Buried beneath the “Land of the Free” are 450 land-based nuclear missiles that hold American democracy and the future of humanity hostage. Hidden from the public eye, the dangers of the nuclear age are eclipsed by a perception of safety – ushered into the American consciousness by a small group of beneficiaries. Twenty-seven years after its initial release, Nukewatch’s Nuclear Heartland, revised edition serves as a chilling reminder that hundreds of indiscriminate weapons still lurk beneath the surface of American soil. These “metal gods” wait patiently out of sight for a signal that would plunge our world into a state of total destruction.
Between the covers of Nuclear Heartland, the reader will encounter the untold stories of those sacrificed to the Nuclear Age. We’ve all heard of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but most of us are unfamiliar with the people of America’s Great Plains, whose lands, lives, and safety have been hijacked by a Federal Government pledging “national security.” The military economy that has exploded in the American Heartland has rendered the lands of Midwestern farmers barren, agricultural policy combined with Air Force pesticides forcing two-thirds of North Dakota farmers to lose their livelihoods. The lives of the silo-county residents are also at stake. Nukewatch co-founder Samuel H. Day writes, “One of the realities that has yet to sink in on the residents of missile silo county [. . .] is that their part of the United States was chosen long ago by distant strategists to serve as a national sacrifice area.” He continues, “The theory is that the remote and wide open spaces of the Great Plains were to be sacrificed so that California, New York, Washington, DC, and other centers of more importance to the planners could fight on in a nuclear war.”
Despite this, the people of the American Midwest are largely in support of the warheads that sleep in their backyards. Unaware of the dangers that sleep beneath their gardens, most silo-county residents believe that the local economy benefits from the existence of local Air Force bases. Nuclear Heartland warns us otherwise, revealing that the augmented job market in silo counties was only temporary. By the 1960s, only half a decade after the Atlas missile program began, the economic boom resulting from missile production was already beginning to lull. Today, there are no employment opportunities for locals looking to capitalize on the military missiles. Repair work has been outsourced to specialists thousands of miles away, leaving silo counties across the Midwest dry of economic fruit.
The Native American tribes of the Great Plains have also been subjected to numerous abuses by the U.S. Federal Government. Their lands are replete with unwanted missile silos that threaten their lives, land, identity, and culture, all of which are inextricably intertwined. The nuclear weapons scattered across the ancient Cherry Creek Trail and Black Hills, areas sacred to the Lakota-Sioux Nation, demonstrate that Native American lives are disposable in the face of U.S. security. The deployment of nuclear missiles on sacred Native American lands denies the Native American people their sovereignty, in effect reproducing the “us” and “them” narrative required for the accepted deployment of these destructive machines.
However, Nuclear Heartland not only uncovers the untold oppression of today’s nuclear missile regime. The book also operates as a manual for disarmament, detailing the accounts of civil disobedience and direct action that have challenged the missiles since 1958. In the current age, when nuclear outrage has slipped beneath the radar of the general public, Nuclear Heartland abolishes silence, returning with a voice and a name to those courageous enough to face the ICBMs head on. Documenting earlier protests, like the 1984 symbolic disarmament of the N-5 by the Silo Pruning Hooks, alongside more recent ones, such as the 2006 Ploughshares “Weapons of Mass Destruction Here!” Protest, in which activists hammered and poured blood on a nuclear silo, Nuclear Heartland shows readers that the crusade against nuclear missiles is not a lost cause, but rather an expedition that marches on.
With its definitive guide to the 450 remaining land-based missiles, the 2015 re-release of Nuclear Heartland serves as a cutting-edge guidebook, leading us out of the current age of nuclear complacency. Through its publication of the Missile Mapping Project, Nukewatch virtually unearths the remaining land-based missiles, opening them out to public scrutiny. The project, undertaken by hundreds of Nukewatch volunteers, places a geographical fix on all remaining US missile fields. Listed within the pages of Nuclear Heartland, revised edition, are the discoveries of this project: updated maps, directions, and photos, all documenting the continued existence, location, and condition of these fields. Towards the end of the book, there are short journal entries written by Barb Katt and John LaForge, the two anti-nuclear activists recruited to travel 30,000 miles across the nuclear heartlands to verify the location of each land-based missile site. The entries cover LaForge and Katt’s encounters with Air Force personnel, silo-county residents, and the nuclear warheads themselves.
The Missile Mapping project operates as a participatory tool. By sharing with the public the existence, location, and condition of all U.S. land-based missiles, Nukewatch encourages the public to turn away from passive acceptance, embracing instead democratic discovery. “Given the will, we can fashion instruments of peace from the deadly warheads in our soil,” Sam Day wrote. And that is exactly what the authors of Nuclear Heartland are asking us to do: utilize our democratic right to participate and our collective power to demand an end to the Nuclear Age that plagues our world with its threat of uncertainty.
Nuclear Heartland is available for purchase from Nukewatch at www.nukewatchinfo.org and from Amazon.com. Each copy is priced at $25, with an additional $5 charge for shipping and handling. Payments are also accepted by Nukewatch via mail at 740A Round Lake Road, Luck, WI 54853.