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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with David Jones, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


David Jones was a general in the U.S. Air Force, who served in the Strategic Air Command as an operations planner, then as General Curtis LeMay's aide. He went on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1978-1982). In the interview he discusses SAC's nuclear strategy and its relationship with other branches of the military and government. He paints a picture of General LeMay, commander of SAC, as "great in war and great in peace" -- a "lousy politician but a superb military commander." (He denies that LeMay ever would have used nuclear weapons without the president's approval, as LeMay reportedly once claimed he would.) He explains the difference between nuclear strategies from the 1950s, when the United States had a far greater nuclear capability than the Soviet Union, and after the Soviets achieved nuclear parity. The significance of parity, in his opinion, was that a nuclear war could have no winners. He describes SAC's projections of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) buildup, and argues that they were correct on the number of missiles that would be built, just wrong on the timing. (He points out that there was controversy between SAC's estimates and the Air Force's.) He explains the tension between SAC and the CIA about these projections, and defends SAC against certain claims. He then describes various views in the 1950s about first- and second-strike options, and recalls SAC's reactions to Sputnik and its implications for future Soviet ICBM development. He also explains tensions with the Navy, which was developing its own nuclear targeting system and worried that creation of a joint planning and targeting staff would lead to SAC taking over the Polaris fleet.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with David Jones, 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

For the destructive power they deliver, nuclear weapons are cheap and efficient. In the 1950’s the United States begins to rely on nuclear, rather than conventional, weapons for its defense.

As nuclear policy evolved during the Eisenhower Administration, three factors combined to produce a new American reliance on nuclear weapons: pressure to control the federal budget (the “bigger bang” argument); competition as each branch of the American military adapted nuclear weapons to its mission; and Soviet bluffs that fueled American fears about a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap.” On October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to orbit Earth, shocked Americans and delighted the Soviets. A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on board. Both the Soviets and the Americans knew that a booster capable of carrying a dog into space could also deliver a nuclear warhead across a continent in 30 minutes.



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Raw video

Media Type


Sprague, Robert C. (Robert Chapman), 1900-
LeMay, Curtis E.
Polaris (Missile)
Reagan, Ronald
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Nuclear weapons
Warsaw Treaty Organization
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994
Edicia Sputnik
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Nuclear warfare
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
United States. Navy
United States. Air Force
Korean War, 1950-1953
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
United States
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Soviet Union
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Stoertz, Howard
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Jones, David C., 1921- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with David Jones, 1986 [1],” 06/28/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with David Jones, 1986 [1].” 06/28/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with David Jones, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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