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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Theodore Sorenson was Special Counsel, adviser and speechwriter to President Kennedy. In this first interview he describes the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He explains that nature of the EXCOMM meetings and recalls debates over whether to proceed with an air strike or a blockade. He also notes President Kennedy's concern with retaining control over the military during the crisis, and the President's evolving views of the U.S. military. He describes the process of writing the October 22 blockade speech, as well as the American University speech in 1963, after the crisis was resolved. Along the way he notes some of the emotions of the time, including concerns about the nuclear threat and his pride at being a part of such an important historical event. He explains his and the president's feelings on the threat of nuclear war, and their desperate attempts, and eventual success in Cuba, in finding a peaceful resolution with the Soviet Union. He recalls several specific conversations with the President and Robert Kennedy throughout the crisis, painting a vivid picture of the former as a leader and a man, as well as the atmosphere in the White House at the time.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 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.



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Raw video

Media Type


Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Soviet Union
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Cousins, Norman
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Bundy, McGeorge
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
United States. Navy
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
Nuclear weapons
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Anderson, George Whelan, 1906-1992
Macmillan, Harold, 1894-1986
Dobrynin, Anatoly, 1919-2010
Capehart, Homer E. (Homer Earl), 1897-1979
United States. Air Force
New York City, NY
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Sorensen, Theodore C. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [1],” 03/07/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [1].” 03/07/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Theodore Sorensen, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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