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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Wolfgang Panofsky, 1986

Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.


Wolfgang Panofsky was a physicist at Stanford University who previously participated in the Manhattan Project and later advised Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon on nuclear matters. In the interview, he discusses the Nixon administration’s concerns about vulnerability, which he tried to put in perspective for Henry Kissinger by pointing to the balancing survivability of the other legs of the triad. Based on similar conversations with Kissinger about MIRVs, he questions the veracity of the latter’s later statements about not having been aware of the destabilizing nature of MIRVs. This is followed by a lengthy explanation of the history of MIRVs. From there Dr. Panofsky moves to a discussions of anti-ballistic missile systems, their functions and his views about such specifics as the inadequacy of the Safeguard system. In his view, the signing of the ABM treaty precluded the need for continuing the arms race.

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War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
One Step Forward
Program Number



Interview with Wolfgang Panofsky, 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

Soviet and American nuclear forces reach rough nuclear parity in the 1970’s. Each side, pursuing its own interest, negotiates the first successful arms control agreement, SALT I.

In May 1972 President Nixon found himself in Moscow delivering a message of peace and friendship. Nixon announced the first major superpower arms control agreements, SALT I and the Anti-Ballsitic Missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon described his feeling about negotiating with the Soviets. “I didn’t trust the Russians. But I recognized that ... there was no alternative but to have some relationship of ‘live and let live’ between the two superpowers.” Two years after the historic meeting in Moscow, Nixon was forced to resign due to Watergate. ABM silos in the United States were shut down but the production of ballistic missiles armed with multiple nuclear warheads (MIRV’s) contributed to a massive increase in weapons in both the United States and the Soviet Union.



Asset Type

Raw video

Media Type


Nuclear arms control
Soviet Union. Treaties, etc. United States, 1972 May 26 (ABM)
Deterrence (Strategy)
United States. Dept. of Defense
Soviet Union
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
Gore, Albert, 1907-1998
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles
Kissinger, Henry, 1923-
Nuclear weapons
Antimissile missiles
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Packard, David, 1912-1996
United States
War and Conflict
Global Affairs
Panofsky, Wolfgang K. H. (Wolfgang Kurt Hermann (Interviewee)
Publication Information
WGBH Educational Foundation
Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Wolfgang Panofsky, 1986,” 11/10/1986, GBH Archives, accessed December 11, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Wolfgang Panofsky, 1986.” 11/10/1986. GBH Archives. Web. December 11, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; One Step Forward; Interview with Wolfgang Panofsky, 1986. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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