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The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Sew edition (October 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674059115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674059115
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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 2013-09-01)

Heefner makes a significant contribution to the growing genre of new military history, adeptly describing how the Defense Department made the strategic and political decision to scatter Minuteman missile silos across the Plains and the upper West...Her wonderfully written and well-researched work draws from across the historical spectrum; cultural, social, military, and environmental historians, in particular, will find value in her effort. (W. T. Allison Choice 2013-01-01)

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 2012-08-01)

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 2012-09-15)

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 2012-06-04)

In this fascinating account, Heefner vigorously argues for the central place of military defense in postwar American life. And she takes us into the very American heartland to tell her story. There, under the Great Plains, a thousand Minuteman missiles stood quietly at attention in their silos. The Missile Next Door reveals how they got there, what they were designed to do, and how they forever changed the nation. This book truly brings the Cold War home. (William Deverell, author of Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past)

No other work tells the story of the Minuteman as effectively or as eloquently as The Missile Next Door. Heefner consciously and impressively speaks to two distinct and rarely intertwined literatures: Cold War military strategy and technology and the environmental history of the American West. She admirably demonstrates that the missile's development and deployment offer a unique lens through which to view the broader themes of the Cold War. (Jeffrey A. Engel, author of Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy)

A haunting and intensely personal story about Cold War America's decision to place ICBMs in the Great Plains. Heefner introduces us to the individuals, families, and communities who lived with the cataclysmic potential of nuclear deterrence, and she untangles the complicated relationships they forged with the federal government and the missiles buried in their backyards. Offering compelling prose and analysis, The Missile Next Door is destined to become a classic in Western and Cold War home-front history. (David Rich Lewis, author of Neither Wolf nor Dog: American Indians, Environment, and Agrarian Change)

The Missile Next Door is one of the most important books to be written about the history of rural America after World War II. Heefner reveals how the stories of rural residents of the Great Plains can be integral to the history of the nation but remain ignored in its retelling. We can now see that rural people in American West were on the front line of the Cold War. (Catherine McNicol Stock, author of Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain)

About the Author

Gretchen Heefner is Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Illiniguy71 on July 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Stickney on September 26, 2013
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.
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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.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By elisabeth heefner on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a people person and also love to know the reasons decisions are made. Both of these interests were satisfied with this book. I loved her interviews with the farmer/ranchers especially.This is an entertaining book as well as a good book to spark discussion about government policies and their effect on people.
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