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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Denis Healey, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Denis Healy served as the British Secretary of State for Defence from 1964-1970. In the interview he discusses nuclear strategic doctrine. He calls the group of mid-ranking officials who actually concentrate on the issues of nuclear strategy the “nuclear mafia” or “intelligentsia mafia,” to distinguish them from higher-level politicians, who only “rubber stamp” the decisions, but don’t spend any time really studying the field. He describes the development of NATO nuclear strategy from massive retaliation to flexible response. Although he was one of the strategists who helped devise flexible response, he has since recognized flaws, on which he elaborates. He also describes the decision to deploy Pershing and Cruise missiles in Western Europe, and the various directions arms control could and should evolve. He ends by lamenting the lack of public attention given to nuclear strategy, which is especially notable because all of the information is available and academics are creating good work in the field; however the public is just not interested.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Zero Hour
Program Number



Interview with Denis Healey, 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


Warfare, Conventional
Kohl, Helmut, 1930-
Cruise missiles
Thatcher, Margaret
Mulley, Frederick, 1918-1995
Callaghan, James, 1912-2005
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Neutron bomb
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Nitze, Paul H.
Soviet Union
Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear warfare
Antinuclear movement
Great Britain
SS-20 Missile
North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nuclear Planning Group
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Nuclear weapons
Nuclear disarmament
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Pershing (Missile)
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Nuclear arms control
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
London, United Kingdom
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Healey, Denis (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Denis Healey, 1987,” 10/13/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Denis Healey, 1987.” 10/13/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 6, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Zero Hour; Interview with Denis Healey, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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