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The Missile Next Door

The Missile Next Door

The Minuteman in the American Heartland

Gretchen Heefner

ISBN 9780674059115

Publication date: 09/10/2012

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Between 1961 and 1967 the United States Air Force buried 1,000 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.


  • Superb...From the first pages of the book, Heefner asks her readers to confront both the utter weirdness and the real threat involved in a project where people cohabited with missiles that each contained a 1.2 megaton warhead and a whole defense complex operated beneath their feet...The stories that unfold in this book--such as what happens when a few ranchers begin to protest the arrival of the missiles--are not only essential to understanding the Cold War West; they are also simply extraordinarily memorable. The beginning of chapter 4 is a textbook case for any government agency on how not to introduce a major new program into a community...Heefner's work is richly researched and wonderfully written. This book will have broad appeal to western and twentieth-century historians alike.

    —Karen Merrill, Western Historical Quarterly


  • Gretchen Heefner is Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press