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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [3]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Jerome Wiesner was a Science Advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, and an arms control advocate. In the interview he discusses the nuclear arms race. He explains his ideal nuclear strategy, which involves a minimal deterrent, or “a hundred bombs on a hundred cities,” which should be adequate as long as the missiles are protected and precise, and which would greatly limit the number of nuclear weapons in the world. He also explains other nuclear strategies, including first strike, counterforce, and mutual assured destruction. He argues that the development of more precise systems has been destabilizing, and he provides reasons why he grew discouraged over the prospects for missile defense. He goes on to defend his arguments against an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense, an expansive civil defense program, and the B-70 bomber.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
At the Brink
Program Number



Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [3]

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 October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States are at the brink of nuclear war, the 13 most harrowing days in the nuclear age.

“I remember leaving the White House at the end of that Saturday and thinking that might well be the last sunset I ever saw,” recalls former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara of Black Saturday, the day the Cuban missile crisis pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. Aleksandr Alexseev, Soviet ambassador to Cuba at the time, recalled, “We and the Cubans decided that, in order to avoid a United States invasion, we should supply Cuba with missiles.” The US effort to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs was an expression of President Kennedy’s disbelief about the missiles in Cuba while it surprised Soviet leader Khrushchev according to his speechwriter,Feodor Burlatsky. Major General William Fairborne, speaks about how “We loaded whole blood and a hundred coffins onto the carrier Iwo Jima.” Looking back on those 13 days, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk reflects, “...we’ve got to find some way to inhabit this speck of dust in the universe at the same time.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
MX (Weapons system)
Antimissile missiles
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Nuclear weapons
Kaysen, Carl
United States
Mutual assured destruction
United States. Department of Defense. Weapons Systems Evaluation Group
Nuclear arms control
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States. Air Force
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Soviet Union
Ruina, J. P. (Jack P.)
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
LeMay, Curtis E.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [3],” 03/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 10, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [3].” 03/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 10, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [3]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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