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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


McGeorge Bundy was special assistant for national security affairs to U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1966. In the interview he discusses the beginning of the Kennedy administration, as well as the eventual evolution of U.S. strategic planning. The first half of the interview focuses on the Berlin Crisis, with Mr. Bundy focusing on the actions and reactions of the United States and Soviet Union during that period. He discusses both Kennedy and Khrushchev’s motivations, as well as the role nuclear weapons played in the crisis. The second half of the interview focuses on the build up of the U.S. nuclear arsenal under Kennedy, and the strategic planning under McNamara. He compares Kennedy’s buildup to Eisenhower’s projections. He also describes McNamara’s shift from massive retaliation, to counterforce, to mutual assured destruction.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
At the Brink
Program Number



Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 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 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


United States
Single Integrated Operational Plan
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994
Minuteman (Missile)
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Ball, Desmond
Great Britain
Berlin (Germany)
Berlin (Germany) -- History-- Crisis, 1961
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
International relations
Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Soviet Union
United States. Dept. of Defense
Mutual assured destruction
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Kaysen, Carl
LeMay, Curtis E.
Nuclear weapons
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Counterforce (Nuclear strategy)
New York City, NY
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Bundy, McGeorge (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [2],” 03/20/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 13, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_FADFAD8951D148A498529462A906A366.
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [2].” 03/20/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 13, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_FADFAD8951D148A498529462A906A366>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_FADFAD8951D148A498529462A906A366
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