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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with John Manley, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


John Manley was a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, later becoming General Secretary of the General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Atomic Energy Commission after the end of World War II, and serving as Associate Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1946-1951. He returned to the laboratory as a research advisor from 1957-1972. Recalling his views after the war, he considered the military role of atomic weapons to be important, in part as a way to maintain security and support diplomacy in light of large-scale demobilization. He discusses the Atomic Energy Commission and the early obstacles it faced, including a diffuse "empire" of facilities and low morale. The GAC's role was to provide expertise on policies, procedures and personnel to the commission. The military, he notes, was a hindrance to the AEC. The question of custody of weapons was one particular problem. He recalls the political atmosphere around 1948 when attitudes in certain circles, including the military, became excessively hawkish, in his view. After a discussion of the Soviet nuclear test and U.S. reactions to it, he mentions his own "aghast" reaction to the alarmed response in Washington, which created an opening for Edward Teller to press for development of the hydrogen bomb. He then relates the GAC's opposition to the H-bomb and his own distaste for it, as well as the reasons in both cases. Among these was that it resulted in a missed opportunity for halting the arms race. Robert Oppenheimer shared these views, and in the course of the interview Dr. Manley recalls the Oppenheimer hearings, calling them a traumatic experience.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Weapon of Choice, The
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Interview with John Manley, 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

The United States and the Soviet Union, former allies, become adversaries in a “Cold War,” and nuclear weapons become the weapon of choice for both sides.

From 1947 to 1953 the threat to use nuclear weapons became the principal currency of conflict. During the Korean War, Texas Congressman J. Frank Wilson said, “We are dealing with mad dogs ... we must treat them accordingly. I urge the atomic bomb be used if it can be used efficiently.” Against this background, President Harry Truman made crucial decisions that affected the history of the Nuclear Age. The United states deployed the B-36, a huge intercontinental bomber. It started mass production of atomic bombs. In 1952, the US exploded the first hydrogen bomb, a quantum leap in destructive force. Less than a year later, the Soviet Union exploded its own hydrogen bomb.



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Lilienthal, David Eli, 1899-1981
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Groves, Leslie Richard
Manhattan Project (Organization)
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 1901-1958
McMahon, Brien, 1903-1952
LeMay, Curtis E.
Soviet Union
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
United Nations
Nuclear energy
Nuclear weapons
Hydrogen bomb
Johnson, Louis Arthur, 1891-1966
LeBaron, Robert, 1892-1983
Bradbury, Norris, 1909-1997
Strauss, Lewis
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
United States
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. General Advisory Committee
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Manley, John Henry, 1907-1990 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with John Manley, 1986,” 03/17/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with John Manley, 1986.” 03/17/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with John Manley, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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