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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Carl von Weizsacker, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Carl von Weizsacker was a German physicist who worked on nuclear research for the German side in World War II. He continued to work in the field for another decade, before becoming a professor of philosophy in Hamburg. The interview starts in 1938-1939 when he learned of the discovery of uranium fission. At that point he decided that either the institution of war must be eliminated or "mankind will be abolished." He describes German scientific activity in the field as the war got underway and the initiative of the War Ministry to pull together physicists with an eye to developing a bomb. For their part, he says, the scientists were fairly sure that the process would be too difficult to accomplish during the course of the war. He notes that it is unclear whether Hitler was actually told about the prospect of nuclear weapons. He recalls the Hiroshima explosion and the disbelief, shock and even despair with which it was greeted by his colleagues. He also describes warmly his youthful experiences of regularly gathering with other atomic scientists at the Bohr institute in Copenhagen, and relates Werner Heisenberg's version of his ill-fated conversation with Bohr about the conundrum presented by the possibility of nuclear weapons production. He believes Bohr mistakenly assumed that Heisenberg was asking for his help, which led to a breach between the two men. Asked about the most surprising development of the nuclear age, he responds that it is the fact that nuclear weapons have not been used since Hiroshima.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Carl von Weizsacker, 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

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons
Szilard, Leo
Great Britain
Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955
Heisenberg, Werner, 1901-1976
World War II
Hahn, Otto
Soviet Union
Joliot-Curie, Frederic
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
United States
Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Washington, DC
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Weizsacker, Carl Friedrich, Freiherr von, 1912-2007 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Carl von Weizsacker, 1986,” 02/26/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Carl von Weizsacker, 1986.” 02/26/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Carl von Weizsacker, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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