Heefner’s first book tells the history of the placement in the 1960s of 1,000 nuclear-weapons-armed missiles across the American Great Plains, “scattered like buckshot in American farm fields.”
Sure that a “missile gap” spelled doom for the United States, a massive national effort began to assure nuclear deterrence against a Soviet attack. Emerging from this hysteria came the idea of depositing individual intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground silos across tens of thousands of square miles in the American heartland. Heefner expertly examines the players in this ghastly game: the engineers who developed the technology, the military personnel who implemented it, the politicians who proselytized for it and the rugged individualist landowners who accepted it. The cooperation among industry, the military and government—Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex”—allowed the idea to gain acceptance by the American people. As always, America was the good guy, merely defending itself, though with 1,000 missiles pointed at them, the Soviets might have seen it differently. Throughout the process, the realities of nuclear war—55 million Americans would die in a Soviet retaliation—were carefully downplayed or ignored. And it all worked. The militarization of the Great Plains became part of normal life, albeit not without some protest and resistance. Even as the Cold War faded, however, America became addicted to conflict. Defense industries would not simply dismantle, and towns dependent on military bases could not simply see them close. While not all will agree with her findings, Heefner’s dispassionate and engrossing prose manages to raise both reasonable and troubling questions.
An important look at a militarized America and the costs of this transformation.