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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1988

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


James Schlesinger served as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1971-1973, Director of Central Intelligence for several months in 1973, Secretary of Defense from 1973-1975 and Secretary of Energy from 1977-1979. This third interview features wide-ranging questions about the direction of world developments, the nature and purpose of nuclear weapons and the general role of military considerations at present and in the future. It begins with a discussion of the American character, the role of geography and history in determining the country’s place in the world, and the population’s ingrained belief that it somehow has a right to continue to be invulnerable. ICBMs have eliminated American invulnerability, however, and Dr. Schlesinger believes that this helps to explain SDI’s popularity. After discussing the impact of the United States’ declining power and how he tried to address it while in office, he turns to the nature of the conflict with the Soviets, declaring that the time is right for peaceful co-existence and that Gorbachev appears to have been displaying significant potential for delivering on that possibility. The conversation then moves to the declining utility of military force, the question of whether it makes sense to rely on fewer weapons, and a long discussion of the morality of deterrence. He insists that there is still a need to be able to back up the U.S. position with force, until an alternative deterrent can be found and put in place. He responds to a series of questions about what the U.S. should be prepared to go to war over, what the purpose of arms control is, and where the greatest threat to U.S. security will be found in the long term. In his view, the biggest lesson of the nuclear age has to do with the moral ambiguity of nuclear weapons. He hopes that the world is approaching a new era, perhaps an end to the Cold War, but believes this does not imply disbanding military forces.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Visions of War and Peace
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Interview with James Schlesinger, 1988

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

Even in the best international atmosphere, the superpowers face continuing differences about hot to reduce the risk of nuclear war. This final episode analyzes the continuing themes of the nuclear age.

- American attitudes toward nuclear weapons are intertwined with American anxieties about the nature of the Soviet State. - NATO relies on a threat of first use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack even by conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact. - To date, there is no defense against nuclear missiles. - More and more nations are acquiring nuclear technology. - Many people confuse arms control with disarmament.

The challenge of the Nuclear Age is to find a new way for nations to resolve disputes so they will no longer resort to force.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nuclear weapons
Deterrence (Strategy)
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Soviet Union
Reagan, Ronald
Nuclear arms control
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
United States
United Nations
Strategic Defense Initiative
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Schlesinger, James R. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1988,” 04/05/1988, GBH Archives, accessed December 8, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1988.” 04/05/1988. GBH Archives. Web. December 8, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with James Schlesinger, 1988. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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