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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Joseph Alsop, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Joseph Alsop was an American syndicated political columnist. In his interview, he begins by describing the political situation in Europe and the Soviet Union after World War II, as well as the public mood in the U.S., from the Berlin airlift through the Korean War. Among other anecdotes, he tells of the time he and his brother, Stewart (also a columnist), discovered classified information that the Soviets were testing ICBMs, and describes how they handled the balance between protecting national security and the public’s right to know during a tense political period. He gives his opinions on the crafting of American defense policy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He describes at some length his views on the process of preparing national security estimates, used to assess Soviet capabilities, and occasionally intentions. In his opinion, basing estimates strictly on capabilities is like “playing Russian Roulette.” He discounts the likelihood of another world war unless the Soviets pick a leader “who goes mad.” In the same vein, he labels Stalin, Hitler and Mao as “obviously crazy.” While he calls Eisenhower an able man and a shrewd politician, he criticizes his management of the national defense while president. On the topic of nuclear weapons, he comments: “The question is not whether to use them, the question is how to avoid a situation in which the question might arise. And the way to do that is to look strong.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Joseph Alsop, 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

For the destructive power they deliver, nuclear weapons are cheap and efficient. In the 1950’s the United States begins to rely on nuclear, rather than conventional, weapons for its defense.

As nuclear policy evolved during the Eisenhower Administration, three factors combined to produce a new American reliance on nuclear weapons: pressure to control the federal budget (the “bigger bang” argument); competition as each branch of the American military adapted nuclear weapons to its mission; and Soviet bluffs that fueled American fears about a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap.” On October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to orbit Earth, shocked Americans and delighted the Soviets. A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on board. Both the Soviets and the Americans knew that a booster capable of carrying a dog into space could also deliver a nuclear warhead across a continent in 30 minutes.



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Raw video

Media Type


Czechoslovakia History Coup d’etat, 1948
U-2 (Reconnaissance aircraft)
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Alsop, Stewart
Korean War, 1950-1953
Polaris (Missile)
Berlin (Germany)
Nuclear weapons
Soviet Union
Kistiakowsky, George B. (George Bogdan), 1900-1982
Schuman, Robert, 1886-1963
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994
Wilson, Charles Erwin, 1890-1961
United States
McCarthy, Joseph, 1908-1957
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Gates, Thomas S.
Mao, Zedong, 1893-1976
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Bohlen, Charles E. (Charles Eustis), 1904-1974
International relations
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986
Edicia Sputnik
Dulles, Allen, 1893-1969
Bissell, Richard M. (Richard Mervin), 1909-1994
Murrow, Edward R.
Berlin (Germany) -- History -- Blockade, 1948-1949
Hungary -- History -- Revolution, 1956
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Alsop, Joseph, 1910-1989 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Joseph Alsop, 1986,” 03/12/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Joseph Alsop, 1986.” 03/12/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Joseph Alsop, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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