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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Maurice Schumann, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Maurice Schumann was French deputy foreign minister from 1951 to 1954 and foreign minister from 1969 to 1973. The interview Schumann conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age sheds light on how nuclear weapons shape relations between both allies and adversaries. In the aftermath of World War II, he recalls, France resisted proposals to remilitarize Germany and ultimately rejected the proposal for a European Defense Community that emerged from the 1952 Lisbon conference. West Germany’s renunciation of nuclear weapons was critical to France’s acceptance of the rearming of its neighbor. Threaded through this interview is Schumann’s take on France’s dislike of relying on the United States for its national security. Schumann recalls his realization that France’s acquisition of the atomic bomb had, in the eyes of the world, restored its “rank and prestige.” He also makes an oblique reference to Britain’s assistance in France’s nuclear ambitions, before suddenly stopping himself from divulging more. The French welcomed Britain as a nuclear power since an additional deterrent diluted the United States’ exclusive protection. When the United States prepared to join the Soviet Union against Britain and France during the Suez crisis of 1956, Schumann recalls, “French people resented [it] more bitterly than you can imagine.” He also describes his failure to secure a United Nations Far East pact, which he hoped would end both the French-Indochinese war and the military conflict in Korea. General Charles de Gaulle concluded early on, Schumann recounts, that full partnership with his country’s powerful allies demanded that France become an independent and national nuclear power. Schumann, sent to Washington by now-president de Gaulle to explain France’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), skillfully reassured U.S. president Lyndon Johnson that France would continue to be a strong ally.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Maurice Schumann, 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

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.”



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Raw video

Media Type


Gallois, Pierre M. (Pierre Marie), 1911-2010
International relations
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
United States
Soviet Union
Nuclear weapons
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
MacArthur, Douglas, 1880-1964
Schuman, Robert, 1886-1963
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
Korean War, 1950-1953
German rearmament
Mollet, Guy, 1905-1975
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Mendes France, Pierre, 1907-1982
Edicia Sputnik
Adenauer, Konrad, 1876-1967
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
Great Britain
European Defense Community
Sinai Campaign, 1956, Israel--History--Suez Campaign, 1956
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Schumann, Maurice (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Maurice Schumann, 1986 [1],” 11/04/1986, GBH Archives, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Maurice Schumann, 1986 [1].” 11/04/1986. GBH Archives. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Maurice Schumann, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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