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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John McCone served as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1958-1960 and Director of Central Intelligence from 1961-1965. In this interview he discusses the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He begins with a story about another nuclear crisis, the Iranian crisis at the end of World War II, in which he says President Truman threatened to bomb the Soviet Union if it did not evacuate northern Iran. He goes on to discuss the White House’s views on Cuba and communism before the missile crisis, and describes several CIA covert programs – all of which were ineffective in bringing down the Castro regime – as well as the failure of the Bay of Pigs. He talks about the surveillance of Cuba in the fall of 1962, the disagreements that arose on the subject, the discovery of the Soviet missile launchers being built and his own reactions to that event. This leads to a discussion of the White House’s response to the Soviet threat. His own view at the time was that the U.S. had to take out the missiles, by invasion if necessary, unless Khrushchev chose to change course. McCone describes the proposals made during the EXCOMM meetings, and the tensions that arose among various members, including Robert Kennedy, Dean Acheson, and Adlai Stevenson. He recalls the process of reaching a resolution with Khrushchev, and the removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba. He ends by noting his fears relating to the control of nuclear weapons, explaining that he is much more concerned about an accident taking place than about the possibility of political leaders using them.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with John McCone, 1986 [2]

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

France and England rush to acquire their own nuclear weapons, NATO worries about the threat from the East, and Europe becomes the most nuclear-saturated place on Earth.

British and American scientists worked side by side to build the first nuclear bombs. “There was a strong desire on the British side for that collaboration to continue into peacetime. There was no such desire on the part of the United States,” recalls British diplomat Roger Makins, Lord Sherfield. Britain decided to proceed on its own and in 1952 joined the US and the Soviets in what pundits would call “the nuclear club.” General Charles De Gaulle, president of France, wanted to join the club, too, and not rely on the US for nuclear protection. Prestige was also an issue. In 1960, France exploded its first atomic weapon. Since World War II the Soviet Union had had a superiority in conventional forces in Europe. NATO countered by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons. “They were accepted as being perfectly reasonable weapons to use in a tactical battle in continental Europe,” said Sir Richard Powell of the British Defense Ministry.



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Raw video

Media Type


Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006
United States
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Cuba -- History -- Invasion, 1961
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Photographic reconnaissance systems
Bundy, McGeorge
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Nuclear arms control
Aerial photography
Great Britain
Nuclear weapons
National Security Council (U.S.)
United Nations
Reagan, Ronald
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
McCloy, John J. (John Jay), 1895-1989
Soviet Union
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
McCone, John A. (John Alex), 1902-1991 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [2],” 03/04/1986, GBH Archives, accessed June 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [2].” 03/04/1986. GBH Archives. Web. June 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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