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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John McCone served as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) during the Eisenhower administration from 1958-1960 and Director of Central Intelligence from 1961-1965. In the interview he focuses on the earlier period, discussing his responsibilities as AEC Chairman, which included fulfilling certain of the weapons and production requirements of the Department of Defense, but not establishing those requirements or deciding how to use the materiel. He also comments on the faulty missile gap estimate in the late 1950s, which became a major issue during the 1960 presidential election campaign, and which he says the Pentagon used for political purposes. He expresses complete confidence in the manner in which Eisenhower approached the Soviet threat, denying any naiveté on the president’s part, and explains why he (McCone) opposed a test ban treaty that did not include a method of verification of the Soviet nuclear program.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
Program Number



Interview with John McCone, 1986 [1]

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

For the destructive power they deliver, nuclear weapons are cheap and efficient. In the 1950’s the United States begins to rely on nuclear, rather than conventional, weapons for its defense.

As nuclear policy evolved during the Eisenhower Administration, three factors combined to produce a new American reliance on nuclear weapons: pressure to control the federal budget (the “bigger bang” argument); competition as each branch of the American military adapted nuclear weapons to its mission; and Soviet bluffs that fueled American fears about a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap.” On October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to orbit Earth, shocked Americans and delighted the Soviets. A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on board. Both the Soviets and the Americans knew that a booster capable of carrying a dog into space could also deliver a nuclear warhead across a continent in 30 minutes.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Berlin (Germany)
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1960
Soviet Union
Nuclear weapons
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
United States. Dept. of Defense
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
United States
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
New York City, NY
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; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [1],” 03/04/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [1].” 03/04/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with John McCone, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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