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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Herbert York, 1988

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Herbert York was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, was the Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1952-1958, and served as a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee from 1957-1968. From the end of 1958 to April 1961 he was Director of Defense Research and Engineering. Later he worked on various arms control issues. This lengthy interview begins with Dr. York's background and his impressions of working on the Manhattan Project. His reaction to Hiroshima was initially elation and he recalls his superiors' view that the atomic bomb would make war obsolete. Next, he covers world events and personal recollections from the post-war period, including his reactions to the H-bomb test. A turning point in his views came after Sputnik when President Eisenhower determined that preparedness efforts had to be accompanied by arms control talks. A second turning point, while at the Pentagon, was his gradual realization that technology would never be able to provide real solutions to the nation's defense needs. A number of prominent figures responded sharply when he made his views public. While not claiming the U.S. has been responsible for the arms race, he does say that the United States initiated most of the major developments, a dynamic partly due to the country's larger industrial base. He provides his opinions on the role of nuclear weapons, the desirability of moving away from a heavy reliance on them, and the nature of the military-industrial complex, characterized by groups that constantly emphasize the existence of threats requiring aggressive action. By the end of the 1960s, he came to believe the United States was headed in the wrong direction militarily and he spoke out against new technologies such as ABM and MIRVs. Among his current concerns are the deployment of shorter-range missiles in Europe, and the hair-trigger nature of nuclear deployments. Another topic of discussion is deterrence. In addition to all of these points, the interview features a series of almost philosophical exchanges about the nature of nuclear weapons, deterrence, arms control, test bans and the U.S.-Soviet conflict.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Visions of War and Peace
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Interview with Herbert York, 1988

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

Even in the best international atmosphere, the superpowers face continuing differences about hot to reduce the risk of nuclear war. This final episode analyzes the continuing themes of the nuclear age.

- American attitudes toward nuclear weapons are intertwined with American anxieties about the nature of the Soviet State. - NATO relies on a threat of first use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack even by conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact. - To date, there is no defense against nuclear missiles. - More and more nations are acquiring nuclear technology. - Many people confuse arms control with disarmament.

The challenge of the Nuclear Age is to find a new way for nations to resolve disputes so they will no longer resort to force.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Gorbachev, Mikhail
Nuclear warfare
Tactical nuclear weapons
Teller, Edward, 1908-2003
Korean War, 1950-1953
Soviet Union
Antimissile missiles
Manhattan Project (Organization)
Nuclear weapons
Hydrogen bomb
Reagan, Ronald
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Hiroshima-shi (Japan) -- History -- Bombardment, 1945
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
Single Integrated Operational Plan
Nuclear disarmament
United States
Nuclear arms control
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Military-industrial complex
Nitze, Paul H.
Deterrence (Strategy)
La Jolla, CA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
York, Herbert F. (Herbert Frank) (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Herbert York, 1988,” 03/12/1988, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Herbert York, 1988.” 03/12/1988. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Visions of War and Peace; Interview with Herbert York, 1988. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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