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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Gregory Canavan, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Gregory Canavan served as Director of the Office of Inertial Fusion at the Department of Energy and Personal Assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff, both in the 1970s. He began working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1981. He relates his work on the Packard Committee, formed in 1982 to study MX vulnerability. Prior to that he had worked on the same issue in the Air Force. He describes how difficult the task was on a purely technical level. He recalls President Reagan’s Star Wars proposal as “a nice speech” and his surprise at how rapidly opposition to it built up. His understanding of Reagan’s message was that the work might take as long as 50 years but should at least be started immediately. He describes his inadvertent role in the public debate about SDI, offering insights into the political dimensions of such disputes. He then addresses extensively some of the criticisms about SDI’s feasibility and expense, adding a commentary on how different groups can arrive at very different conclusions about a program based on the same information. He acknowledges that he is very impressed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and comments on some of the defense-related activities occurring in the USSR. He sees the possibility of moving away from the current stand-off to a point of greatly reduced nuclear threat. Asked about the morality of his work on strategic defense, he terms it “impeccable, unimpeachable.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age

Interview with Gregory Canavan, 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



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Soviet Union
United States
Union of Concerned Scientists
Strategic Defense Initiative
Nuclear weapons
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
Carter, Ashton B.
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Packard, David
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Reagan, Ronald
United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment
American Physical Society
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Canavan, Gregory H. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Gregory Canavan, 1987,” 12/08/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Gregory Canavan, 1987.” 12/08/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Gregory Canavan, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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