One of the best projects I have worked on in my time at the Utah State Archives was a collaborative effort to document the history along Highway 89. The project culminated in an IMLS grant (through the ILEAD initiative) that provided an opportunity for me to collaborate with colleagues from the Utah State University, Southern Utah University, and the State Library to create the Highway89 project site and a commissioned piece of art (above) by Utah artist, John Clark. Sadly, the project’s momentum diminished and it has now entered into the realm of legacy, though there is always potential to pick it up again.
Filtering by Category: Western History
Part of an ongoing series that repurposes different ideas I explored as part of my graduate studies in the Environmental Humanities.
Untangling the Roots:
Precursors, Contours, and Futures of America's Military Industrial Complex
In Tom Vanderbilt's, Survival City the author takes his readers on a journey through the newly emergent world of nuclear tourism. Whether its the doomed Nike missile silo's of the 1950's that were almost immediately made obsolete by the growth of the American suburb or the haunting landscape of the Nevada Test Site each of these destinations tell a part of the story of our nations flirtation with oblivion. As Vanderbilt puts it, “the Cold War landscape promised security from an invisible threat with a range of deterrent forces that also could not be seen.” (16). Born in the long breath of America's Cold War with the Soviet Union these points on the landscape are vested with the importance of a singular moment in human history when the world stood on the brink of destruction. This was an age when diplomatic breakdowns could have fostered the most lethal war in human history. Their existence is evidence of this haunting reality, as well as the infrastructure and culture that provided the fertile bed for such a worldview to take root and grow. This was the historical moment in which the military industrial complex (MIC) emerged and extended its pervasive reach into daily life for citizens both in the United States, and all across the globe.
However, for as much currency as the phrase “military industrial complex” holds in the cultural lexicon, actually ascribing clear and precise definitions proves exceedingly difficult. Taken in its breadth it is hard to unblur the lines of intersection that have grown between the public and private worlds that collide within America's MIC. This paper will attempt to show how the MIC has relied on a particular set of environmental and cultural circumstances on the North American continent that facilitated its rise. Each of these circumstances played a central part in developing the MIC in the immediate moments after World War II, an event in itself that is seen as a crucible event out of which the modern America (and its ultra-modern MIC) fully emerged. With this historical background I will then build on several critiques that have been leveled at the MIC over time in an attempt to better understand who diverse and widespread its reach is in a global context. Finally this paper will explore a new method of analysis focused around the exploration of the MIC through the quasi-organic ecosystem that has sprouted up around it. I end on the question of what is necessary to shift thinking on the role of the MIC in our lives, an important point given the fact that those with the most power to enact change in the future will be those born well outside the Cold-War context of fear and paranoia which was crucial in underwriting so much of the MIC project.
Precursors to MIC: Grids and Frontier
A crucial precursor underpinning the eventual MIC that would emerge in mid-20th century America centers on the large, ecologically diverse North American continent and the massive attempt to rationalize nature and bring under human control. This nation building project was initiated with American independence from England in 1776. Massive land acquisitions over time (like the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848), coupled with the Land Ordinance of 1785 helped produced a frontier myth ethos that has been pivotal to the American identify.
It was the vision of Thomas Jefferson that helped drive the Land Ordinance that was to be carried across the North American landscape. Jefferson's goal was to create regions in which the small, yeomen farmers pivotal to the Jeffersonian vision could sustain themselves. In theory this system would allow for the spread of democracy across multiple agents (thus, preventing the acquisition of power by any one person or group). The federal government would be kept small and in-check, and without the powerful standing army that has become a hallmark of the modern day MIC. Obviously, the translation of Jefferson's goals into tangible reality didn't generate the desired outcomes he idealized. And yet the pervasive grid remains, placing an artificial construct over natural world environments (no matter how readily features of topography and environment may attempt to subvert it).
The grid is an important component piece in understanding the circumstances that helped facilitate the modern day MIC in America. The grid has provided a means to parcel and designate pieces of the continent. It has provided a means to shuffle these parcels under any number of federal bureaucracies (in effect helping to grow the size of government). This became particularly true in the early 20th century as the Progressive era flourished and a spirit of human engineering to improve nature took deep root.
Of course, not all land is created equal and the stark contrast between federal land policy in the western and eastern United States bears this out. Much of the eastern U.S. was brought into the national project during an era of government transfer when the fed was looking to move land into private control quickly. Much of the rugged western U.S. was brought into the nation at a different time and under a completely different policy and vision that looked to the federal government as manager of public resources. Couple this with the arid region that exists in the west and the stage was set for the formation of public land policies that still generate controversy to this day. An obvious failing of the grid is the fact that it indiscriminately covers regions that are not ecologically the same, or as William Fox states in The Void, the Grid, and the Sign, “national grid propagate[s] across the terrain regardless of topology, tribal reservations, or the patterns of traditional landownership” (95). It can be argued that the MIC has benefited tremendously from this situation, however, as these huge areas of gridded landscape under government control became available for use. Often these western places have been discussed using the rhetoric of “wasteland,” which in turn positions these places as appropriate for military abuse. This is done in spite of the fact that these places often hold deep cultural and spiritual significance to any number of displaced indigenous populations.
