GBH Openvault

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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Richard Garwin is a physicist who played a central part in designing the first hydrogen bomb. In this interview, he speaks at length and with great frankness about U.S. strategic policy and the rationales for developing different missile systems and basing options. A repeated point is the unacknowledged intention of some American strategists to maintain a first-strike capability, defined as a second-strike counterforce. He is critical of the tendency of the Air Force and others to focus on building bigger and more complex systems when far less expensive options would better serve the national interest. He assesses various missile systems in the U.S. arsenal. He disparages the contention in the 1970s that a window of vulnerability existed, particularly when officials making the argument often knew that it was flawed. An opponent of the MX basing proposal, he describes the controversy and his role in it. He presents arguments instead for building the Midgetman and basing them in silos. In discussing lessons of the MX story, he comments with characteristic bluntness that “too many people wrap themselves in the flag of patriotism and use arguments which are not true or which conceal relevant information. But in fact our national security is impaired, not improved, by lies and misrepresentations. And [by] starting programs which are going to become more costly than predicted.”

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Richard Garwin, 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


Chayes, Antonia Handler, 1929-
Nuclear arms control
Closely-spaced basing (Nuclear basing mode)
Schlesinger, James R.
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Nitze, Paul H.
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
Trident (Weapons systems)
Submarine-launched ballistic missiles
Reagan, Ronald
Nuclear weapons
Seiberling, John F.
United States. Air Force
Drell, Sidney D. (Sidney David), 1926-
Scowcroft, Brent
Hecker, Guy L.
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Midgetman Missile
MX (Weapons system)
Counterforce (Nuclear strategy)
United States
Perle, Richard Norman, 1941-
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Soviet Union
Minuteman (Missile)
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Garwin, Richard L. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Garwin, 1987,” 12/28/1987, GBH Archives, accessed November 30, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Garwin, 1987.” 12/28/1987. GBH Archives. Web. November 30, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Richard Garwin, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.