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The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland [Kindle Edition]

Gretchen Heefner

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Book Description

In the 1960s the Air Force buried 1,000 ICBMs in pastures across the Great Plains to keep U.S. nuclear strategy out of view. As rural civilians of all political stripes found themselves living in the Soviet crosshairs, a proud Plains individualism gave way to an economic dependence on the military-industrial complex that still persists today.

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"During the cold war, Americans were sold a terrifying and ultimately unnecessary truth: that to deter disaster, weapons of mass destruction had to be kept in the heartland. Heefner's impressive first book focuses on the ways in which the government and the Air Force controlled the press and sold the public on storing 1,000 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles throughout the flyover states. As development costs of the Minuteman ballooned, local government officials wrote pleas to house the missiles within their towns. Chosen communities were often struggling economically, and the jobs and government funding that came from missile storage seemed a possible panacea. But as the Soviet threats proved increasingly unlikely, the attitudes of those who housed the missiles in their backyards changed. Farmers lost sections of their farmland for decades and did not receive sufficient compensation for their loss. Ranchers' livelihoods were often dashed by the militarization of their land, and the land that had been turned over to the government was often held up by legal jargon before redistribution, and was unusable for farming by the time it was returned. Heefner's deftly constructed and accessible narrative of this troubling period illustrates how war became a way of life in the mid- 20th century."-- Publishers Weekly, 4th June 2012

" Sure that a "missile gap" spelled doom for the United States, a massive national effort began [in the 1960s] 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...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."--Kirkus Reviews, 1st August 2012

" American history buffs, especially of the impact of national programs on ordinary lives, and those concerned with the military-industrial complex, will enjoy. --Michael Eshleman, Library Journal, 15th August 2012

About the Author

Gretchen Heefner is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 837 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Sew edition (10 Sept. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0092RIS1A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #921,117 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminates a surprisingly obscure topic and will inspire deeper thinking 26 Sept. 2013
By David Stickney - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The subject of the book is surprisingly obscure -- how could we not know/remember that hundreds of megatons of nuclear bombs were buried in the plains state, much less not understand how they got there? "The Missile Next Door" does an excellent job of outlining the origins of the Minuteman missile program, the mechanics of convincing not just a region of the country but the entire nation that such a project was necessary, and builds a credible bridge between this project and the advancement of Eisenhower's military/industrial complex agenda. I found it startling not to have recognized how deeply enmeshed our local and national economies are enmeshed with military spending. While the reporting of the story is well-founded and researched, there is an agenda being served with the book's premise and it leans to the left. That said, I didn't find the perspective damaging to the credibility of the story. It's not a page-burning read, but it will inspire deeper thinking on the issues it raises.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Initial Study 8 July 2013
By Illiniguy71 - Published on
The installation and maintenance for over three decades of 1,000 Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles over the Great Plains and western Missouri between the early 1960s and early 1990s has been the subject of very few academic studies. The author thus attempts to meet a genuine historical need. A major concern in the first half of the book is an attempt to understand why farmers and ranchers accepted the forced sale of a 2-acre plot for each missile in the middle of a field or pasture and sometimes near the owner's dwelling. Heefer seems not to understand that before Vietnam, Watergate, and Reagan, many Americans trusted their government, and especially the military, to a considerably greater degree than today. Moreover, Americans of that era were simply more accustomed to making personal sacrifices for the good of family, community and nation. In the early 1960s, especially in rural areas, local leaders and opinion-makers were often themselves veterans of World War II, who had personal experience in making sacrifices in defense of the nation.
She notes that there was little public attention to the issue of the missile fields as prime targets in a thermonuclear exchange. One presumes the Russians understood what the author ignores. If the Russians launched an ICBM first strike and the American radar stations in northern Canada functioned properly, then the Minuteman missiles would have been launched before Russian missiles could have arrived. Why would a rational enemy want to target empty silos? The Air Force bases themselves would surely have been targeted, but perhaps not the missile silos.
Most of the author's attention focuses on western South Dakota and the missiles managed from Ellsworth Air Force Base. She uses this area as a case study in both public acceptance of American militarism and, as the Cold War advanced, in the growing use of military activity as a kind of economic welfare for specified communities and for propping up the national economy. It is also a case study in the public's reaction to the environmental issues that accompanied building and decommissioning the missile silos.
Heefner gets an A+ for concern with fundamentally important issues, and her endnotes are filled with bibliographical references that will be of great value to future scholars. But the author's treatment of essential issues can seem brief, shallow, facile, and anecdotal. I can ignore a howling misuse of English, but I cannot ignore a basic factual error concerning the structure of the American government. The author tells us on page 37 that "the War Department existed only in wartime". The United States Department of War existed continuously from 1789 to 1947.
In short, if you want to know about how the Minuteman missiles came about and were received by the Americans who had to live next door to them, read this book. But don't expect more than a case study by a younger scholar can offer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sorry but this seems like a left wing sponsored book 2 Mar. 2015
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:MP3 CD
Sorry but this seems like a left wing sponsored book. Yes, I worked with the system (Minot AFB and F.E. Warren) and yes I know several land owners who were proud to have the sites on their land. I wonder why the main area for the book was an area where the missile base was closed back in 1994. There are three bases open covering five states. The families in South Dakota may be upset because a lose funds from the government? The road aren't maintain as they where when the sites were active. The whole book just seems one-sided.
3.0 out of 5 stars Missile Silos - Half Empty or Half Full? 17 Jan. 2014
By Duck and Cover - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book by historian Gretchen Heefner explores an important aspect of the Cold War - how the United States deployed land-based nuclear missiles in the hope of deterring an attack by the Soviet Union. Dr. Heefner became inspired to write this book after visiting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota in which the National Park Service has made a museum out of a former missile launch-control facility and a former missile silo. (Incidentally, this is an excellent place to visit if you wish to dispel the myths about the missiles created by Hollywood.) Dr. Heefner pointed out that about a thousand Minuteman Missiles were deployed in underground silos throughout the long years of the Cold War, and even today about half of these missiles remain operational.

