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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Admiral Gerry Miller was a Strategic Planner for the U.S. Navy beginning in the 1950s. He starts the interview by discussing the push within the military services to acquire a nuclear weapons delivery capability because "that's where all the dollars were going." The competition over the Polaris missile was particularly intense between the Navy and the Strategic Air Command (SAC), he recalls, and he provides colorful recollections of Admiral Arleigh Burke's reactions after losing the fight to the Air Force, as well as of his (Adm. Miller's) subsequent transfer to Omaha as a Navy liaison officer to SAC. He discusses SAC's role in generating a highly overblown Soviet threat estimate at the beginning of the 1960s, including running a war game that assumed "an astronomical threat." Other commentary relates to the complex task of nuclear planning, an area subject to a great deal of individual interpretation, especially with respect to the overall guidance provided to the planners from higher authorities. Related topics covered in the interview are the level of destructive capacity sought in U.S. plans, the penchant for building up numbers of weapons, and the relative effectiveness of those weapons. He states unequivocally that the U.S. could have managed strategically with far fewer weapons in the 1950s, and he hints that President Eisenhower could have done more to impose limits had he wanted to do so. Speaking in more detail about the planning process, he illuminates some of the core concepts of targeting and why planners believe so many weapons are needed in certain circumstances. Contrary to some critics, he insists that even the early SIOPs contained options beyond massive strikes.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Gerry Miller, 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


Nuclear weapons
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
United States. Army
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
Targeting (Nuclear strategy)
Ford, Gerald R., 1913-2006
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
Soviet Union
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Mutual assured destruction
United States
Schlesinger, James R.
Photographic reconnaissance systems
U-2 (Reconnaissance aircraft)
Enthoven, Alain C., 1930-
Korea (North)
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
United States. Navy
Power, Thomas S. (Thomas Sarsfield), 1905-1970
United States. Dept. of Defense
Polaris (Missile)
Rathjens, George W.
Counterforce (Nuclear strategy)
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Kistiakowsky, George B. (George Bogdan), 1900-1982
Burke, Arleigh A., 1901-1996
Photographic interpretation
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Nuclear warfare
United States. Air Force
Norstad, Lauris, 1907-1988
Kent, Glenn A., 1915-
United States. Marine Corps
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Miller, Gerry (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gerry Miller, 1986,” 03/25/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gerry Miller, 1986.” 03/25/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Gerry Miller, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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