GBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Pierre M. Gallois, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


General Pierre-Marie Gallois, often regarded as the “father” of the French nuclear strategy, served with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and with French president Charles de Gaulle. In his interview conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age: “The Education of Robert McNamara,” Gallois expands upon tensions within French-American relations in the critical post-war period. He provides a perspective that was shared by many Europeans, including General de Gaulle: that to replace the strategy of “massive retaliation” with “flexible response” meant a weakening of the United States’ commitment to defend Europe with nuclear weapons. He also discusses the dynamics among European nations as they faced economic reconstruction, Soviet forces, and the prospect of Germany’s rearmament. Gallois recounts his late-night conversations with French prime minister Guy Mollet and with General de Gaulle, when, as a young member of the planning group at SHAPE, he presented his case for France developing its own atomic bomb. At various points he explores the origins of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and SHAPE, shares why the U.S.-proposed Multilateral Force was nicknamed the Multilateral Farce, and explains his support for limited nuclear proliferation in order to keep the peace.

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
Program Number



Interview with Pierre M. Gallois, 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


Nuclear arms control
Warsaw Treaty Organization
Mollet, Guy, 1905-1975
German rearmament
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
United States. Navy
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
Nuclear warfare
Soviet Union
Nuclear weapons
Pershing (Missile)
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Deterrence (Strategy)
Multilateral force (Nuclear strategy)
International relations
United States
Great Britain
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Gallois, Pierre M. (Pierre Marie), 1911-2010 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Pierre M. Gallois, 1986,” 06/11/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Pierre M. Gallois, 1986.” 06/11/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 6, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Pierre M. Gallois, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.