The eventual expansion of the MIC relied heavily on access to available landscape onto which the assorted projects of military and industry could be writ. The history of nation building in North America and the grid transcribed on the landscape are crucial components in helping bear this to fruition. Of course, these lands the have come under MIC control (both in the east and west) are clearly not worthless, and in fact it is through their geological complexity and richness that the next chapter of MIC will be explored.
Precursor: Energy and Extracting the Landscape
Another crucial area to consider in assessing the roots that gave rise to the modern American MIC is the way in which the North American continent itself has provided ample energy for the cause. The story of nation building is a complex, violent and often depressing one as white Europeans slowly moved across the continent, displacing both native populations as well as completely changing landscapes in a process that Alfred Crosby has labeled “ecological imperialism.” It was this march west that set in motion processes that completely changed landscapes like that of the Midwest, through which settlement and agriculture transformed the landscape from grassland to cornfield. This story of the move west also involves the discovery of vast energy resources that, when coupled with advances in technology, have led to the rise of a fully industrialized nation. In this way the abundant wealth of nature on the North American continent has been crucial in helping fuel MIC growth.
One region where this was clearly manifest was on the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies. With the rise of industry in the latter 19th century the Front Range of Colorado become pivotal in supplying that nation with the stored energy of carbon found in the coal deeply embedded in the mountains. This resource was built slowly over eons, with the death of organic life that was then buried and compacted deeply within the changing geologies of earthen bedrock. Bringing it out and into the homes of a burgeoning nation of consumers proved remarkably faster than the crawl of time that placed it there, and these Colorado coal fields became one of many birthplaces dotting the nation of massive energy industries that would eventually become directly linked to the MIC. These regions are pivotal in helping understand MIC because through the complex combination of growing industry and government regulation a conversation was begun that would bring the two (and their shared goals) within closer alignment. It also helps to better explain the ways in which massive amounts of capital were amassed into singular spaces, which has come to steer and guide much of our national policy and debate. These extractive industries that had their roots in the industrial revolution of the 19th century, and as we will see they have come to play a pivotal role in the very ecology of the modern-day MIC.
Another extractive industry worth investigating in light of any discussion on the MIC is that of the uranium industry that exploded onto the Colorado Plateau region of Utah and Colorado in the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's. With the Manhattan Project and push to develop the atomic bomb (a crucial event to MIC that will be discussed further) the federal government became the major customer for the highly radioactive uranium deposits that exist in relative prevalence in the canyon country of the North American southwest. Used first to fuel the atomic weapons program, this resource led to major booms and busts on the landscape. It also led to remarkably high incidence of poisoned bodies, often through a lack of proper ventilation and safety in haphazardly constructed mine sites.
After the federal government (through the nuclear bureaucracy of the Atomic Energy Commission) had procured enough uranium reserves to accelerate the nuclear weapons program (itself like the MIC a response to the U.S.S.R. And Cold War) the next boom cycle came with the purported industrial use of nuclear power. Opening the uranium industry to nuclear power interests further helps solidify the complex links between government, military, and industry that have become such a hallmark of a society increasingly dependent on the MIC. And another issue waits on the horizon, namely what to do with the massive amounts of nuclear waste that have been created by both military and industry as part of our nuclear stockpiling. As Valerie Kueletz points out in Tainted Desert this is the dark secret of trafficking in nuclear technologies, as we currently sit on approximately 138 million pounds of radioactive material that has no permanent home. And in our quest to keep other countries from stockpiling their own supplies of the weapons-grade enriched uranium that is created as a byproduct of nuclear energy, we are actively engaged in shipping toxic materials to our shores. The controversy over the proposed long-term storage site at Nevada's Yucca Mountain helps reveal this intricate web of problems the have no readily available solutions. Our nuclear waste crisis and its impact on local communities and ecosystems point out one of the potential dangers that come with orienting a society and military towards expensive technologies (a hallmark of MIC thinking and action).
Precursor: West, Water, Engineering and Big Government
Of all of the precursors to the MIC, perhaps the most telling in its foreshadowing the deep marriage and partnership that can emerge between government and industry comes in the guise of Western reclamation. Again, a long and complex history falls within a historical moment and set of circumstances in the early 20th century when the role of the federal government was radically shifting. Central to this shift was the move away from rapidly transferring pieces of public land into private control, and instead focusing on the federal management and conservation of public domain and shared resources. This outlook coupled with an inexhaustible faith in the wonders of engineering and science to bend nature to better serve humanity helps set the stage for the story of western reclamation which has come to thoroughly dominate the history of the arid western states.
