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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Carver, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Career military officer Lord Michael Carver reached the top ranks of the British army, serving as Chief of both the General Staff (1971-1973) and the Defence Staff (1973-1976), and attaining the rank of Field Marshall. In the interview he explains that the main problem with flexible response is that it fails to take into account what the enemy’s response is likely to be. His skepticism about tactical weapons, he recounts, dates back to the 1950s. On the strategic level, he understands the importance of the nuclear deterrent but says it would be “criminally irresponsible” to assume that one side’s first use would be met with only a limited response. He takes exception to Britain’s assumption of the responsibility of maintaining an independent strategic strike force. He also faults NATO for consistently underestimating soviet missile and delivery capabilities. The pending INF agreement is “welcome” but not something that he says excites him. He belittles the utility of military exercises that assume nuclear clashes. On the other hand, he recalls that nuclear issues were not a particularly “hot” issue when he was in charge of the army. He closes by explaining the paradox that each side in a nuclear conflict must behave as if it is willing to use its arsenal when all fully realize they will be worse off than if they avoid their use.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
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Interview with Michael Carver, 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 and Soviet Secretary Gorbachev sign the INF Agreement to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons from Europe. No one had expected the European Missile Crisis to end this way.

The story begins in 1979, when the Western Allies were worried about the Soviet Union’s buildup of SS-20 nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe. Under pressure from the Carter Administration, NATO issued a threat, if the SS-20s were not removed, NATO would install new American missiles in Europe. The threat revived the dormant anti-nuclear movement in Western Europe, giving them an anti-American tone. In 1981, President Reagan made a proposal that the US would cancel deployment of the missiles if the Soviet Union would dismantle all the intermediate range missiles it had pointed at Europe. This was the “zero-zero” option. The Soviet Union was entering a period of change with three leaders dying in three years. In 1986 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev offered to accept the “zero-zero” option and in 1987 the INF agreement was signed.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


North Atlantic Treaty Organization
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Trident (Weapons systems)
Great Britain
Polaris (Missile)
Nuclear arms control
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Tactical nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
Healey, Denis
SS-20 Missile
Nuclear weapons
Soviet Union
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Carver, Michael, 1915-2001 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Carver, 1987,” 11/11/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 10, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Carver, 1987.” 11/11/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 10, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Michael Carver, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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