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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Horst Osterheld was a confidant of Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, from 1949-1963. The interview begins with a description of the mood in Germany and France toward the former’s possible rearmament after World War II, and Germany’s views of such matters as tensions with France (for example, over the Saar region), the Korean war, and Adenauer’s decision not to develop nuclear weapons. He dismisses U.S. fears in the early 1960s that Germany and France might cooperate in building a weapon, and discusses Adenauer’s dilemma over wanting to maintain close ties to both the U.S. and France when Paris was moving away from Washington politically. By contrast, Britain and the U.S. were clearly entering into a nuclear cooperation of their own, but he considers this to have been widely accepted. Discussing the Berlin crisis from 1958-1962, he notes that many Germans felt let down by the United States after the Wall was built with no apparent Western resistance, and he denies that anyone proposed to the Germans that the U.S. resort to nuclear weapons during the crisis. Germany’s reaction to the Cuban missile crisis was generally muted because of a lack of timely information. But he recalls that Adenauer repeatedly reassured the American ambassador that West Germany would support the U.S. in its approach to the crisis. Looking back to the post-war years, he does not believe there were realistic options for a different balance of forces in Europe such as a unified Germany. He resists answering whether Britain, France and the United States still preferred a divided Germany. Finally, he does not regret the presence of nuclear weapons on German soil because of their contribution to the prevention of war between the superpowers.

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



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Raw video

Media Type


Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Berlin (Germany) -- History-- Crisis, 1961
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
Schuman, Robert, 1886-1963
Brandt, Willy, 1913-1992
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
European Defense Community
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Soviet Union
Korean War, 1950-1953
Great Britain
Polaris (Missile)
Adenauer, Konrad, 1876-1967
United States
International relations
Nuclear weapons
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Osterheld, Horst (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Horst Osterheld, 1986,” 10/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Horst Osterheld, 1986.” 10/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Horst Osterheld, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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