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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Richard Helms, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Richard Helms spent most of his career in intelligence, serving in the OSS during World War II before joining the Central Intelligence Agency where he rose to become Director of Central Intelligence, remaining in the position from 1966-1973. In the interview he discusses the U.S. position regarding Cuba, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, at which point he was Deputy Director for Plans in charge of clandestine activities. He describes the Kennedy administration’s use of covert operations, including Operation Mongoose and other actions during the Bay of Pigs in 1961, as well as the challenges of conducting intelligence gathering activities, all ultimately aimed at unseating Fidel Castro. In his opinion, the Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with Castro’s decision to accept Soviet missiles. He recalls the White House reaction to the discovery of those missiles, and the interactions he had with members of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM) during the 13 days of the crisis. He denies that President Kennedy attempted to interfere with CIA operations. In his view, maintaining nuclear strength was important as a deterrent during the crisis and beyond. To his mind, the belief that the world came close to nuclear war is “just hyperbole.” Among the lessons he draws from the crisis are the danger of the United States confronting a Soviet proxy, the desirability of having a greater deterrent force than one’s adversary, and the need to avoid cornering an opponent (the “cornered rat syndrome”) so as to forestall the possibility of escalation. He also notes that crises are often unexpected and impossible to predict; therefore it is best to avoid military confrontations whenever possible.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Richard Helms, 1986

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

France and England rush to acquire their own nuclear weapons, NATO worries about the threat from the East, and Europe becomes the most nuclear-saturated place on Earth.

British and American scientists worked side by side to build the first nuclear bombs. “There was a strong desire on the British side for that collaboration to continue into peacetime. There was no such desire on the part of the United States,” recalls British diplomat Roger Makins, Lord Sherfield. Britain decided to proceed on its own and in 1952 joined the US and the Soviets in what pundits would call “the nuclear club.” General Charles De Gaulle, president of France, wanted to join the club, too, and not rely on the US for nuclear protection. Prestige was also an issue. In 1960, France exploded its first atomic weapon. Since World War II the Soviet Union had had a superiority in conventional forces in Europe. NATO countered by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons. “They were accepted as being perfectly reasonable weapons to use in a tactical battle in continental Europe,” said Sir Richard Powell of the British Defense Ministry.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States. Central Intelligence Agency
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Lansdale, Edward Geary, 1908-1987
McCloy, John J. (John Jay), 1895-1989
Korean War, 1950-1953
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
United States. Dept. of Defense
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles
Kuznetsov, Vasily
Nuclear weapons
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
United States. Dept. of State
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963)
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Nuclear arms control
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Pen'kovskii, Oleg Vladimirovich, 1919-1963
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
United States. Air Force
McCone, John A. (John Alex), 1902-1991
United States
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986
MX (Weapons system)
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
Soviet Union
Washington, DC
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Helms, Richard (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Richard Helms, 1986,” 03/10/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Richard Helms, 1986.” 03/10/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Richard Helms, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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