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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Roswell Gilpatric was the Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1961-1964. In the interview he discusses the changes made in the Defense Department under the Kennedy administration. He explains that prior to the Kennedy era the missile gap was based on estimates of the Soviet Union’s goals and plans, rather than on their actual military capabilities. He also describes the changes in defense planning procedures under Secretary of Defense McNamara. Secretary McNamara, along with Mr. Gilpatric, did not favor the conventional briefing method used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but preferred “quick responses to unrehearsed questions.” Coming from the business and legal realms, rather than straight from command school, Mr. Gilpatric explains that he and Secretary McNamara preferred to deal with actual facts and conditions, whereas typical military planning, in his view, amounted to a “departure from reality.” He concludes by explaining the changes in military intelligence gathering since World War II, a shift that came largely with the advent of new technology; however, he explains that the shift was a difficult one because of the lack of experience with the new methods.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 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

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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United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
McElroy, Neil H. (Neil Hosler), 1904-1972
United States. Dept. of Defense
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Soviet Union
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Gates, Thomas S.
Nitze, Paul H.
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1960
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Nuclear weapons
Political campaigns
United States
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Gilpatric, Roswell L. (Roswell Leavitt), 1906-1996 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [1],” 03/07/1986, GBH Archives, accessed June 18, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [1].” 03/07/1986. GBH Archives. Web. June 18, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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