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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gene R. LaRocque, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Gene La Rocque was a career naval officer who worked in the Strategic Plans Directorate of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1950s. He retired as a rear admiral. In the interview he recalls that during the Qemoy and Matsu crisis of 1958, the Navy discovered that its aircraft carriers had gradually converted to nuclear armaments, which meant that the U.S. could not have waged a significant conventional war if called upon. This was partly a function of the view that the Soviet Union was the United States’ only serious enemy. In addition, most in the military simply believed it was a good idea to acquire as many nuclear weapons as possible. He acknowledges that he and other planners, including John Eisenhower, the president’s son, agreed that nuclear arms were going to be a permanent feature and therefore should be built into U.S. war plans. He goes on to explain the relationships between the branches of the military, each of which vied for preeminence and believed it could win a war without the other branches. For its part, the Navy’s tactic was to make its nuclear submarines dual purpose, allowing them to handle the needs of both strategic bombing and naval warfare, so that the Strategic Air Command would not be able to take over its forces. Adm. La Rocque also explains President Eisenhower’s relationship with the military. He notes the latter’s largely unconstrained access to weapons procurement during the 1950s, backed strongly by the likes of John Foster Dulles and occurring to some degree without the full awareness of President Eisenhower. He then compares that era to the military’s relationship with Secretary of Defense McNamara, who “came in and said enough is enough.”

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Gene R. LaRocque, 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

For the destructive power they deliver, nuclear weapons are cheap and efficient. In the 1950’s the United States begins to rely on nuclear, rather than conventional, weapons for its defense.

As nuclear policy evolved during the Eisenhower Administration, three factors combined to produce a new American reliance on nuclear weapons: pressure to control the federal budget (the “bigger bang” argument); competition as each branch of the American military adapted nuclear weapons to its mission; and Soviet bluffs that fueled American fears about a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap.” On October 4, 1957, Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that was the first to orbit Earth, shocked Americans and delighted the Soviets. A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on board. Both the Soviets and the Americans knew that a booster capable of carrying a dog into space could also deliver a nuclear warhead across a continent in 30 minutes.



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Raw video

Media Type


United States. Air Force
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
United States. Navy
Nuclear warfare
Eisenhower, John S. D., 1922-
Military weapons
Nuclear weapons
Burke, Arleigh A., 1901-1996
Polaris (Missile)
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Soviet Union
Gavin, James M. (James Maurice), 1907-1990
United States. Army
United States
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Washington, DC
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
La Rocque, Gene R. (Gene Robert), 1918- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gene R. LaRocque, 1986,” 03/11/1986, GBH Archives, accessed July 15, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gene R. LaRocque, 1986.” 03/11/1986. GBH Archives. Web. July 15, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gene R. LaRocque, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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