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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Herbert York was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1952-1958, and served as a member of President's Science Advisory Committee from 1957-1968. He begins by describing the political atmosphere surrounding the creation of the laboratory, and certain early developments such as tactical nuclear weapons. He describes his "mixed" reaction to Sputnik and the decision to promote ICBMs, which was accelerated in part by the development of the H-bomb. The positive role of scientists in the Eisenhower administration is also discussed, as is the negative impact of inter-service rivalries on the weapons development process. He makes the point that decisions on weapons systems are often a combination of what is strategically necessary and what is technically feasible at the moment, adding that the concept of the strategic triad was essentially invented by accident. He recounts the Polaris missile project's origins, then turns to the larger question of how each leg of the triad contains enough weapons on its own to accomplish the strategic objectives of the triad as a whole. Several subsequent questions deal with the missile gap and with Eisenhower's concerns underlying his comments on the military-industrial complex. Dr. York spells out how weapons levels came to be built up first in terms of sheer numbers (predominantly in the Eisenhower era) and in more recent years in terms of capabilities and decreased mission times. Characterizing the differences between 1950 and 1985, he believes the United States' far greater knowledge about the Soviet Union is one of the most significant.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Herbert York, 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. Navy
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Hydrogen bomb
Korean War, 1950-1953
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Gaither Report (1957)
U-2 (Reconnaissance aircraft)
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Jupiter missile
Edicia Sputnik
Polaris (Missile)
United States. Dept. of Defense
United States. Army
Tactical nuclear weapons
Alsop, Joseph, 1910-1989
Minuteman (Missile)
United States
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Soviet Union
Democratic Party (U.S.)
United States. Congress
United States. Air Force
Von Neumann, John
Military-industrial complex
Nuclear weapons
San Diego, CA
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
York, Herbert F. (Herbert Frank) (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Herbert York, 1986,” 03/07/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Herbert York, 1986.” 03/07/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Herbert York, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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