ARCHIVAL (CIVIL DEFENSE FILM, 1957):[Sirens] This is not a test. The United States is under nuclear attack.

NARRATION: In the 1950s and 60s, a government campaign made sure that Americans were prepared for the possibility of a nuclear attack from our main adversary, the Soviet Union.

ARCHIVAL (CIVIL DEFENSE FILM, 1954):NARRATOR: Enemy jet bombers carrying nuclear weapons can sweep over a variety of routes and drop bombs on any important target in the United States.

ARCHIVAL (DUCK AND COVER, CIVIL DEFENSE FILM, CIRCA1955):CHORUS: When danger threatened him, he never got hurt, he knew just what to do

NARRATION: There were even cartoons aimed at children.

ARCHIVAL (DUCK AND COVER, CIVIL DEFENSE FILM, c.1955):NARRATOR: We must be ready all the time for the atomic bomb. Duck and cover!CHORUS: Duck and cover.

WILLIAM PERRY (FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, 1994-1997): When I teach my class at Stanford, invariably some student will ask me, How in the world did we end up with 70,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War?

NARRATION: Former Secretary of Defense William Perry tells his students that the massive arsenals helped deter the two sides from using them.

WILLIAM PERRY: We believed the other country was planning to conduct a surprise attack on us and therefore we had to have enough weapons to survive that surprise attack.

ARCHIVAL (UNIVERSAL NEWSREEL, 11-18-63):NARRATOR: A payload larger than any the Russians have launched.

WILLIAM PERRY: We saw their weapons going up and responded to that. And it was a back and forth cycle.

ARCHIVAL (A STEP AWAY FROM WAR, ANTI-NUCLEAR DOCUMENTARY FILM, 1986):NARRATOR: At this moment, we could explode 11,500 nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union and they can explode 9,500 weapons on us, beginning 30 minutes from right now.

NARRATION: But Perry says Americans were worrying about the wrong thing.

WILLIAM PERRY: The danger was not that one side would deliberately attack the other side, a surprise attack, a bolt out of the blue, but that we would blunder into a nuclear war.

ARCHIVAL (THE TWILIGHT ZONE, 1960):WOMAN: Will it be bad?MAN: It will be a holocaust, it will be hell, it will be the end of everything we know.

NARRATION: For decades, the looming nuclear threat permeated American culture.

ARCHIVAL (DR. STRANGELOVE, 1964):MAN: They will not reach their targets for at least another hour. I am I am positive, Dimitri.

ARCHIVAL (WARGAMES, 1983):MAN: If the Soviets launch a surprise attack, theres no time.WOMAN: 23 minutes from warning to impact.

NARRATION: But the fear was tempered by the fact that, even as their rivalry grew, the Americans and Soviets were meeting regularly.

BRUCE BLAIR (NUCLEAR POLICY SCHOLAR, 1947-2020): During the Cold War, we realized the level of danger of nuclear war, and we sat down with the Soviets and worked out agreements that would reduce the risk of nuclear war.

ARCHIVAL (AP ARCHIVE, 12-8-87):PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: The first agreement ever to eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons.

BRUCE BLAIR: We were talking very closely, so we created an atmosphere of low uncertainty, high predictability and stability.

ARCHIVAL (CBS, 12-25-91):TOM FENTON: Tonight the red flag was taken down from the Kremlin.

NARRATION: Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, more than four decades of Cold War came to an end.

ARCHIVAL (CBS, 12-25-91):PRESIDENT MIKHAIL GORBACHEV (TRANSLATED FROM RUSSIAN): The Cold War is over. The arms race has been stopped.

ARCHIVAL (GEORGE H. W. BUSH LIBRARY, 1-28-92):PRESIDENT GEORGE H. W. BUSH: By the grace of God, America won the Cold War.

ALEX WELLERSTEIN (HISTORIAN OF SCIENCE, STEVENS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY): And after that happens, the amount of tensions go down so dramatically that, by the early 90s, people dont think nuclear war is on the table at all. We stop preparing for it, we stop talking about it for the most part.

WILLIAM PERRY: When the Cold War ended, I breathed a huge sigh of relief because I understood at least as well as anybody just how dangerous it was, how close we had come several times to a nuclear confrontation that could have ended our civilization. And I believed we would never be so foolish as to restart the Cold War. But the danger has come back again.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-30-18):WOLF BLITZER: Russia rolls out a new missile nicknamed the Satan II.

NARRATION: Adding to the danger, nations in unpredictable parts of the world have acquired nuclear weapons.

BRUCE BLAIR: In the last 20 years, weve added North Korea, India, Pakistan and as the world proliferates nuclear weapons, the risks increase dramatically. A lot of these countries have very poor safeguards on their nuclear weapons.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, 8-8-17):JIM DEMINT: which means rogue states, probably terrorist groups over the next decade. Weve got to determine what were going to do about it.

BRUCE BLAIR: We need to learn the lessons of the Cold War, that when the danger, the risk of nuclear war, becomes high, that we need to talk to each other and figure out together how to reduce those risks.

ARCHIVAL (CIVIL DEFENSE FILM, 1954):NARRATOR: Let us recognize the threat to our way of life.

NARRATION: During the Cold War, Americans were alert to the threat they faced.


NARRATION: Today, some worry the public has become complacent, as hugs and handshakes mask the dangers of a new nuclear arms race.

ALEX WELLERSTEIN: I want people to think of them as actual things that exist in the world, actual things that might be used in their lifetimes. Theyre not fictional creations, theyre not cultural metaphors. Theyre real. Theyre real devices and theyre waiting in silos for the signal.

WILLIAM PERRY: I have come to believe that the danger of some kind of a nuclear catastrophe today is actually greater than it was during the Cold War. Greater than the Cold War. We believed that the danger of nuclear annihilation had gone away, and weve never been quite able to re-grasp that its come back.