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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Rotblat, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Joseph Rotblat, a Polish-born British physicist, was the only scientist ever to quit working on the Manhattan Project. In the interview Rotblat conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: “Dawn,” he reveals the depths of the dilemma he faced: although the idea that “science could be used to destroy many people was completely abhorrent to me,” he understood the threat to all of civilization should the Nazis win World War II. Having left behind his wife and family in Poland and watched as Germany invaded his homeland, Rotblat followed his mentor, Sir James Chadwick, to the Manhattan Project in 1944, convinced that the Allies must possess the bomb so that they might ultimately deter Hitler from using it. Once he ascertained that the bomb would not be ready before the war ended in Europe, Rotblat’s sole reason for being at Los Alamos vanished, and he petitioned to return to the University of Liverpool. Rotblat recounts his moment of disillusionment: realizing that stopping Hitler may not have been the objective of developing the atomic bomb. In his interview, he recounts how U.S. authorities nearly blocked his departure and instructed him not to discuss his reasons for leaving with anyone at Los Alamos. After the war, Rotblat shifted the focus of his research to medical physics and became a leading critic of the arms race. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Joseph Rotblat, 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

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Nuclear energy
United States
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Chadwick, James, 1891-1974
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
MAUD Report (1941)
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Fermi, Enrico, 1901-1954
Groves, Leslie Richard
Nuclear weapons
Manhattan Project (Organization)
World War II
Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945
Nuclear fission
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Nuclear arms control
Peierls, Rudolf E. (Rudolf Ernst), 1907-1995
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Rotblat, Joseph, 1908-2005 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Rotblat, 1986,” 03/21/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Rotblat, 1986.” 03/21/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Rotblat, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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