In Nuclear Country, Catherine McNicol Stock explores the question of why, between 1968 and 1992, most voters in the Dakotas abandoned their distinctive ideological heritage and came to embrace the conservatism of the New Right. Stock focuses on how this transformation coincided with the coming of the military and national security states to the countryside via the placement of military bases and nuclear missile silos on the Northern Plains. This militarization influenced regional political culture by reinforcing or re-contextualizing long-standing local ideas and practices, particularly when the people of the plains found that they shared culturally conservative values with the military. After adopting the first two planks of the New Right—national defense and conservative social ideas—Dakotans endorsed the third plank of New Right ideology, fiscal conservativism. Ultimately, Stock contends that militarization and nuclearization were the historical developments most essential to the creation of the rural New Right throughout the United States, and that their impact can best be seen in this often-overlooked region’s history.
This book is a real departure from my normal reading but having transplanted myself to North Dakota almost 20 years ago I thought this would be a fascinating read and perhaps offer some insight into the mindset that I have encountered since living here. My expectations were met and surpassed with this book. I could not put it down, which is not typical for me when it comes to non-fiction.
I found the author’s tracking of the history of political thought in this region to be very thorough and well researched. I appreciated that she took the time to explain in depth the politics of the primarily agrarian society that existed at the beginning of the 20th century. She then goes into how various people and events of the 20th century led to the people moving from a “government should help people” way of thinking into the current pro-military, fiscally conservative way of thought.
There are moments in the book when the author seems to be almost anti-American in her presentation but I don’t think that is the case. I found it rather to be informative and gives me personally further input into my own political thought processes. I think there is a lot of food for thought in this book and we are at a point of time in our culture when we really need to be thinking about our choices with as much information as we can get. In addition, I found this book to be easy to read and understand for the average reader. I highly recommend this book.