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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John Coyle was a United States Naval Operations Analyst. In the interview he discusses the nuclear weapons and war plans of the U.S. Navy and Air Force. He begins by describing the development of naval weapons in the late 1950s, and the subsequent changes in naval nuclear targeting policy. A notable event described is the Woods Hole (Massachusetts) summer study group convened to discuss naval missile programs. He explains the occasionally “preposterous” ineffectiveness of the Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) war plan, and argues for a retaliatory capability over a preemptive counterforce strike. He describes the tensions between the Air Force and Navy war plans, and their effect on deterrence. (The Air Force’s plans of the late 1950s undoubtedly contained a first-strike component, in his opinion.) He also explains the analytical calculations made to decide the Navy’s missile requirements. He ends by describing the military procurement process, specifically the “boot strap” or circular method of proposals used by the Air Force, in which an initial request for aircraft to carry weapons was followed by separate requests for weapons to fill their aircraft.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with John Coyle, 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.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
United States. Navy
United States. Army
Jupiter missile
LeMay, Curtis E.
Soviet Union
Burke, Arleigh A., 1901-1996
Polaris (Missile)
United States. Dept. of Defense
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States
Nuclear arms control
United States. Air Force
United State. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Coyle, John Patterson (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John Coyle, 1986,” 03/26/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John Coyle, 1986.” 03/26/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John Coyle, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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