PBS 13-Part Documentary Series Lets Participants Tell Story of Nuclear Age

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Washington Post

The first atomic explosion, in July, 1945, in the desert of New Mexico, changed the world forever. Since then, nations with nuclear weapons and those without have been obliged to do their political maneuvering in a world that could destroy itself.

PBS’ 13-part documentary series, “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” premiering Monday, sets out to examine a subject of major importance both now and in the future, as well as to offer a retrospective on how we arrived at the atomic edge.

Executive producer Zvi Dor-Ner, who began the project in 1984, noted: “All the nations who have nuclear weapons say they need them to preserve peace. . . . Yet they have risked nuclear war to preserve other values they believe in. This tension is the story of ‘War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.’


“We tell the story through its participants--neither heroes nor villains, simply ordinary people thrust into situations of extraordinary magnitude and complexity.”

Although the film makers had hoped to arrive at solutions, they eventually concluded that they had no answers. Instead, they settled for trying to increase understanding. Each installment has been planned to cover a theme and historic period.

Monday’s opener, called “Dawn,” goes back to the scientific experiments of 1932 that led to the development of the atomic bomb, and to the desperate days in the spring and summer of 1945 that preceded the first nuclear explosion at Alamogordo.

The man responsible for developing the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, recalls: “A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.’ ”

The following installment is “The Weapon of Choice,” tracing how two former allies, the United States and the Soviet Union, became adversaries, each able to wield a nuclear arsenal.