At the height of the Cold War, the United States deployed over a thousand Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) in a network of underground complexes across the American landscape. These nuclear weapons made up one part of America’s vast deterrent force as it faced off against its ideological rival, the Soviet Union, until its collapse in 1992. Since the Cold War itself has faded from memory, so too have the lessons and fears these weapons once elicited in the general public. Yet the issue of unchecked nuclear proliferation has returned that fear to the forefront, especially as Cold War-era strategic thinking collides with an ever more chaotic post-Cold War world.
With much of America’s Cold War-era nuclear arsenal deactivated and dismantled today, there are a growing number of former missile sites whose mission is to preserve the history and memory of the period. These frozen time capsules are open to the public, catering to an array of nostalgic “nuclear tourists.” As “Shrines to an Armageddon,” they preserve the dramatic vestiges of a power that can destroy the world. The sites stand sentinel as potent reminders of American military might, but also serve as a cautionary tale for future generations.
Two such sites, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota and the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona, are the only remaining ICBM sites in the United States that not only allow visitors into the underground launch control center, but also to come face to face with a (nonfunctioning) intercontinental ballistic missile as well.