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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Russell Dougherty rose through the U.S. Air Force to become chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), and later commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). In this interview, he briefly describes SAC's responsibilities and how its requirements evolved over time. He discusses a range of strategic concepts and issues, such as the nature of deterrence, launch-on-attack, and options for targeting cities with nuclear weapons. Much of the interview is taken up with discussion of the Minuteman and MX missiles. He defends the MX as a critical component of the US strategic force and makes various arguments against criticisms of the system based on its vulnerabilities. On a similar theme, he describes his views on different basing options, including his elation when Ronald Reagan canceled the MPS idea. He bristles at the opposition of some in Congress to improving missile accuracy (on the grounds that it provides the capacity for a first strike) because of the implication that he, as a military leader, is somehow like "a wild man on a leash" requiring external restraint. He also offers insights into US approaches to targeting Soviet sites, and acknowledges that nuclear scenarios generally make him "nervous as hell." He supports arms control as an important way to maintain U.S. security.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1987

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

Does the United States really plan to use nuclear weapons? Or is their only purpose to deter others from using them? These questions fuel debate over the Mobile Missile known as the MX.

The MX was designed in 1975 to counter the threat of large accurate missiles being bult in the Soviet Union. General Russell Dougherty of the Strategic Air Command recalls, “We had to have some more warheads ... with more accuracy. That was the rational for ... the MX.” It faced ten years of difficult questions in Congress, withing the military and from civilians. Was the missile meant to deter a Soviet attack or to survive one? One question led to another. There was one practical question: where to put the 200,000 pound 100 foot long missiles? In 1983 Congress approved production of 100 MX Peacekeeper missiles and based the first 50 in existing Minuteman silos.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


SS-9 Missile
Targeting (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear survivability
Reagan, Ronald
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
MX (Weapons system)
Multiple Protective Structures (Missile basing system)
SS-18 Missile
Deterrence (Strategy)
Nuclear warfare
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Carlton, Paul K., 1921-2009
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
SS-7 Missile
United States. Congress
Nuclear weapons
Minuteman (Missile)
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Dougherty, Russell E. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1987,” 10/14/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1987.” 10/14/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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