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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Marvin Atkins, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Dr. Marvin Atkins was the Director for Offensive and Space Systems in the Defense Department from 1978-1983, and the Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) from 1983-1987. In the interview he discusses the evolution of U.S. missile systems from the 1960s to the time of the interview. He describes the U.S. approach to improving accuracy and survivability in light of Soviet capabilities, about which a great deal was discovered in early 1978. He discusses different areas of U.S. research for developing new missile basing systems, including publicly visible systems and tunnels. He describes the development of the MX missile and the Multiple Protective Structure (MPS) System, also known as the Racetrack system, devised under the Carter Administration. Most of these issues raised significant domestic debates, and Dr. Atkins describes the push and pull with Congress and from segments of the public. For example, he explains the complaints against the MPS, including from Utahans, environmentalists, and the anti-nuclear movement, and the arguments for aiming to deploy 200 MX missiles. Dr. Atkins also discusses the Reagan administration’s Strategic Modernization Program. He describes the development process of the Closely Spaced Basing system, also known as Dense Pack, and the superhard silo technology. He also describes the work of the Scowcroft Commission and the development of the hardened mobile launcher.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
Program Number



Interview with Marvin Atkins, 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

Does the United States really plan to use nuclear weapons? Or is their only purpose to deter others from using them? These questions fuel debate over the Mobile Missile known as the MX.

The MX was designed in 1975 to counter the threat of large accurate missiles being bult in the Soviet Union. General Russell Dougherty of the Strategic Air Command recalls, “We had to have some more warheads ... with more accuracy. That was the rational for ... the MX.” It faced ten years of difficult questions in Congress, withing the military and from civilians. Was the missile meant to deter a Soviet attack or to survive one? One question led to another. There was one practical question: where to put the 200,000 pound 100 foot long missiles? In 1983 Congress approved production of 100 MX Peacekeeper missiles and based the first 50 in existing Minuteman silos.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear survivability
Carnesale, Albert
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Guided missile silos
MX (Weapons system)
United States
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Antinuclear movement
Brown, Harold, 1927-
Aspin, Les
Dicks, Norman D.
United States. Air Force
Closely-spaced basing (Nuclear basing mode)
Minuteman (Missile)
Strategic nuclear forces triad
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Military weapons
Reagan, Ronald
Soviet Union
Multiple Protective Structures (Missile basing system)
Intercontinental ballistic missiles -- Mobile basing
Townes, Charles H.
United States. President’s Commission on Strategic Forces
Midgetman Missile
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Atkins, Marvin C. (Marvin Cleveland) (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Marvin Atkins, 1987,” 12/04/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 6, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Marvin Atkins, 1987.” 12/04/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 6, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with Marvin Atkins, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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