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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Kelly Burke, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Lt. General Kelly Burke was assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1971-1978, and served as the deputy chief of staff, Research, Development and Acquisition, at Air Force Headquarters from 1979-1982. His chief task at SAC dealt with force modernization. In the interview, he discusses the MX and its size, accuracy, and survivability. He touches on the role of Congress and provides his views on different basing modes and the technical complexities of each. He explains that the MX is important because of its impact on world perceptions of U.S. resolve, and its relatively low cost. He then describes how the Air Force got responsibility for land-based missiles, and what issues it has posed for the service. After a brief discussion of the trench idea for basing, he describes how President Carter adjusted his thinking about nuclear strategy during his administration, then moves on to a lengthy treatment of the range of issues and problems surrounding the Utah and Nevada basing idea. He describes the roles of President Reagan and Senators Laxalt and Garn, then relates his conversations with Caspar Weinberger and other high-level Reagan administration officials. Asked in conclusion if Reagan made any mistakes he remarks that there was not adequate study of the issues surrounding the MX. He compares this with Carter’s deep review of the subject.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Kelly Burke, 1987

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

For the destructive power they deliver, nuclear weapons are cheap and efficient. In the 1950’s the United States begins to rely on nuclear, rather than conventional, weapons for its defense.

As nuclear policy evolved during the Eisenhower Administration, three factors combined to produce a new American reliance on nuclear weapons: pressure to control the federal budget (the “bigger bang” argument); competition as each branch of the American military adapted nuclear weapons to its mission; and Soviet bluffs that fueled American fears about a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap.” On October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to orbit Earth, shocked Americans and delighted the Soviets. A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on board. Both the Soviets and the Americans knew that a booster capable of carrying a dog into space could also deliver a nuclear warhead across a continent in 30 minutes.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Hecker, Guy L
Nuclear weapons
Republican Party (U.S. : 1854-)
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Garn, Jake
Minuteman (Missile)
Dougherty, Russell E.
Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Farley, Frances
United States. Army
Matheson, Scott
Van Cleave, William R.
MX (Weapons system)
Mormon Church
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
United States. Air Force
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Smith, Larry
Garland, Cecil
Reagan, Ronald
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Nuclear arms control
Democratic Party (U.S.)
United States. Congress
Unites States
McIntyre, Thomas J., 1915-
Soviet Union
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Deterrence (Strategy)
Laxalt, Paul
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Turner, Stansfield, 1923-
LeMay, Curtis E.
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Burke, Kelly H., 1929- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Kelly Burke, 1987,” 12/02/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Kelly Burke, 1987.” 12/02/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 6, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Kelly Burke, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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