Shanghai, then provides recollections of his personal visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He comments briefly on the view of many that FDR had sold Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. On nuclear issues, he criticizes the Baruch Plan for its lack of balance, which left the Soviets feeling that they would permanently be locked in second place. He finishes by saying the most extraordinary thing about the nuclear age is that no one has ever dropped another bomb.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Chalmers Roberts, 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

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Raw video

Media Type


Baruch Plan (1946)
Gouzenko, Igor, 1919-1982
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Nagasaki-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Great Depression
Nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
United States
World War I
Great Britain
World War II
Litvinov, M. M. (Maksim Maksimovich), 1876-1951
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Luce, Henry Robinson, 1898-1967
Soviet Union
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
Washington DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Roberts, Chalmers M. (Chalmers McGeagh), 1910-2005 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Chalmers Roberts, 1986,” 03/02/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 28, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_C520F5DA930D4918A613100EEB4179F4.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Chalmers Roberts, 1986.” 03/02/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 28, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_C520F5DA930D4918A613100EEB4179F4>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Chalmers Roberts, 1986. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_C520F5DA930D4918A613100EEB4179F4
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