The Missile Next Door

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The Missile Next Door

The Minuteman in the American Heartland

Gretchen Heefner, Susan Boyce


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Between 1961 and 1967 the United States Air Force buried onethousand Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles in pastures across theGreat Plains. The Missile Next Door tells the story of how ruralAmericans of all political stripes were drafted to fight the Cold War by livingwith nuclear missiles in their backyards—and what that story tells us aboutenduring political divides and the persistence of defense spending.

By scattering the missiles in out-of-the-way places, theDefense Department kept the chilling calculus of Cold War nuclear strategy outof view. This subterfuge was necessary, Gretchen Heefner argues, in order forAmericans to accept a costly nuclear buildup and the resulting threat ofArmageddon. As for the ranchers, farmers, and other civilians in the Plainsstates who were first seduced by the economics of war and then forced to livein the Soviet crosshairs, their sense of citizenship was forever changed. Somewere stirred to dissent. Others consented but found their proud Plainsindividualism giving way to a growing dependence on the military-industrialcomplex. Even today, some communities express reluctance to let the Minutemengo, though the Air Force no longer wants them buried in the heartland.

Complicating a red state / blue state reading ofAmerican politics, Heefner’s account helps to explain the deep distrust ofgovernment found in many western regions and also an addiction to defensespending which, for many local economies, seems inescapable.