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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Victor Weisskopf, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Victor Weisskopf was a theoretical physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project from 1943-1946. He begins by relating how he became involved in physics in Germany in the late 1920s and describing the state of the field at that time, including the deeply inhibiting impact of Hitler's rise to power on international scientific cooperation. He recalls events at the time of his arrival in the United States in 1937, pointing out that he and several of his colleagues had enemy alien status, which created certain temporary difficulties. He remembers the moment he came to understand -- through Niels Bohr -- the significance of the discovery of fission and particularly its implications for military uses. Another phase of his career discussed is his transfer to Los Alamos in the early 1940s at the behest of Robert Oppenheimer, a move he made out of a desire to help his adopted country in the war even though it meant developing a weapon capable of "mass killings". Understandably, the experience left powerful impressions on him, punctuated by his election as "Mayor of Los Alamos" -- the civilian scientists' representative in certain interactions with the U.S. military. Another memorable moment was the visit of Bohr to the laboratory, as part of his effort to win support for internationalizing atomic energy. He describes similar efforts by scientists after the war to educate the public about the bomb and work toward its internationalization, including backing the Baruch plan. In his view, nationalism and the recent experience of a world war made such ideas difficult to sustain. In closing, he says that the biggest surprise of the nuclear age has been that the arms race and the attendant improvements in weaponry still have not led to another nuclear conflict.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Weapon of Choice, The
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Interview with Victor Weisskopf, 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

The United States and the Soviet Union, former allies, become adversaries in a “Cold War,” and nuclear weapons become the weapon of choice for both sides.

From 1947 to 1953 the threat to use nuclear weapons became the principal currency of conflict. During the Korean War, Texas Congressman J. Frank Wilson said, “We are dealing with mad dogs ... we must treat them accordingly. I urge the atomic bomb be used if it can be used efficiently.” Against this background, President Harry Truman made crucial decisions that affected the history of the Nuclear Age. The United states deployed the B-36, a huge intercontinental bomber. It started mass production of atomic bombs. In 1952, the US exploded the first hydrogen bomb, a quantum leap in destructive force. Less than a year later, the Soviet Union exploded its own hydrogen bomb.



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Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Soviet Union
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
World War II
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Nuclear energy
Fermi, Enrico, 1901-1954
Manhattan Project (Organization)
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
Nuclear fission
Nuclear weapons
Great Britain
United States
Baruch, Bernard M. (Bernard Mannes), 1870-1965
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Groves, Leslie Richard
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
Heisenberg, Werner, 1901-1976
Lilienthal, David Eli, 1899-1981
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Weisskopf, Victor Frederick, 1908-2002 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Victor Weisskopf, 1986,” 02/26/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Victor Weisskopf, 1986.” 02/26/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Victor Weisskopf, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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