Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Race for the Superbomb Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources

David Alan Rosenberg on: The Attitude Toward Nuclear War
The Air Force was often very grim about this. "This is nuclear war we're talking about." I think some of the SAC bomber pilots tended to have a more flippant attitude. Each individual has to deal with this in his own way. And the question is what you are carrying on your shoulders in something like this. Leaving aside all sorts of Hollywood hyperbole on this stuff, the thing that's kind of interesting is that I think the same things work for a bomber crew or for a submarine crew -- as exist for anybody else who's going to be facing the problem of combat. There'll be loyalty to each other as your prime loyalty. There'll be the desire not to show fear, to show any form of disloyalty. And that, in fact, if everything is going according to the established pattern that they've trained for -- that's why you train this way, in order to know that this is going to -- if it's going to happen, this is what you're supposed to do. And if it ever came to it, well, I'm not sure what would have, in fact, have happened. The sense from the people that I've worked with and the stuff that I've dealt with personally is the idea that you did it because you were working to prevent this from occurring, and that if you were as proficient as possible, that somehow the adversary was going to know it, and that by knowing it, they weren't going to do anything untoward. And if it ever then happened, there was always that question that have to be decided by each individual, but it'll be the case of the pressure of your comrades. That'll be there, that you're not going to break up the system.

And you know, there's a certain kind of fatalism that does get involved. If you've ever been a crew member on an airplane, or you've ever been a crew member on a submarine, that's your role and you're literally in that together, in a way that you're not, in effect, on land, and certainly locked away in a launch control facility below the prairies of Montana or North Dakota or something, South Dakota. That's the lowest, if you will, common denominator of the system, of these guys who were nuclear warriors.

The interesting problem is: How would World War III have happened in the fifties, or any time during the Cold War? And the fact is that the ramp-up time was probably going to be a lot longer. The crisis was going to be more difficult to deal with. And then that would probably have had an effect on people as they lived through it, as they got tired, as they were on alert for a long period of time. Flying alerts in the late fifties and early sixties, in terms of airborne alerts, out at sea for a long period of time, nerves get frazzled. Problems occur. People may start to--under those conditions, as opposed to just the standard training--begin to ask questions. But we never reached that point. Even the Cuban missile crisis of the 13 days was a relatively short period, and the tension was still incredibly great on the people, not only in the Ex-Com in Kennedy's White House, but the people as well who were on alert at the time. And that's when you start asking yourself questions. What you trained for was the bolt from the blue, the idea that this was going to happen, that there'd be no warning.

back to Interview Transcripts

Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference