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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Leach, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


James Leach was a U.S. Representative from Iowa from 1977-2007. In the interview he discusses U.S. nuclear policy during the Reagan administration. He describes the attitude shift in Washington from the Carter administration to the Reagan administration, and offers the view that politicians misread the American public and made a policy shift that was too radically different. He describes the period of military build-up early in the Reagan administration, then goes into the changes in the American public’s views that occurred throughout the 1980s. He recalls the rise of the environmental and nuclear freeze movements, which he supported. He gives his views on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and of Reagan’s “fortress America mentality.” He also describes the development of the Soviet-American arms control negotiations, and thinks that if they are successful, Reagan will stand up better in the history books.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Missile Experimental
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Interview with James Leach, 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.



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Raw video

Media Type


Strategic Defense Initiative
Watt, James G., 1938-
Antinuclear movement
United States
Environmental protection
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Reagan, Ronald
United States. Congress
Nuclear weapons
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Haig, Alexander Meigs, 1924-2010
Soviet Union
United Nations
Nuclear arms control
International relations
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Leach, James, 1942- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Leach, 1987,” 11/24/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Leach, 1987.” 11/24/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Missile Experimental; Interview with James Leach, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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