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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Lew Allen, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Gen. Lew Allen was a U.S. Air Force four-star General and the tenth chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1978-1982. In the interview he discusses the development of the Minuteman and MX missile systems. He describes the triad defense system, which includes land, air, and sea defenses, and emphasizes the importance of each leg of the triad. He explains the development of U.S. military technology emphasizing accuracy and efficiency in relation to what they knew the Soviets were developing – emphasizing survivability of command. He explains that since the Soviets put so much effort into ensuring that their leadership would survive a nuclear attack, the U.S. had to do all that it could to develop weapons that would make them question their ability to do so, which would continue to deter nuclear war. He compares the Carter and Reagan administrations’ approaches to missile design. He goes into detail about the latter’s approach to defense policy, which was designed for a no-arms-control environment. When the Reagan administration vetoed the MX Missile base system, Allen argues, the entire system was jeopardized. He goes on to describe alternatives to the MX and to draw lessons from the whole experience.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with Lew Allen, 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

Does the United States really plan to use nuclear weapons? Or is their only purpose to deter others from using them? These questions fuel debate over the Mobile Missile known as the MX.

The MX was designed in 1975 to counter the threat of large accurate missiles being bult in the Soviet Union. General Russell Dougherty of the Strategic Air Command recalls, “We had to have some more warheads ... with more accuracy. That was the rational for ... the MX.” It faced ten years of difficult questions in Congress, withing the military and from civilians. Was the missile meant to deter a Soviet attack or to survive one? One question led to another. There was one practical question: where to put the 200,000 pound 100 foot long missiles? In 1983 Congress approved production of 100 MX Peacekeeper missiles and based the first 50 in existing Minuteman silos.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Military weapons
Nuclear weapons
Nuclear survivability
Trident (Weapons systems)
Van Cleave, William R.
Environmental protection
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Rand Corporation
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Nuclear warfare
Haig, Alexander Meigs, 1924-2010
United States. Air Force
Minuteman (Missile)
Reagan, Ronald
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Nuclear arms control
Strategic nuclear forces triad
MX (Weapons system)
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1980
Townes Commission
Intercontinental ballistic missiles -- Mobile basing
Townes, Charles H.
Deterrence (Strategy)
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Targeting (Nuclear strategy)
United States. Air Force. Ballistic Missile Office
Chayes, Antonia Handler, 1929-
Toomay, J. C. (John C.), 1922-
Jones, David C., 1921-
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Allen, Lew, 1925-2010 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Lew Allen, 1987,” 02/21/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Lew Allen, 1987.” 02/21/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Lew Allen, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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