The book derives its title from how the missiles and the people who lived in their midst became intertwined. Landowners - mainly ranchers - were forced to sell two-acre plots to the government, one for each missile deployed. These plots were scattered over a huge swath of land that extended over seven, mainly western, states so that a particular landowner might have only a single missile on his sprawling ranch. Typically the landowners were allowed to conduct business as usual on the rest of their property and typically they did, however, sometimes with great difficulty. Dr. Heefner concluded that the landowners, for the most part, did not object to having the missiles on their property although the missiles’ presence made their homes prime targets in the event of a nuclear war. What bothered the ranchers were the more mundane matters, such as compensation for their land and selection of the exact location where the missile would be placed. All the above appears to have been well-researched and it indeed interesting but, in my view, it was not the most important subject covered in the book.

More important than how the ranchers coped with the missiles is the author’s critique of the government policy that led to their deployment in the first place. Dr. Heefner views that policy as having been derived by a small group of like-minded intellectuals who were so narrowly focused that they ignored better alternatives. Unfortunately, this intriguing hypothesis was not fully developed in the book. The reader is left wondering what better ways may have existed. Such an analysis would have relevance not only to the past but to our present predicament in which half the Minuteman Missiles that the U.S. deployed in the Cold War are still in their silos, waiting for the order to launch.
2.0 out of 5 stars A lot of potential ,but wasted in PC anti military "message" . 20 Jun. 2015
By Jim Rossi - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I worked on/in this system from 1976 to 1979 . I was stationed at Whiteman AFB,MO ( now home of the B-2 bomber) . I never met any farmer/landowner who was bitter about the AF taking a couple of acres . In fact,we had a guy in our missile maintenance squadron from Missouri and had an uncle who had 3 launch facilities on his property. As previous reviewers have written,I feel the author had her priorities set when she started the book .She searched for and found the facts to reach her conclusion,disregarding those her message disagreed with. I liked the beginning and middle but found the ending typical of New York Times/progressive thinking. I learned something from the e-book ,but do not agree with her message.
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