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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Fred Wertheimer, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Fred Wertheimer was President of Common Cause from 1981-1995. In the interview he discusses the political battle over the MX missile system. He explains his opposition to the MX missile, which he saw as a means both to fight an ineffective weapons system and to change the way weapons systems are chosen. Bringing citizen groups and Congress into the debate, he asserts, moved the country towards a more pro-arms control stance. He describes the Reagan administration’s original nuclear strategy as building as many weapons as possible, but notes that this approach changed in response to the new civil awareness of nuclear issues. He recalls the fight against the Scowcroft Commission’s recommendation of 100 MX missiles, and comments on the roles of key players on both sides of the debate, specifically Les Aspin, Norm Dicks, Les AuCoin, Nick Mavroules, and Barney Frank. He closes with his views on additional topics, including dense pack and the freeze movement.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Fred Wertheimer, 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

President Reagan introduces the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, an idea he believes will make nuclear weapons”Impotent and Obsolete.”

In 1983 President Reagan envisioned a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could intercept and destroy Soviet strategic ballistic missiles before they reached the United States. Skeptics dubbed the idea “Star Wars.” It was hard for Reagan to accept the idea of deterrence based on mutual destruction. He believed SDI offered a solution. His science advisor George Keyworth says SDI was “thoroughly created and invented in Ronald Reagan’s own mind and experience.” According to defense scientist Ashton Carter, “The concept is fine. What is not fine is implying to the public that the solution to the nuclear puzzle is at hand.” SDI became the focus of a national debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and a stumbling block in strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The final months of the Reagan Administration brought a drastic reduction in the scope and size of SDI efforts.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Antinuclear movement
Democratic Party (U.S.)
Reagan, Ronald
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Midgetman Missile
AuCoin, Les
Mavroules, Nicholas
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Frank, Barney, 1940-
United States. Air Force
Dicks, Norman D.
Strategic Defense Initiative
Nuclear weapons
United States
MX (Weapons system)
Aspin, Les
United States. Congress. House
United States. Congress
Nuclear arms control
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Wertheimer, Fred (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Fred Wertheimer, 1987,” 12/04/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Fred Wertheimer, 1987.” 12/04/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Fred Wertheimer, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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