Historically, precious few major developments in national history have happened in our humble state of South Dakota. The installation of Minuteman missiles, at least, brought us to the fore of the Cold War where before it was largely a mental exercise. The USSR was a big scary threat over there, but the presence of massive defensive capabilities right here provided a nice reminder that the US had enemies, and precious domestic soil needed to be used up in order to keep them in check. The idea that South Dakota could be that very soil was an enticing one indeed.
After the government had purchased enough land (via free sale or eminent domain), preparations began to ship top of the line missile technology courtesy of the interstate. South Dakota was now a veritable ace up America’s sleeve. We had taken a massive step forward into the future, and “for thirty years South Dakota was a crucial, but silent, player in the cold war” (Heefner). Indeed, the process for picking which state was best suited for this honor rested on a cold calculation. South Dakota had wide open prairies to provide buffer zones from the epicenters of nuclear blasts. Should these facilities be targeted, fewer people would die in the resulting blast than would have if the missiles were in New York. In this sense, South Dakotan citizens were expendable.
One must not underestimate the sheer explosive power the US slotted into midwestern ground. The facilities put in place and ICBMs in question were the first in their class. The readiness of this explosive tonnage was made hilariously evident, as “in South Dakota ten such facilities — some 130 megatons of destructive power — could be spied without leaving Interstate 90” (Heefner). The government was (and is) massively impressive in its ability to create highways and things that explode. The veneer of patriotism that this whole operation was contingent upon was itself contingent on the willingness of the average South Dakotan to swallow the fear they felt at the thought of this much destruction being kept in their backyard.
It is quite the strange habit to memorialize testaments to mass destruction. It doesn’t quite keep with the fun, jaunty atmosphere of the Corn Palace. Perhaps South Dakota feels a bit isolated from its national significance. Too old to get the attention of a Hawaii or Alaska, too young to lay claim to a founding father. It would seem as though the government has used us to our fullest potential in our capacity as farmers and storage facilities. Should we ever enter into another cold war, South Dakota will still be readily available for use against a foreign threat (real or imagined). Hopefully, South Dakota’s future value will not depend on the land it has available to sell for military purposes.