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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with William Barletta, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


William Barletta worked in a number of research and management positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory starting in the 1970s. He begins the interview with a discussion of lasers and the requirements for turning them into powerful weapons. Funding and experiments planned for the 1990s, he says, will determine whether the transformation will actually occur. Even if it does not entirely pan out, he believes that at least the technology developed involving directed energy will pay off with improved conventional defenses. Soviet research, he notes, has run parallel to U.S. work but is not necessarily ahead of it. On SDI, he remembers that people listening to the president’s speech were “amazed” and that he personally viewed it as a moment likely to drive the bureaucracy into action. Looking ahead, he believes that President Reagan will be remembered as having been committed to trying to reduce the numbers of strategic weapons.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with William Barletta, 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.



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Raw video

Media Type


Strategic Defense Initiative
Soviet Union
Reagan, Ronald
United States
United States. Dept. of Defense
Laser weapons
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Livermore Laboratory, Livermore, CA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Barletta, W. A. (William A.) (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with William Barletta, 1987,” 12/16/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with William Barletta, 1987.” 12/16/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with William Barletta, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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