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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Frank Roberts, 1986 [2]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Frank Roberts was with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office starting in the late 1930s, and served as Ambassador to the USSR from 1960-1962. In this interview, he reviews Ernest Bevin's role and goals in getting the United States involved in the defense of Europe, as well as other events that contributed to the end result. Of particular importance were the fears generated by the Korean War. He recounts Churchill's desire to be the "best man" in bringing Germany and France to the "altar" and end centuries of enmity. Mr. Roberts then crisscrosses between nuclear issues and the broader subject of European defense and the politics underlying it. Europeans, in his opinion, did not begrudge Britain its possession of the atomic bomb but were much less pleased with its possible military withdrawal from the continent. He delves into the German question, describing British and Soviet (especially Khrushchev's) attitudes toward Germany, then describes British views of their close relationship with the U.S. France was always something of a challenge as a partner, as he retells the experience, particularly at times when de Gaulle would propose ideas such as the triple entente, which left Mr. Roberts and his colleagues "rather horrified."

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Frank Roberts, 1986 [2]

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

In the 1960’s Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara confronts the possibility of nuclear war and changes his views on questions of strategy and survival.

McNamara was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. By the 1960’s the Soviets’ increased nuclear capabilities raised disturbing questions. What would the United States do if attacked? American strategy had been “massive retaliation.” But, as McNamara explains, it became increasingly apparent to the Soviets that the US was unlikely to respond. If the United States did launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the remaining Soviet forces would destroy the US. McNamara’s Defense Department developed a new strategy. “Flexible response” was based on a “ladder of escalation” from conventional to nuclear options. But by 1967, McNamara, who tried to create rules for limited nuclear war, concluded, “The blunt fact is that neither... can attack the other without being destroyed in retaliation. And it is precisely this ... that provides us both with the strongest possible motives to avoid a nuclear war.”



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Raw video

Media Type


Tactical nuclear weapons
Eden, Anthony, Earl of Avon, 1897-1977
Nuclear weapons
Adenauer, Konrad, 1876-1967
Korean War, 1950-1953
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
Great Britain
Strauss, Franz Josef, 1915-1988
United States
Bevin, Ernest, 1881-1951
Mendes France, Pierre, 1907-1982
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Edicia Sputnik
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Stalin, Joseph, 1879-1953
Soviet Union
International relations
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Roberts, Frank, Sir, 1907- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Frank Roberts, 1986 [2],” 11/07/1986, GBH Archives, accessed February 28, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Frank Roberts, 1986 [2].” 11/07/1986. GBH Archives. Web. February 28, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Frank Roberts, 1986 [2]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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