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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Gerd Schmuckle, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


General Gerd Schmuckle served in the Federal Republic of Germany's Ministry of Defense from 1956 to 1962 under defense minister Franz Josef Strauss. Strauss was charged with building up the Bundeswehr, the newly formed federal armed forces. In the interview he conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: "The Education of Robert McNamara," Schmuckle describes Germany's reaction to the U.S. doctrine of massive retaliation, which de-emphasized a conventional buildup—one that Germans advocated—and depended on thousands of nuclear warheads deployed on German soil. When French president Charles de Gaulle returned to power in 1958, his main concern—developing an independent national deterrent—halted a preliminary treaty for Franco-German nuclear cooperation. Germany had little choice but to acquiesce to deterrence as formulated by the United States. Schmuckle elaborates on these and other topics. In building up the Bundeswehr, Strauss pushed to have some voice in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decision-making, worked to overcome European mistrust of a rearmed Germany, and fought to regain its stature in Europe. Unsure whether exclusive reliance on a U.S. nuclear deterrent would be sustainable in the long term, Schmuckle recaps Germany's efforts to build a pan-European defense force—a proposal that failed to gain traction. He also supported NATO general Lauris Norstad's proposal that NATO become a fourth nuclear power. However, Britain's 1957 white paper "Defense: Outline of Future Policy" announced the island's intent to build an independent nuclear deterrent and reduce troop levels in Germany, which quashed the notion of NATO as a major nuclear power. The following year, de Gaulle proclaimed developing an independent nuclear force his government's highest priority. As a result, Schmuckle explains, Germans haven't significantly influenced the stationing of nuclear warheads and NATO decision-making. He recalls opposing U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara's theories of escalating warfare and preemptive strikes, and he protested against a dramatic increase in conventional forces, which he regarded as totally unrealistic. In the age of nuclear weapons, Schmuckle asserts, "war does not make any sense any longer in Europe."

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Visions of War and Peace
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Interview with Gerd Schmuckle, 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

Even in the best international atmosphere, the superpowers face continuing differences about hot to reduce the risk of nuclear war. This final episode analyzes the continuing themes of the nuclear age.

- American attitudes toward nuclear weapons are intertwined with American anxieties about the nature of the Soviet State. - NATO relies on a threat of first use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack even by conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact. - To date, there is no defense against nuclear missiles. - More and more nations are acquiring nuclear technology. - Many people confuse arms control with disarmament.

The challenge of the Nuclear Age is to find a new way for nations to resolve disputes so they will no longer resort to force.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
German rearmament
Adenauer, Konrad, 1876-1967
Soviet Union
Rand Corporation
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Norstad, Lauris, 1907-1988
Strauss, Franz Josef, 1915-1988
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Schmidt, Helmut, 1918 Dec. 23-
Reagan, Ronald
Nuclear arms control
Warfare, Conventional
Nuclear weapons
International relations
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Nuclear warfare
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
United States
Deterrence (Strategy)
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Schmuckle, Gerd, 1917- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Gerd Schmuckle, 1986,” 11/01/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Gerd Schmuckle, 1986.” 11/01/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Gerd Schmuckle, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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