GBH Openvault

War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Edwin Firmage, 1987

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Edwin Firmage was a law professor at the University of Utah who studied nuclear weapons, and the great-great-grandson of Brigham Young. In the interview he discusses his opposition to, and the national debate concerning, the MX Missile system. He explains the position and actions of the Mormon Church, of which he is a member, as well other organizations that came together to oppose the MX missile being based in Utah. The reasons for opposition included spiritual, environmental, and strategic. He explains that this opposition came as a surprise to the Air Force and the government, because Utah is a notably conservative state that supports the Air Force and is strong on national security. He believes that the plan to deploy the MX in Utah revealed a first strike capability, which poses danger since it relies entirely on the idea of deterrence but does nothing to protect from accidental or irrational nuclear attack.

License Clip
Got it
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Reagan's Shield
Program Number



Interview with Edwin Firmage, 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

President Reagan introduces the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative, an idea he believes will make nuclear weapons”Impotent and Obsolete.”

In 1983 President Reagan envisioned a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that could intercept and destroy Soviet strategic ballistic missiles before they reached the United States. Skeptics dubbed the idea “Star Wars.” It was hard for Reagan to accept the idea of deterrence based on mutual destruction. He believed SDI offered a solution. His science advisor George Keyworth says SDI was “thoroughly created and invented in Ronald Reagan’s own mind and experience.” According to defense scientist Ashton Carter, “The concept is fine. What is not fine is implying to the public that the solution to the nuclear puzzle is at hand.” SDI became the focus of a national debate about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and a stumbling block in strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. The final months of the Reagan Administration brought a drastic reduction in the scope and size of SDI efforts.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


McCarthy, James P., General
United States. Dept. of Defense
Sierra Club
Fairbourn, William T.
Environmental protection
Antinuclear movement
Weinberger, Caspar W.
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Chayes, Antonia Handler, 1929-
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II
Soviet Union
Catholic Church
Matheson, Scott
Moyers, Bill D.
Nuclear weapons -- Testing
National Audubon Society
Nuclear weapons
United States
MX (Weapons system)
United States. Air Force
Allen, Lew, 1925-2010
Mormon Church
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Peace movements
Friends of the Earth
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
United States. Congress
Salt Lake City, UT
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Firmage, Edwin Brown (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Edwin Firmage, 1987,” 11/13/1987, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Edwin Firmage, 1987.” 11/13/1987. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Reagan's Shield; Interview with Edwin Firmage, 1987. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.