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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Les AuCoin, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Rep. Les AuCoin was a U.S. Representative from Oregon from 1975-1993 and sat on the subcommittee on Defense appropriations. In the interview he discusses U.S. defense and arms control policy. He explains U.S. and Soviet counterforce capabilities, and his reasons for opposing a counterforce strategy. He argues for a ballistic missile flight test ban, so that the United States can more effectively spend its defense budget without having to worry about Soviet technology becoming more accurate. He describes the “titanic political struggle” over the MX Missile and notes his own preference for the Midgetman Missile, which had better retaliatory, but weaker counterforce capabilities. He expresses frustration with the Reagan Administration, the Scowcroft Commission, and certain members of Congress for not being focused enough on arms control.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Les AuCoin, 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

President Reagan introduces the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, an idea he believes will make nuclear weapons”Impotent and Obsolete.”

In 1983 President Reagan envisioned a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could intercept and destroy Soviet strategic ballistic missiles before they reached the United States. Skeptics dubbed the idea “Star Wars.” It was hard for Reagan to accept the idea of deterrence based on mutual destruction. He believed SDI offered a solution. His science advisor George Keyworth says SDI was “thoroughly created and invented in Ronald Reagan’s own mind and experience.” According to defense scientist Ashton Carter, “The concept is fine. What is not fine is implying to the public that the solution to the nuclear puzzle is at hand.” SDI became the focus of a national debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and a stumbling block in strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The final months of the Reagan Administration brought a drastic reduction in the scope and size of SDI efforts.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Common Cause (U.S.)
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Nitze, Paul H.
Dicks, Norman D.
Gore, Albert, 1948-
MX (Weapons system)
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Nuclear arms control
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Antinuclear movement
Counterforce (Nuclear strategy)
Minuteman (Missile)
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941-
Aspin, Les
Carlucci, Frank Charles, 1930-
Vessey, John William, 1922-
Nuclear weapons
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Midgetman Missile
Nuclear warfare
Legislators -- United States
Reagan, Ronald
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
AuCoin, Les (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Les AuCoin, 1987,” 12/01/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Les AuCoin, 1987.” 12/01/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Les AuCoin, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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