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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Russell Dougherty rose through the U.S. Air Force to become chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), and later commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). In this interview, he discusses strategic issues. A recurring topic is the use of bomber forces, including the benefits of bombers over missiles and his reaction to the decision to phase down bomber use. Another prominent subject is the concept of counter-force, a perennial component of Air Force doctrine. Gen. Dougherty also discusses the arms race from the military point of view, as a necessity to keep the enemy in check that he says has proven effective over the years. On the question of whether the U.S. sought a first strike, he contends the Air Force only wanted to make the enemy aware that the U.S. could launch first if desired, for deterrent purposes. He says the U.S. had that capability for years, but no longer does. Asked about the argument for possessing more missiles rather than less, he answers that it depends on how much damage one side wants to inflict, and relates it to the military desire to be sure of having the capability to accomplish a given mission. He comments on the fact that virtually every presidential administration undertakes a reevaluation of strategic doctrine. This was the case during the 1960s. By late in decade, the rapid development of technology provided added impetus because of the variety of new options available for planners, including allowing consideration of war termination, which was not possible in the early 1960s. Gen. Dougherty also comments on military-civil relations during the Kennedy years and the feeling among the military that their civilian counterparts behaved with a marked arrogance. Robert McNamara, he remarks, was only the tip of the iceberg in a new administration that, "like a new broom," swept away years of basic national security policy and tended to rely instead on "the whim" of more junior decision-makers.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Education of Robert McNamara, The
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Interview with Russell Dougherty, 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

In the 1960’s Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara confronts the possibility of nuclear war and changes his views on questions of strategy and survival.

McNamara was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. By the 1960’s the Soviets’ increased nuclear capabilities raised disturbing questions. What would the United States do if attacked? American strategy had been “massive retaliation.” But, as McNamara explains, it became increasingly apparent to the Soviets that the US was unlikely to respond. If the United States did launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, the remaining Soviet forces would destroy the US. McNamara’s Defense Department developed a new strategy. “Flexible response” was based on a “ladder of escalation” from conventional to nuclear options. But by 1967, McNamara, who tried to create rules for limited nuclear war, concluded, “The blunt fact is that neither... can attack the other without being destroyed in retaliation. And it is precisely this ... that provides us both with the strongest possible motives to avoid a nuclear war.”



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Poseidon (Weapons system)
North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nuclear Planning Group
Rockwell B-1 (Bomber)
Bowie, Robert R. (Robert Richardson), 1909-
Deterrence (Strategy)
United States. Air Force
Polaris (Missile)
Mutual assured destruction
Enthoven, Alain C., 1930-
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
Power, Thomas S. (Thomas Sarsfield), 1905-1970
Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
United States
Nuclear weapons
First strike (Nuclear strategy)
B-47 bomber
Minuteman (Missile)
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009
MX (Weapons system)
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
Dougherty, Russell E. (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1986,” 07/02/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1986.” 07/02/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Education of Robert McNamara, The; Interview with Russell Dougherty, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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