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[Detail] Coos Bay Bridge, North Bend, Oregon.

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Missile Defense

The end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War prompted the United States military to create a missile defense system. In 1954, the Army introduced the Nike Ajax guided-missile system as an improvement on anti-aircraft artillery. It was the first step in an arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union over long- and short-range missile silos. Four years later, the second-generation missile, the Nike Hercules, was designed to carry nuclear warheads and destroy incoming explosives and nuclear weapons.

A search on Nike missile produces images and data pertaining to a variety of missile defense sites across the nation. For example, the Mt. Gleason Nike Missile Site was the first missile base constructed in California's Angeles Forest.

It was built in a very short period of time, due to its priority status. The site was in operation . . . before the installation of water and sewer lines . . . . The rushed construction of Mt. Gleason symbolizes the nationwide American effort to counteract the potential "Red Scare" of enemy intervention. (page 27)

The construction of a missile site at Mt. Gleason also demonstrates that a defense system was considered a higher priority than were environmental concerns. The report accompanying the photographs of the base includes correspondence that notes the few limitations that the National Forest Service could place on the Army site in terms of soil erosion and environmental impact.

The jurisdiction of the National Forest Service changed in 1969, however, when Congress established the National Environmental Policy Act. This legislation was created to "declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment." The report notes that the Forest Service, "backed by federal legislation now, pressured the Army to dispose of the military installation in a manner consistent with the Forest Service's environmental management standards," (page 37).

All Nike Missile defense systems began deactivation three years later when President Richard Nixon signed the SALT I treaty to limit anti-ballistic missile systems in the United States and the Soviet Union.

  • How did the construction of the Mt. Gleason site impact the Angeles Forest?
  • Why do you think that the construction was allowed to occur despite its environmental impact?
  • How do you think that the interests of national defense compared to the interests of environmental conservation during the Cold War?
  • How do you think that the two issues are viewed in contemporary society?