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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Robert Sprague, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Robert Sprague was Co-Director of the United States Presidential Commission on Defense under Eisenhower. In the interview he discusses his role in preparing the Gaither Report. He describes his views on the vulnerability of the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC). He describes General LeMay, head of SAC, as his "role model of a general," especially for his gung-ho attitude towards defending the U.S. from Soviet nuclear attack. He describes his attempts to persuade government officials, including President Eisenhower in a private meeting, that SAC needed greater retaliatory capabilities, in addition to the Gaither Report's recommendation for fallout shelters. He describes the reactions of Eisenhower and other officials, who did not respond as the members of the Gaither Report Steering Committee wanted, as well as the reactions of those Steering Committee members (William Foster and Paul Nitze, according to Mr. Sprague) who leaked information from the report to the public. He explains the way the development of the U-2 reconnaissance plane changed the nature of U.S. intelligence gathering, and its impact on Soviet ICBM development.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Robert Sprague, 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


Nuclear weapons
United States
National Security Council (U.S.)
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Korean War, 1950-1953
United States. Army
LeMay, Curtis E.
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994
Photographic reconnaissance systems
Rand Corporation
Goodpaster, Andrew Jackson, 1915-2005
Land, Edwin Herbert, 1909-1991
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Fallout shelters
Soviet Union
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Herter, Christian Archibald, 1895-1966
Kahn, Herman, 1922-1983
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Nitze, Paul H.
Wohlstetter, Albert J.
Civil defense
United States. Air Force
Gaither, H. Rowan (Horace Rowan), 1909-1961
Foster, Bill
Cutler, Robert, 1895-1974
U-2 (Reconnaissance aircraft)
United States. Navy
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Williamstown, MA
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Sprague, Robert C. (Robert Chapman), 1900- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Robert Sprague, 1986,” 03/05/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Robert Sprague, 1986.” 03/05/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Robert Sprague, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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