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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


McGeorge Bundy was special assistant for national security affairs to U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1966. On October 16, 1962, Bundy told President Kennedy that CIA photo interpreters believed that Soviet launch sites for ground-to-ground offensive missiles were under way in Cuba. In his interview conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Bundy describes the two weeks of intensive closed-door debate on how best to get the missiles out of Cuba—a situation that had caught him and his colleagues by surprise. As the members of the Executive Committee (ExComm)—the president’s handpicked group of nineteen men who advised him through the Cuban missile crisis—debated scenarios, Bundy saw his role as ensuring that all sides would be considered. He recalls balancing the needs to debate and to act, the president’s focus on maintaining political control over delicate decisions that could lead to a military escalation, unexpected events along the way, the worst day of the crisis, and Nikita Khrushchev's October 28 decision to withdraw the missiles. The interview closes with Bundy’s commentary on Berlin, the other nuclear crisis that marked this period; Defense Secretary McNamara’s “flexible response” strategy; and the United States’ survivable strategic force as a vital deterrent to “anybody’s first strike.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 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

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. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear survivability
Kaysen, Carl
Nuclear warfare
Nuclear weapons
Great Britain
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Single Integrated Operational Plan
United States
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963)
Deterrence (Strategy)
Soviet Union
LeMay, Curtis E.
Mutual assured destruction
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Nuclear arms control
Berlin (Germany)
New York City, NY
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Bundy, McGeorge (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [1],” 03/20/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [1].” 03/20/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with McGeorge Bundy, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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