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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Volpe, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Joseph Volpe was the General Counsel for the Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In this first interview, he describes Gen. Leslie Groves, who directed the Manhattan Project, then discusses the collapse of U.S.-U.K. atomic cooperation after the war, noting Gen. Groves' extraordinary instruction to AEC staff not to take steps to fulfill an agreement between President Truman and Prime Minister Attlee. He describes this state of affairs as "humiliating," ascribing Groves' insistence as arising primarily from his "obsession" over security, which also frequently left the State Department and Congress in the dark. He goes on to recount a 1948 meeting between Presidents Truman and Eisenhower along with members of the AEC to resolve the issue, but notes that the consensus that developed was wiped out by members of the Senate who objected that such cooperation violated the Atomic Energy Act. He also discusses internal differences that arose in connection with the Acheson-Lilienthal proposal and the Baruch Plan, which he says centered around not just substantive disagreements but Bernard Baruch's desire to put his own stamp on the plan. He closes by acknowledging his pessimism about the international control of nuclear weapons.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
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Interview with Joseph Volpe, 1986 [1]

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

Amid the violence, fear and desperation of World War II, nuclear weapons are created and used for the first time.

“Dawn” traces the development of the first atomic bomb, from 1932 with the ominous rumblings that led to World War II and the ground-breaking scientific experiments that led to the bomb. Atomic physicist Victor Weisskopf explains, “we did not think at all that this business would have any direct connection with politics, or with humanity.” The frantic rush by American scientists who feared the Nazis were ahead of them and the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945 are described by eyewitnesses. Physicist Philip Morrison was ten miles away from the blast and will never forget the heat on his face. “Dawn” concludes with the failure of the first attempts to reach agreement on international control of atomic weapons after the war.



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Attlee, C. R. (Clement Richard), 1883-1967
Baruch, Bernard M. (Bernard Mannes), 1870-1965
Lilienthal, David Eli, 1899-1981
Nuclear weapons
United States. Atomic Energy Act of 1946
Nuclear energy
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971
World War II
Great Britain
United States. Dept. of State
United States
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Manhattan Project (Organization)
Groves, Leslie Richard
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Soviet Union
United States. Congress. Joint Committee on Atomic Energy
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Volpe, Joseph, Jr. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Volpe, 1986 [1],” 03/03/1986, GBH Archives, accessed June 19, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Volpe, 1986 [1].” 03/03/1986. GBH Archives. Web. June 19, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Dawn; Interview with Joseph Volpe, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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