Gretchen Heefner asks a good question: why did ordinary citizens in the American West agree to cede portions of their own land to the U.S. government, knowing their property would be used indefinitely as launch sites for Minuteman intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The first of these nuclear-armed ICBMs were deployed on 22 October 1962. By 1967, 1,000 had been positioned and aimed at the Soviet Union, which aimed its own missiles right back. Designed by the U.S. Air Force's Colonel Edward H. Hall and built by Boeing, the Minuteman had only one purpose: deterrence. The missile was quick to launch (in two minutes), ready 24 hours a day, and highly reliable, and it carried a 1.2-megaton warhead that could strike targets in the USSR within thirty minutes. The military placed these missiles in underground, hardened silos that were grouped in separate, widely dispersed, densely packed fields. The total area involved...

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