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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Arthur Schlesinger was a prominent historian and a close adviser to President John F. Kennedy and later Robert F. Kennedy. Schlesinger discusses the Cuban missile crisis at length in this interview. He provides some context by addressing President Kennedy's absorption with Cuba starting with the Bay of Pigs, and he describes the covert operations plan known as Operation Mongoose. Kennedy's main concern during the crisis was not that the Soviets might launch a nuclear war, since they were at a significant military and nuclear disadvantage, but that something might go wrong, precipitating uncontrollable consequences. During the interview, he assesses Robert Kennedy's role at high-level discussions as well as his views, and he touches on other subjects such as President Kennedy's American University speech [of June 10, 1963], and the ill effects of the myth of the missile gap. Returning to the crisis, he describes the president's reactions the day after its resolution and draws the principal lesson that presenting a tough veneer to the enemy was not enough, it required a mix of power and diplomatic resourcefulness. "[A]rms and diplomacy must go hand in hand."

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, 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

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

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Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
United Nations
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Salinger, Pierre
Alsop, Stewart
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Cuba -- History -- Invasion, 1961
LeMay, Curtis E.
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
Macmillan, Harold, 1894-1986
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Dobrynin, Anatoly, 1919-2010
Cousins, Norman
Ball, George
Dillon, C. Douglas (Clarence Douglas), 1909-2003
United States
Burke, Arleigh A., 1901-1996
Nuclear weapons
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
International relations
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Anderson, George Whelan, 1906-1992
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Nuclear arms control
Harlech, David Ormsby-Gore, baron, 1918-
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Sorensen, Theodore C.
Kaysen, Carl
United States. Dept. of Defense
Bundy, McGeorge
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963)
Betancourt, Romulo, 1908-1981
Operation Mongoose
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
United States. Navy
Soviet Union
Reagan, Ronald
Pen'kovskii, Oleg Vladimirovich, 1919-1963
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Schlesinger, Arthur M. (Arthur Meier), 1917-2007 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, 1986,” 03/07/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, 1986.” 03/07/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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