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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Carl Kaysen, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Carl Kaysen was the Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs for President Kennedy. In the interview he discusses the creation of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. He explains the influence that the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had on President Kennedy and on the state of U.S.-Soviet relations. He describes the exciting process of helping Ted Sorensen write the American University speech given by Kennedy on the possibility of peaceful relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He goes on to describe the creation and some of the inner workings of the U.S. delegation to Moscow led by Averell Harriman that negotiated the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. He paints a vivid picture of Kennedy’s and Khrushchev’s separate reactions to the success and of the dinner Khrushchev later gave at the Kremlin to celebrate the treaty, and notes that the treaty was a high point for both Khrushchev and Kennedy’s political careers. In Kaysen’s view, the missile crisis helped lead to the treaty. He closes by describing what he believes are the “right” and “wrong” lessons of the missile crisis.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
At the Brink
Program Number



Interview with Carl Kaysen, 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 October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States are at the brink of nuclear war, the 13 most harrowing days in the nuclear age.

“I remember leaving the White House at the end of that Saturday and thinking that might well be the last sunset I ever saw,” recalls former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara of Black Saturday, the day the Cuban missile crisis pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. Aleksandr Alexseev, Soviet ambassador to Cuba at the time, recalled, “We and the Cubans decided that, in order to avoid a United States invasion, we should supply Cuba with missiles.” The US effort to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs was an expression of President Kennedy’s disbelief about the missiles in Cuba while it surprised Soviet leader Khrushchev according to his speechwriter,Feodor Burlatsky. Major General William Fairborne, speaks about how “We loaded whole blood and a hundred coffins onto the carrier Iwo Jima.” Looking back on those 13 days, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk reflects, “...we’ve got to find some way to inhabit this speck of dust in the universe at the same time.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Kremlin (Moscow, Russia)
Akalovsky, Alexander
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994
McNaughton, John T. (John Theodore), 1921-
United States
National Security Council (U.S.)
United Nations
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
Nuclear arms control
Sorensen, Theodore C.
Press, Frank, 1924-
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Great Britain
Bell, David E., 1919-
Dobrynin, Anatoly, 1919-2010
Kuznetsov, Vasily
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Nuclear weapons
Ball, George
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986
Bundy, McGeorge
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963)
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Cousins, Norman
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Kistiakowsky, George B. (George Bogdan), 1900-1982
Soviet Union
Macmillan, Harold, 1894-1986
McCloy, John J. (John Jay), 1895-1989
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Kaysen, Carl (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Carl Kaysen, 1986 [1],” 02/28/1986, GBH Archives, accessed June 17, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Carl Kaysen, 1986 [1].” 02/28/1986. GBH Archives. Web. June 17, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Carl Kaysen, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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