Landscapes of National Security: Cold War Military Installations, Political Change, and the Transformation of Place

AHA Session 288
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Monica Richmond Gisolfi, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Ronald E. Doel, Florida State University

Session Abstract

This panel explores the relationships between military imperatives, natural landscapes and political change during the Cold War. Beginning in the 1950s, Cold War defense installations – whether shipyards in Seattle, missile silos in the Plains or an Army bases in the Carolinas – transformed the American landscape. While scholars have begun to consider the political and economic implications of these new relationships, less examined have been the ways military spending transformed people’s sense of place – from the land they loved, to the water they drank and the spaces they were forced to avoid. Using this year’s conference theme of the “sacred,” the papers in this panel consider how shifting views of the environment and land altered local responses to the national security state – often in surprising ways. In the Puget Sound area, as Brian Casserly shows, by the late 1960s “quality of life” concerns began to complicate local civil-military relations.  For much of the early Cold War abundant land and water were seen as the major draw for defense dollars. But it would be those very resources that would become a rationale for excluding the military in latter years.  Matthew Farish uses his training as a historical geographer to explore the ways that militarization in the North American Arctic actually transformed ideas about who and what could live in particular places. The experience with the military – both with physical installations and scientific practices and studies -- would later serve as an important component of indigenous political movements. In her work Gretchen Heefner demonstrates that rural Western response to national security needs – in this case the deployment of nuclear missiles – was filtered through local notions of land and property ownership. Yet while “land” was of central importance to rural westerners, its meaning was never fixed. As a result reaction to the military shifted over time, leading to dissent on the both the Left and Right in the 1980s. This panel will appeal to scholars interested in militarism, the environment and grassroots politics during the second half of the 20th century. The wide geographic focus is meant to be comparative – allowing the audience to think about, and hopefully share thoughts on, these transformations over time.  There will also be a methodological component to our panel. Because all of the scholars work with military archives, each panelist will talk about the difficulties and benefits of using what is often classified information.

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