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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Toomay, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Major General John Toomay was a career Air force officer involved with space systems and nuclear planning. He served on and off from World War II to 1979. In the interview he discusses vulnerability issues affecting U.S. ICBM forces in the 1960s. The Strat-X study and the concept of hard point defense, among others, are also discussed, as are targeting policies from the same time period. Gen. Toomay notes that accuracy was a major goal for some, but it was opposed by Robert McNamara and Congress, among others. Much of the interview is then taken up with questions about basing modes. Options he and his colleagues investigated included the pool, vertical silo, and racetrack systems. He discusses the trade-offs between hardening and mobility, observing that the latter creates added burdens when very large missiles and their associated hardware come into play. He explains why he preferred the vertical silo but the Carter administration ultimately chose the racetrack mode. He also discusses some of the issues affecting the idea of basing missiles in Utah, then goes on to talk about the aims of the MX, and comments that he believes in the concept of limited nuclear war, at least to the extent that it offers options other than surrendering or destroying the USSR. He touches on ICBM modernization and other topics such as his opposition to the Rail Garrison system. He then closes with a discussion of lessons from the period and assessments of different systems.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with John Toomay, 1987

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

President Reagan introduces the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, an idea he believes will make nuclear weapons”Impotent and Obsolete.”

In 1983 President Reagan envisioned a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could intercept and destroy Soviet strategic ballistic missiles before they reached the United States. Skeptics dubbed the idea “Star Wars.” It was hard for Reagan to accept the idea of deterrence based on mutual destruction. He believed SDI offered a solution. His science advisor George Keyworth says SDI was “thoroughly created and invented in Ronald Reagan’s own mind and experience.” According to defense scientist Ashton Carter, “The concept is fine. What is not fine is implying to the public that the solution to the nuclear puzzle is at hand.” SDI became the focus of a national debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and a stumbling block in strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The final months of the Reagan Administration brought a drastic reduction in the scope and size of SDI efforts.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Smith, Larry
Soviet Union
United States
Garwin, Richard L.
Perry, William James, 1927-
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
United States. Congress
Nuclear weapons
Minuteman (Missile)
Deterrence (Strategy)
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Reagan, Ronald
United States. Air Force. Ballistic Missile Office
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Shultz, George Pratt, 1920-
United States. Air Force
MX (Weapons system)
Allen, Lew, 1925-2010
Burke, Kelly H., 1929-
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Zieberg, Seymour
Targeting (Nuclear strategy)
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Mormon Church
Midgetman Missile
Drell, Sidney D. (Sidney David), 1926-
United States. Army
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
United States. Dept. of Defense
Schlesinger, James R.
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Toomay, J. C. (John C.), 1922- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Toomay, 1987,” 12/09/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Toomay, 1987.” 12/09/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with John Toomay, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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