At the beginning of World War II, Alaska's mostly primary-sector economy shifted dramatically when the territory was catapulted to strategic importance in the Pacific theater as both an air-corridor connection to the Soviet Union, then a U.S. ally, and key terrain that needed to be kept out of Japanese hands. Defense expenditures in Alaska totaled more than $1 billion between 1941 and 1945 (USARAL 1969). At the end of the war, defense spending pushed Alaska into a period of uncertainty. Alaskans had little confidence that the main prewar extractive industries, especially mineral mining, would recover in time to prevent economic malaise and massive out-migration (Whitehead 1998). Forestry, fishing, and mining had been shut down during World War II, from the diversion of male labor, interruption of normal trade and manufacturing patterns, and, in the case of gold mining--a significant part of the mining industry at the time--the War Production Board order that closed down all gold-mining operations in the country.
But the enormous military undertakings in Alaska during the cold war ensured Alaska's future and set the stage for statehood, which otherwise would likely not have occurred until the discovery of oil on the North Slope in 1968. According to the Alaska historians Claus Naske and Herman Slotnick, "the Cold War rescued Alaska from economic depression and obscurity" (1987, 131). The buildup was conditioned by the quickly changing international security picture, the national strategies that addressed it, and rapid technological changes. It brought immediate and enormous transformation to Alaska in many tangible and intangible ways. In terms of construction and infrastructure expansion, the military investment peaked early in the cold war, during what one observer dubbed "the frantic fifties" (Woodman 1999, 109). This discussion focuses on the U.S. military's role as a powerful geographical agent between 1945 and 1959, the year of Alaska's entry into the union as the forty-ninth state. The degree of military influence remained very strong throughout the cold war period, and even in the post-cold war epoch the military continues to rank among Alaska's top employers and is the major conduit for federal spending in the state (Case 1999; Goldsmith 2000; Fried and Windisch-Cole 2002; Haycox 2002; Schell 2002).
THE ORIGINS OF THE COLD WAR AND ALASKA'S EMERGING ROLE
At the close of World War II, the Soviet Union moved quickly to neutralize Germany and transform central Europe into a buffer zone against the West by establishing pro-Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe (Walker 1994). Although the cold war began as a confrontation of conventional military forces in Europe, it evolved into a global contest of strategic nuclear arms as the Soviet Union began rapid development of nuclear weapons, long-range bombers, and missiles in response to forward deployment of U.S. B-29 "atomic bombers" (Ambrose 1993; Hoffecker and Whorton 1995). The August 1949 detonation of the first Soviet nuclear bomb, followed by the Communist takeover of mainland China, created enormous domestic political pressure on the U.S. military to reassess earlier estimates that the Soviet Union would not be able to launch a successful attack with nuclear weapons and long-range bombers until 1955. The administration of President Harry Truman responded with National Security Council Resolution 68, calling for a peacetime military mobilization to meet the rapidly increasing international threat (Schaffel 1991). The invasion of South Korea by Communist forces in 1952 provided further incentive to step up military preparations. The United States embarked on a hasty and major expansion of conventional as well as strategic nuclear forces around the world (Ambrose 1993) and on development of new strategies for detection, interception, retaliation, standoff, and showdown against the "Red Menace." Alaska figured prominently in those defense plans.
With the Soviet Union defined as the primary enemy, Alaska gained strategic significance because of its location (Denfeld 1996). Central to early cold war thinking was the "polar concept," based on the simple geographical truth that the shortest distance between the United States and the Soviet Union--and vice versa--was a straight line across the polar region (Figure 1). Recognized in the 1930s by Gen. Billy Mitchell, one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of air power, as the key to future air wars (Pagano 1998), the polar concept garnered new attention as technological advances eventually rendered the continental United States a vulnerable target. The perceived danger of transpolar attack triggered planning for systems of advanced warning and interception across northern North America and made Alaska a strategic air center for basing and commanding the required forces.
