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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


A Nobel Laureate in physics, Hans Bethe served as Director of Theoretical Physics for the Manhattan Project from 1943-1946, and later worked on the hydrogen bomb, among other activities. Before and since, he was a Professor of Physics at Cornell University. In this interview, he focuses largely on events surrounding the hydrogen bomb, but also touches on fission and other issues. After noting his thoughts about peacetime uses of nuclear weapons he describes the process of developing fission weapons and the problems involved. He also describes the differences between fission and fusion. Several questions in the interview deal with Soviet activities, including their successful test of an atomic bomb and program to develop a thermonuclear one. He was not surprised by either and argued that the West should not be overly worried about the Soviet program. He recounts how President Truman, by contrast, was surprised and alarmed, a reaction he ascribes to the information his political and military advisers were giving him. He recalls the vocal debate in the U.S. over developing a hydrogen bomb, a device he calls a “calamity. He then goes into a description of what makes a successful H-bomb, and of the relative roles of Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam in its initial development. Two events from 1951 are discussed – the Princeton Conference, at which Teller’s invention was revealed, and the Greenhouse tests. The final questions relate to the Robert Oppenheimer hearings, which he deeply laments, calling Oppenheimer a “sacrificial lamb who saved all the rest of us” – referring to the Atomic Energy Commission’s apparent decision no longer to “attack” scientists but to try to “conciliate” them instead.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Weapon of Choice, The
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Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [2]

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

The United States and the Soviet Union, former allies, become adversaries in a “Cold War,” and nuclear weapons become the weapon of choice for both sides.

From 1947 to 1953 the threat to use nuclear weapons became the principal currency of conflict. During the Korean War, Texas Congressman J. Frank Wilson said, “We are dealing with mad dogs ... we must treat them accordingly. I urge the atomic bomb be used if it can be used efficiently.” Against this background, President Harry Truman made crucial decisions that affected the history of the Nuclear Age. The United states deployed the B-36, a huge intercontinental bomber. It started mass production of atomic bombs. In 1952, the US exploded the first hydrogen bomb, a quantum leap in destructive force. Less than a year later, the Soviet Union exploded its own hydrogen bomb.



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Raw video

Media Type


Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
United States
Ulam, Stanislaw
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Hydrogen bomb
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Nuclear fission
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Bradbury, Norris, 1909-1997
Nuclear weapons
Strauss, Lewis
United States. Congress. Joint Committee on Atomic Energy
Nuclear fusion
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. General Advisory Committee
McCarthy, Joseph, 1908-1957
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
Soviet Union
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Ithaca, NY
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Bethe, Hans A. (Hans Albrecht), 1906-2005 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [2],” 03/12/1986, GBH Archives, accessed October 2, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [2].” 03/12/1986. GBH Archives. Web. October 2, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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