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

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


General Glen T. Martin was Divisional Commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1955-1958, and Deputy Director of Air Force Plans at the Pentagon from 1958-1962. In the interview he begins by recalling the atmosphere at SAC in the mid-1950s, describing it as likely the most effective command "in world history." He discusses particular aspects of the organization's work, including the special challenges facing pilots and the phenomenon of operating under the realization that war could break out with little warning. He recounts the change in targeting policy from a counter-force strategy in the late 1950s and early 1960s to one that elevated urban targets as a priority. He also describes the rationale behind SAC's large buildup of forces, which includes the need to plan for all possible contingencies in wartime, from maintenance problems to bad weather. He stands up for SAC's planning against criticisms by both the Navy and the Army, and defends the organization's intelligence reporting of a missile gap, though he acknowledges the possibility that "vested interests" may have played a role.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Bigger Bang for the Buck, A
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Interview with Glen Martin, 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.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


United States. Navy
United States. Air Force
United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
Nuclear weapons
Nuclear warfare
Soviet Union
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
United States
LeMay, Curtis E.
United States. Army
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Martin, Glen T., 1944- (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Glen Martin, 1986 [1],” 04/21/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Glen Martin, 1986 [1].” 04/21/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Bigger Bang for the Buck, A; Interview with Glen Martin, 1986 [1]. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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