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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Donald Soper, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Lord Donald Soper was a well-known Methodist minister and a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In the interview he describes the evolution of the CND and Britain's nuclear program. He credits the 1958 surge of interest in the CND in Great Britain for both the increase in public awareness over time, and a number of political events that demonstrated the danger of nuclear armaments. He argues against those who say nuclear weapons are important as a deterrent, saying instead that while they may briefly prolong peace, they do absolutely nothing to deal with or eradicate violence. He explains that the development of Britain's nuclear program was an attempt to separate the British from the U.S. and establish themselves once again as an independent nation, which Lord Soper thinks puts too much emphasis on political prestige over moral integrity. He does not accept the "so-called logic of the arms race," and thinks that had Britain came out against the bomb, it could have had even greater influence internationally. He explains that the failure of the CND was the result of not enough people believing strongly enough in the issues, as well as people focusing too much on the bomb itself, rather than the capitalist, privatized system in which the bomb exists. (While he holds the socialist bloc equally to blame he freely admits to being generally more sympathetic to a communist approach to society -- at least one that "derives from the Sermon on the Mount" rather than from 19th century philosophy.) He comments on the effectiveness of speaking in a heartfelt, rather than calculated manner about these issue, which helps people realize that the non-violent love of the Christian faith, rather than war, is the only solution.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Donald Soper, 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

In the 1960’s Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara confronts the possibility of nuclear war and changes his views on questions of strategy and survival.

McNamara was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. By the 1960’s the Soviets’ increased nuclear capabilities raised disturbing questions. What would the United States do if attacked? American strategy had been “massive retaliation.” But, as McNamara explains, it became increasingly apparent to the Soviets that the US was unlikely to respond. If the United States did launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the remaining Soviet forces would destroy the US. McNamara’s Defense Department developed a new strategy. “Flexible response” was based on a “ladder of escalation” from conventional to nuclear options. But by 1967, McNamara, who tried to create rules for limited nuclear war, concluded, “The blunt fact is that neither... can attack the other without being destroyed in retaliation. And it is precisely this ... that provides us both with the strongest possible motives to avoid a nuclear war.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear weapons
United States
Great Britain
Macmillan, Harold, 1894-1986
Nuclear disarmament
Hydrogen bomb
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
United Kingdom
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Soper, Donald, 1903-1998 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Donald Soper, 1986,” 10/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 8, 2022,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Donald Soper, 1986.” 10/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 8, 2022. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Donald Soper, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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