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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Charles May was a Lt. General in the U.S. Air Force, who was assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief Staff, Research, Development and Acquisition as the special assistant for ICBM modernization. In the interview he discusses the modernization of the land-based leg of the triad of U.S. defense. He describes the modernization of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), including MX Missiles, also known as Peacekeepers, and the Midgetman missiles, as well as the new basing modes, focusing on the Rail Garrison system. He explains the necessity of having a mobile land-based missile system to maintain deterrence in the face of the Soviet Union’s two mobile systems. He also discusses the concept of launch-on-warning and the distinction between first use and first strike. He then describes the costs of the ICBM programs and the process of getting them approved by Congress, and finally gives a demonstration of the deployment of the ICBMs using a model.

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



Interview with Charles May, 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


Soviet Union
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
MX (Weapons system)
United States. Air Force
Nuclear survivability
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
United States. Congress
Midgetman Missile
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Reagan, Ronald
Nuclear weapons
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Minuteman (Missile)
Intercontinental ballistic missiles -- Mobile basing
Wilson, Pete, 1933-
United States
United States. Dept. of Defense
Scowcroft, Brent
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
May, Charles (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Charles May, 1987,” 12/02/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Charles May, 1987.” 12/02/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Charles May, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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