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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [1]

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 asserts his belief that development of the atomic bomb was inevitable, a conclusion tied to the concept of "technological imperative." He also believes that there have been several missed opportunities to impose meaningful controls over nuclear weapons. He then recounts his arrival in the United States in 1935, the state of the field at that time, and the implicit competition with German scientists on nuclear matters. Discussing his time at Los Alamos, he relates the conflicts that arose between scientists and military representatives, and recalls the experience of witnessing the Trinity test. He then discusses general attitudes among the Los Alamos community toward the Soviets and the question of whether an arms race was likely after the war. His first reaction to Hiroshima was pride and elation at the end of the war, he recalls, later tempered by the evidence of devastation that occurred. After the war, in his recounting, he and a number of colleagues felt obliged to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear war. He comments briefly on the unnecessary Bikini test and on the Baruch Plan. And he closes with a commentary on the scope of the danger involved in a conflict with hydrogen bombs, which he calls "a multiplication of evil."

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Hans Bethe, 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

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
United States
United Nations
Hydrogen bomb
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
Nuclear fission
World War II
Heisenberg, Werner, 1901-1976
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Great Britain
Groves, Leslie Richard
Nagasaki-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Soviet Union
Baruch Plan (1946)
Lilienthal, David Eli, 1899-1981
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Nuclear weapons
Ithaca, NY
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Bethe, Hans A. (Hans Albrecht), 1906-2005 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [1],” 03/12/1986, GBH Archives, accessed February 23, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [1].” 03/12/1986. GBH Archives. Web. February 23, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Hans Bethe, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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