GBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Isidor Isaac Rabi, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Isidor Isaac Rabi was a physicist and Nobel laureate, Science Advisor to President Eisenhower, and member of the General Advisory Committee (GAC) to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1952-1956. He begins the interview by explaining that he declined Robert Oppenheimer's invitation to join the Manhattan Project in 1943 in order to continue his work on radars, which offered a more direct way to confront the German war effort. He describes witnessing a nuclear test and the deep impression it made on him. He then turns to a discussion of the GAC and the issues it faced in its early years. He also offers a brief personal description of Oppenheimer. He recalls his reaction to the Soviet atomic test and discussions that ensued over how to respond – including his support for alternatives to developing the hydrogen bomb. He terms "disgraceful" Truman and Acheson's failure to discuss the issue with the eminent group of scientists who shared Dr. Rabi's view. He touches on Edward Teller's advocacy of an early design for the new bomb that did not work, comparing it to Teller's support for another unworkable system, SDI. He returns to discuss the split in the scientific community over the hydrogen bomb, and goes on to deal with the creation of a second national laboratory and the controversy over Oppenheimer's loss of a security clearance, including its wider implications.

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Weapon of Choice, The
Program Number



Interview with Isidor Isaac Rabi, 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

The United States and the Soviet Union, former allies, become adversaries in a “Cold War,” and nuclear weapons become the weapon of choice for both sides.

From 1947 to 1953 the threat to use nuclear weapons became the principal currency of conflict. During the Korean War, Texas Congressman J. Frank Wilson said, “We are dealing with mad dogs ... we must treat them accordingly. I urge the atomic bomb be used if it can be used efficiently.” Against this background, President Harry Truman made crucial decisions that affected the history of the Nuclear Age. The United states deployed the B-36, a huge intercontinental bomber. It started mass production of atomic bombs. In 1952, the US exploded the first hydrogen bomb, a quantum leap in destructive force. Less than a year later, the Soviet Union exploded its own hydrogen bomb.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Conant, James Bryant, 1893-1978
Ulam, Stanislaw
Strauss, Lewis
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
United States
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
World War II
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Fermi, Enrico, 1901-1954
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. General Advisory Committee
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Soviet Union
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 1901-1958
Hydrogen bomb
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
Nuclear weapons
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Rabi, I. I. (Isidor Isaac), 1898-1988 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Isidor Isaac Rabi, 1986,” 03/13/1986, GBH Archives, accessed July 23, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Isidor Isaac Rabi, 1986.” 03/13/1986. GBH Archives. Web. July 23, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Weapon of Choice, The; Interview with Isidor Isaac Rabi, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.