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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Roger Sherfield, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Sir Roger Makins, later Lord Sherfield, was the British ambassador to the United States from 1953 to 1956 and chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority from 1970 to 1992. In the interview he conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Sherfield summarizes Anglo-American relations from the end of World War II through the 1958 amendment to 1946’s McMahon Act, which had banned the transfer of scientific and technological information necessary to manufacture an atomic bomb. He begins by discussing Britain’s collaboration with the United States to develop the first atomic bomb, underlining Britain’s crucial contribution to the endeavor. The subsequent passage of the McMahon Act deeply shocked Britain and abruptly halted the partnership as well as the wartime agreements, about which Congress knew almost nothing. Sherfield remembers that the discovery of Klaus Fuchs, one of the most infamous Cold War spies, deepened Senate hostilities to restoring ties with Britain. Slowly the atmosphere shifted. Sherfield recounts European outcry at the news that U.S. president Harry S. Truman was considering using the atomic bomb against the Chinese in the Korean conflict. His trip to Washington with British prime minister Clement Atlee the following week succeeded in calming worldwide fears and defusing the crisis. Britain developed its own atomic-weapons program and U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower launched an initiative to turn “atoms for war” into “atoms for peace.” Sherfield recounts the ten years of “almost continuous negotiation” before bilateral exchange of nuclear-weapons technologies resumed. He also describes the foreign-policy balance that the UK sought: both a significant U.S. presence in Europe and a British voice in any nuclear-use decision that an American president might exercise.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Roger Sherfield, 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

In the 1960’s Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara confronts the possibility of nuclear war and changes his views on questions of strategy and survival.

McNamara was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. By the 1960’s the Soviets’ increased nuclear capabilities raised disturbing questions. What would the United States do if attacked? American strategy had been “massive retaliation.” But, as McNamara explains, it became increasingly apparent to the Soviets that the US was unlikely to respond. If the United States did launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the remaining Soviet forces would destroy the US. McNamara’s Defense Department developed a new strategy. “Flexible response” was based on a “ladder of escalation” from conventional to nuclear options. But by 1967, McNamara, who tried to create rules for limited nuclear war, concluded, “The blunt fact is that neither... can attack the other without being destroyed in retaliation. And it is precisely this ... that provides us both with the strongest possible motives to avoid a nuclear war.”



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Raw video

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Joliot-Curie, Frederic
Great Britain
United States
Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius, 1911-1988
Nuclear weapons
Korean War, 1950-1953
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Soviet Union
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
Cockcroft, John, Sir, 1897-1967
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Attlee, C. R. (Clement Richard), 1883-1967
Atoms for Peace (U.S.)
Tizard, Henry Thomas, 1885-1959
International relations
Rickover, Hyman George
Nuclear arms control
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Sherfield, Roger Mellor Makins, Baron, 1904- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Roger Sherfield, 1986 [1],” 11/13/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Roger Sherfield, 1986 [1].” 11/13/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Roger Sherfield, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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