Between 1961 and 1967 the United States Air Force buried one
thousand Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles in pastures across the
Great Plains. The Missile Next Door tells the story of how rural
Americans of all political stripes were drafted to fight the Cold War by living
with nuclear missiles in their backyards—and what that story tells us about
enduring political divides and the persistence of defense spending.
By scattering the missiles in out-of-the-way places, the
Defense Department kept the chilling calculus of Cold War nuclear strategy out
of view. This subterfuge was necessary, Gretchen Heefner argues, in order for
Americans to accept a costly nuclear buildup and the resulting threat of
Armageddon. As for the ranchers, farmers, and other civilians in the Plains
states who were first seduced by the economics of war and then forced to live
in the Soviet crosshairs, their sense of citizenship was forever changed. Some
were stirred to dissent. Others consented but found their proud Plains
individualism giving way to a growing dependence on the military-industrial
complex. Even today, some communities express reluctance to let the Minutemen
go, though the Air Force no longer wants them buried in the heartland.
Complicating a red state / blue state reading of
American politics, Heefner’s account helps to explain the deep distrust of
government found in many western regions and also an addiction to defense
spending which, for many local economies, seems inescapable.
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