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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Roswell Gilpatric was the Deputy Secretary of Defense 1961-1964. In this interview he describes various aspects of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 from the point of view of the Department of Defense. He starts by describing U.S. attempts as covert actions to take down Castro before the crisis. He offers the opinion that the U.S. is not very good at “dirty tricks.” He goes on to provide recollections of the crisis, such as being informed of the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, and attending a lunch meeting with Secretary McNamara at which the two sketched out a war-game on the back of an envelope and concluded that a blockade of Soviet shipping was the best option. Mr. Gilpatric also describes President Kennedy’s planning process, particularly the difficulty of dealing with General Curtis LeMay, who was set on attacking Cuba. He describes other tensions over command and control between Secretary McNamara and Admiral George Anderson, who was in charge of naval operations. Despite the frictions, Mr. Gilpatric never believed the military would seriously defy civilian authority. As far as lessons from the crisis, he concludes that having the president’s trusted advisors brainstorm before including the president was the best way to provide him with a well-reasoned assessment.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [2]

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.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States. Dept. of Defense
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
United States
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
United States. Air Force
Nuclear weapons
Operation Mongoose
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Photographic reconnaissance systems
Carroll, Eugene
Sorensen, Theodore C.
United States. Navy
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Dillon, C. Douglas (Clarence Douglas), 1909-2003
LeMay, Curtis E.
Jupiter missile
Aerial photography
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
Anderson, George Whelan, 1906-1992
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Bundy, McGeorge
Soviet Union
Nuclear arms control
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Gilpatric, Roswell L. (Roswell Leavitt), 1906-1996 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [2],” 03/07/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 2, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [2].” 03/07/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 2, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roswell Gilpatric, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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