GBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Abrahamson, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Lt. General James Abrahamson was the first director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization starting in 1984. In the interview he discusses the development of, and critical reaction to, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). He describes the four layers of SDI, pointing out its differences from earlier concepts. He argues that it was never intended to be a perfect “umbrella shield” as some critics have assumed, and explains its benefits over previous defense approaches – primarily that it would create deep uncertainty on the part of America’s adversaries about their ability to destroy any one specific target. He gives his view of the never-ending nature of the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and argues that the Reagan program could at least move it away from the production of ballistic missiles and back to the laboratory where the focus would be on developing weapons aimed at other weapons rather than at people. While the SDI debate began with “bumper sticker” logic, he thinks over time it has engendered a more informed dialogue. Looking ahead, he states that significant progress has already been made on futuristic technologies such as nuclear particle beams.

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
Program Number



Interview with James Abrahamson, 1987

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

Does the United States really plan to use nuclear weapons? Or is their only purpose to deter others from using them? These questions fuel debate over the Mobile Missile known as the MX.

The MX was designed in 1975 to counter the threat of large accurate missiles being bult in the Soviet Union. General Russell Dougherty of the Strategic Air Command recalls, “We had to have some more warheads ... with more accuracy. That was the rational for ... the MX.” It faced ten years of difficult questions in Congress, withing the military and from civilians. Was the missile meant to deter a Soviet attack or to survive one? One question led to another. There was one practical question: where to put the 200,000 pound 100 foot long missiles? In 1983 Congress approved production of 100 MX Peacekeeper missiles and based the first 50 in existing Minuteman silos.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Antimissile missiles
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Union of Concerned Scientists
Nuclear weapons
Strategic Defense Initiative
Reagan, Ronald
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear arms control
Neutral beams
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1987 December 8
Laser weapons
United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Abrahamson, James A. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Abrahamson, 1987,” 12/18/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Abrahamson, 1987.” 12/18/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Abrahamson, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.