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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roger Hilsman, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Roger Hilsman was Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and an adviser to President Kennedy. In the interview he discusses the Cuban missile crisis. He describes the findings of the U.S. intelligence community regarding the issue of missiles in Cuba, and gives his views about different aspects of the crisis, including his belief that the warheads never reached the island. He explains that he does not think nuclear superiority was a major factor in resolving the crisis; rather it was the political aspects of the nuclear age that were more important. He argues that the two sides were never on the brink of nuclear war, but that it was a very serious “nuclear crisis.” In his view, war of any kind between nuclear powers is impossible in the current period, even in the unlikely event the Reagan administration is able to make the Strategic Defense Initiative operational. (As an aside, he criticizes the Reagan administration for trying to “rehabilitate war.”) Returning to the crisis, he recounts several anecdotes, including John Scali’s role, the fears average Americans felt at the time, and his reporting to President Kennedy that a U-2 pilot had flown over the Soviet Union. Asked about lessons from the crisis, he comments that it is now impossible for the U.S. and Soviets to go to war because of the risk of it becoming nuclear.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Europe Goes Nuclear
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Interview with Roger Hilsman, 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

France and England rush to acquire their own nuclear weapons, NATO worries about the threat from the East, and Europe becomes the most nuclear-saturated place on Earth.

British and American scientists worked side by side to build the first nuclear bombs. “There was a strong desire on the British side for that collaboration to continue into peacetime. There was no such desire on the part of the United States,” recalls British diplomat Roger Makins, Lord Sherfield. Britain decided to proceed on its own and in 1952 joined the US and the Soviets in what pundits would call “the nuclear club.” General Charles De Gaulle, president of France, wanted to join the club, too, and not rely on the US for nuclear protection. Prestige was also an issue. In 1960, France exploded its first atomic weapon. Since World War II the Soviet Union had had a superiority in conventional forces in Europe. NATO countered by deploying thousands of nuclear weapons. “They were accepted as being perfectly reasonable weapons to use in a tactical battle in continental Europe,” said Sir Richard Powell of the British Defense Ministry.



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Raw video

Media Type


Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968
Scali, John
Nuclear weapons
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Soviet Union
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
Korean War, 1950-1953
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles
Smith, Gerard C.
Rusk, Dean, 1909-1994
Photographic reconnaissance systems
Lippmann, Walter, 1889-1974
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Castro, Fidel, 1926-
Reagan, Ronald
Bundy, McGeorge
Aerial photography
United States
Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1894-1971
Bundy, McGeorge
McCone, John A. (John Alex), 1902-1991
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Ball, George
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Hilsman, Roger (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roger Hilsman, 1986,” 03/20/1986, GBH Archives, accessed June 25, 2024,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roger Hilsman, 1986.” 03/20/1986. GBH Archives. Web. June 25, 2024. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Europe Goes Nuclear; Interview with Roger Hilsman, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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