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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Kenneth Cross, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Sir Kenneth Cross was Air Chief Marshall in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). In the interview he describes the British nuclear program and its international relationships. He describes being in the United States during the launch of Sputnik, and says that the Americans were completely astonished that anyone could have beaten them into space. He describes the collapse of the relationship between the RAF and the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC). He also explains the difference in their methods of determining targets, as well as their response capabilities. He discusses the British change in tactics in response to the possibility of a Soviet missile attack, and describes them training to the point of launching the entire command in four minutes, much faster than then SAC’s fifteen minutes. He explains the disappointment felt by the RAF at the cancellation of the Skybolt program. He goes on to call the invention of the nuclear weapon “the greatest blessing that ever struck mankind” because it prevented the slaughter of wars that would have occurred without the nuclear deterrent.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Kenneth Cross, 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 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.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States
Edicia Sputnik
Nuclear weapons
Great Britain
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Soviet Union
International relations
Great Britain. Royal Air Force
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
London, United Kingdom
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Cross, Kenneth (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Kenneth Cross, 1986,” 10/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Kenneth Cross, 1986.” 10/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 6, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Kenneth Cross, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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