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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Larry Smith, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Larry Smith was chief of staff to Senator Tom McIntyre (D-NH) in the mid-1970s. McIntyre was Chairman of the Military Research and Development subcommittee. The interview’s initial questions cover a range of topics relating to the MX debate in Congress, including the major deliberations over the advisability of land-based systems. He discusses questions concerning the defense of Europe, Mutual Assured Destruction, the risks of increasing missile accuracy, and the pros and cons of a no-first-use policy. Describing the history of the MX program, he compares it to a novel with a series of chapters, each with its own narrative and cast of characters. He goes into detail on the Air Force’s search for a basing system that would make the MX survivable, and recounts some of the basic thinking and complicated discussions that occurred with military officers on the subject. He then describes some of the many options for basing that were considered. From there he discusses how the current state of deployment came about, and his conclusion that neither superpower is going to start a nuclear conflict with the aim of scoring military or political gains. It is his belief that the U.S. has still not answered basic questions of strategy such as what purpose its nuclear arsenal serves. On the topic of technology and its role in pushing new developments, he replies that the fact that something can be invented does not make it a good thing.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Larry Smith, 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

President Reagan introduces the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, an idea he believes will make nuclear weapons”Impotent and Obsolete.”

In 1983 President Reagan envisioned a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could intercept and destroy Soviet strategic ballistic missiles before they reached the United States. Skeptics dubbed the idea “Star Wars.” It was hard for Reagan to accept the idea of deterrence based on mutual destruction. He believed SDI offered a solution. His science advisor George Keyworth says SDI was “thoroughly created and invented in Ronald Reagan’s own mind and experience.” According to defense scientist Ashton Carter, “The concept is fine. What is not fine is implying to the public that the solution to the nuclear puzzle is at hand.” SDI became the focus of a national debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and a stumbling block in strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The final months of the Reagan Administration brought a drastic reduction in the scope and size of SDI efforts.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Reagan, Ronald
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Burke, Kelly H., 1929-
United States. Air Force
Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006
Minuteman (Missile)
Midgetman Missile
Hecker, Guy L.
Nuclear warfare
Soviet Union
United States
Nitze, Paul H.
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
McIntyre, Thomas J., 1915-
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Meese, Edwin
MX (Weapons system)
Schlesinger, James R.
Nuclear weapons
Dougherty, Russell E.
United States. Congress
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Smith, Larry (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Larry Smith, 1987,” 12/15/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Larry Smith, 1987.” 12/15/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Larry Smith, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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