Alaska's proximity to the Soviet Union was key for another reason as well: Close enough to register seismic anomalies through the ground and via airborne platforms, it allowed the United States to monitor the ambitious Soviet nuclear testing program. Alaska's strategic value also included its geological wealth: It possessed ten of the sixteen minerals crucial to the creation of cold war industrial and military products (Nielson 1988). This mineral supply, combined with Alaska's perceived "barrenness" and remoteness from the continental United States, attracted federal authorities who wanted to base nuclear and chemical activities of all sorts in the region, including nondefense detonations under the Atomic Energy Commission's Plowshare Program as well as declared military-related detonations, experimental nuclear power, and chemical-weapons testing. (1)
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In addition, Alaska was the only place where U.S. forces could train domestically for ground and air combat in cold-weather conditions similar to those found in the Soviet Union. Despite military leaders' pronouncements that air-delivered nuclear weaponry was the future of warfare, no one truly believed that the mission of ground forces to keep and hold terrain was obsolete (USARAL 1972). Whether in preparation for a manned defense of Alaska or for an invasion of Soviet territory, American soldiers had to train to fight in extreme Arctic conditions. With an area more than twice the size of Texas, Alaska offered relatively unlimited space for bases, military airfields, bombing ranges, air and ground maneuvers, and experimentation in Arctic engineering: an enormous defense laboratory of largely "uninhabited"--except by Alaska Natives--and uncontested land. Alaska was set to become, as the Alaskan historian Stephen Haycox (2001a) vividly described it, a "strategic free world defense redoubt."
CHARACTERISTICS OF "MILITARIZED" ALASKA
The hustle that characterized the buildup of cold war Alaska was marked more by confusion and countermanding plans than by a single vision and focused effort. The national strategic plan and the investment it drove in Alaska changed several times and for a number of reasons, among them advancements in intelligence-gathering abilities, which in turn amended the degree and type of perceived threat, and the long duration of diplomatic hostilities on an ever-changing world stage of small "hot wars" shadowed by the constant specter of total war. The main reason for the changes was the rapid evolution of weapons technology. Early in the cold war, nuclear bombs and the evolution of long-range bombers and jet fighters brought about a "heartland" concept of Alaskan defense, with ground forces mostly relegated to the protection of bases and surface-to-air defense sites. This first defense plan, and the war machine it drove, was one of detection, interception, and first-line retaliation. As missiles became the largest perceived threat by the late 1950s, a ballistic-missile early-warning center was built, bringing with it $360 million in defense contracts (Nielson 1988). Missiles based in the continental United States replaced Alaska-based bombers and all the people and equipment supporting them. The territorial, then congressional, delegation knew the importance of keeping Alaska in the forefront of national strategy: When defense planners turned their attention away from Alaska, outcry and protest often ensued, and efforts were made to keep Alaska in Americans' and American decision makers' minds by promoting a perception of Alaska as the country's "Guardian of the North," "Gibraltar of the North," "Northern Bulwark," or, alternatively, "Coldest Front" (Lewis 1959; USARAL 1965; Sherwood 1967; Wise 1982; Cloe 1984; Naske and Slotnick 1987; Nielson 1988; Denfeld 1996; Seidler 1996).
The political lobbying, as well as other factors described above, kept interest in Alaska strong, but the ever-evolving national plan resulted in an almost constant state of turmoil as Alaska's defense infrastructure "was built and repeatedly rebuilt as military concepts changed" (Rogers 1962, 63). This rendered some installations obsolete before they were activated; in some extreme cases they were abandoned for the next project even before they were completed. The result was a cold war militarized landscape that existed in palimpsest form, itself having been laid in part onto a modified cultural landscape resulting from Alaska's strategic role in the Pacific theater of World War II.
POPULATION AND DEMOGRAPHICS
In terms of raw numbers, the expansion of Alaska's population was led by soldiers or civilians engaged in military construction and operations (Whitehead 1998). In the 1950s, the most active period of military buildup, active-duty military personnel averaged just under 21 percent of the total Alaskan population, ranging from a high of almost 26 percent in 1952 to 15.4 percent in 1959 (Alaska Industry 1972; Mason 1974) (Table I). Later in the era, numbers of personnel assigned to Alaska fell, due to the "increasingly complex and sophisticated military hardware" that required less manpower (Naske and Slotnick 1987, 138), but the number never fell below the 20,000 mark. The early-era data enumerated military personnel but failed to reflect the much larger numbers of persons associated with the military. This linked population included immediate family members of active-duty personnel, Defense Department civil servants and their families, employees of the services' nonappropriated fund businesses (such as the base exchange and commissary), Alaska Army and Air National Guardsmen as well as military reservists and their families, and military retirees and their families. Based on partial data from a number of sources, the true proportion of military-associated persons in Alaska during the 1950s has been estimated at between 40 and 45 percent (DOD n.d.; Rogers and Cooley 1963; AAC DCS/C 1970; Bowen 1970, 1971; Alaska Industry 1972; Mason 1974; Crow 1975; Fried 1996). This estimate is conservative, in that it does not include the considerable number of people who came to Alaska seeking the employment opportunities the defense …