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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Chester Clifton, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Chester Clifton was a Major General in the U.S. Army and Military Aide to President Kennedy from 1961-1963. In the interview he primarily describes President Kennedy and the White House atmosphere before and during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He begins by explaining his role as military aide, including carrying the nuclear "football" and preparing the president's morning military intelligence briefings. He relates Kennedy's interest in intelligence generally and with communications. In particular, the president was fascinated with the instant communications systems designed for contacting military commanders, and during the missile crisis used the system to bypass the chain of command relay system and speak directly to commanders. Gen. Clifton also describes Kennedy's evolving views on the military, including his belief that America could not rely just on nuclear superiority, but needed to reestablish conventional forces. Guerrilla warfare, Gen. Clifton notes, was a particular concern of Kennedy's.

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



Interview with Chester Clifton, 1986

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.”



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Raw video

Media Type


Irish Republican Army
United States
Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989
Military weapons
Bundy, McGeorge
Anderson, George Whelan, 1906-1992
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
Guerrilla warfare
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Soviet Union
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Nuclear weapons
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
Washington, DC
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Clifton, Chester V. (Chester Victor), 1913- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Chester Clifton, 1986,” 03/19/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Chester Clifton, 1986.” 03/19/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At the Brink; Interview with Chester Clifton, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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