WGBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Philip Morrison, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


At age twenty-seven, physicist Philip Morrison joined the Manhattan Project, the code name given to the U.S. government’s covert effort at Los Alamos to develop the first nuclear weapon. The Manhattan Project was also the most expensive single program ever financed by public funds. In the interview Morrison conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: “Dawn,” he describes the remote, inaccessible setting of the laboratory that operated in extreme secrecy. It was this physical isolation, he maintains, that allowed scientists extraordinary freedom to exchange ideas with fellow physicists. Morrison describes the charismatic leadership of his mentor, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the urgency of their mission to manufacture a weapon “which if we didn’t make first would lead to the loss of the war.” Morrison also reflects on his wartime fears. Germany had many of the greatest minds in physics and engineering, which created tremendous anxiety among Allied scientists that it would win the atomic race and the war, and Morrison recalls the elaborate schemes he devised to determine that country’s atomic progress. At the time that he was helping assemble the world’s first atomic bomb, Morrison believed that nuclear weapons “could be made part of the construction of the peace.” A month after the war, he toured Hiroshima, and for several years thereafter he testified, became a public spokesman, and lobbied for international nuclear cooperation. After leaving Los Alamos, Morrison returned to academia. For the rest of his life he was a forceful voice against nuclear weapons.

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



Interview with Philip Morrison, 1986 [1]

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.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons -- Testing
United States
Cruise missiles
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
Nuclear arms control
Nuclear disarmament
Civil defense
Nuclear fission
Nuclear weapons
Manhattan Project (Organization)
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Great Britain
World War II
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Baruch Plan (1946)
Antinuclear movement
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Morrison, Philip (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Philip Morrison, 1986 [1],” 02/26/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed October 24, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D4A1F75C37684257996166085F52961B.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Philip Morrison, 1986 [1].” 02/26/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. October 24, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D4A1F75C37684257996166085F52961B>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Philip Morrison, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D4A1F75C37684257996166085F52961B
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.