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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [1]

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Jerome Wiesner was a Science Advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson and an arms control advocate. In the interview he discusses the U.S. and Soviet development of ballistic missiles, including the Air Force’s early reluctance to emphasize missiles over bombers. He comments on studies from the 1950s of U.S. vulnerability to Soviet bomber attacks, notably Gen. Curtis LeMay’s reactions, and he describes the discovery that despite official U.S. policy, the Air Force was maintaining a first strike capability. He also discusses Eisenhower and Kennedy’s views on nuclear weapons, general concerns about the growing arms race, and the role of the science advisors as advocates for curtailing the nuclear competition under Eisenhower.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [1]

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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Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
LeMay, Curtis E.
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Sprague, Robert C. (Robert Chapman), 1900-
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
United States
United States. Air Force
United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff
World War II
Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959
Soviet Union
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Nuclear weapons
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Korean War, 1950-1953
Edicia Sputnik
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Wiesner, Jerome B. (Jerome Bert), 1915-1994 (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [1],” 03/27/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [1].” 03/27/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Jerome Wiesner, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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