As Donald Worster explains in Rivers of Empire, the federal story of reclamation has three distinct phases, each building on one another. It is the last phase, when industrial interests were successfully able to harness federal government resources to help guide massive reclamation projects that a clearly identifiable precursor to the MIC manifests. This prolific age ran contemporary with the massive public works projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The transformations seen during this era help explain the changes in mindset and activity that have made government such an active agent in modern day America. This was the moment that brought monumental construction achievements such as Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee, testaments to both the human will to rationalize natural processes as well as human hubris in not fully understanding the environmental consequences of our actions.
Interestingly, as Marc Reisner clearly shows in Cadillac Desert, the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam has direct ties to the war economy that emerged with America's entrance into WWII. The massive energy harnessed from the Columbia River was pivotal to helping America emerge victorious from the war, while also setting precedence that are directly tied to the emergence of a powerful post-war MIC. The Grand Coulee Dam was controversial from the outset as many divisive voices came to bear on debating its need. However, a powerful Bureau of Reclamation was able to maneuver the political channels and begin work on constructing the massive edifice, which was completed between 1933 and 1942. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and U.S. entrance into the war the hydroelectricity produced at Grand Coulee became crucial for two reasons. The first was the energy it supplied allowed the U.S. to intensify aluminum manufacturing at an unprecedented pace. This was symptomatic of the larger war effort to turn the economy towards war production, but in this case it allowed for the fabrication of what had previously been a rare material. This new resource was readily used to help construct armaments and airplanes that gave the Allied forces a decided tactical advantage. As Reisner notes, the U.S. “didn’t so much outmaneuver, outman, or outfight the Axis as simply out produce it.” (164). But perhaps even more important was how the power of the Columbia River was indirectly transformed into the electricity that helped power the small town of Hanford, Washington. Along with Los Alamos and the Oak Ridge site in Tennessee, Hanford was a critical area for the super secret Manhattan Project. It was at Hanford that engineers from DuPont were able to refine the same uranium mined from the Colorado Plateau into the radioactive element plutonium. This “Godzilla” of radioactive elements (both the longest lasting and most toxic) became the critical component in unlocking the secret of nuclear power. By bombarding the unstable nucleus of uranium and plutonium with neutrons a chain reaction could occur that would split the atom and simultaneously release the massive amounts of stored energy holding those particles together. Moving this theory into practice unlocked a new door in human history and created the circumstances for a Cold War and MIC that had the political capital to grow suddenly on the landscape, not unlike the violent mushroom cloud produced with an atomic blast. It is to the dramatic changes brought on by the World War II moment that we now turn.
In assessing the history of the MIC the precursors and roots can be traced in various areas, but the true flowering came with the crucible moment of World War II. It was this singular historical event that serves as a crucible moment in human history. Comparing the world before and the world after reveals that in the midst of the horrors of war human life on this planet was irrevocably changed.
For the purposes of the MIC the WWII moment was crucial because it gave sanction and common cause to a reorientation of the entire economy onto a war footing. The engine of U.S. manufacturing was geared towards building an army and supplying it with the resources necessary to overcome aggression in two separate global theaters of war. The nation was well-equipped to do this in many ways because of the rich resource base it had to draw on, but the fact remains that the role of the U.S. military and defense spending would take on a completely different tone in the pre and post-war periods.
A similar story is played out with the Manhattan Project and the truly extraordinary lengths that the government made in unlocking the secret power of nuclear technology. In this context the energy and skill of America's best minds were put to the task of translating the stuff of pure speculative theory into destructive reality. Declassified records reveal that even though the project was top secret it was given all clearances to spend as much as needed to insure that the bomb come to fruition. Of course, there were no guarantees that the project would work as envisioned by the scientists at Los Alamos, and this inverse relationship of enormous expense to unclear outcome set a precedent for future planning and spending undertaken by the MIC. This is significant because of the dark doors it opens on defense thinking. With the enormous cost of the Manhattan Project one conjecture that can be made is that the bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were inevitable, as those holding the purse springs needed to see that the enormous expense was justified (particularly in the context of a potential division with tenuous WWII ally, Russia). It also reveals another important layer of the MIC which can just as easily be labeled a military-industrial-academic complex in the sheer amount of creative and analytic energy it demands.
Finally, the WWII moment is a crucial lens for reflecting on the MIC in gaining a better understanding of how the enormous local and regional economies that developed with wartime spending came to grow and rely on continued federal spending in the post-war context. With a returning generation of fighting men on the home front an entrenched MIC provided needed jobs which were often sited around another ubiquitous post-war symbol, the subdivision. Creating space, maintaining peace, and growing jobs became primary justifications for the massive increases in federal defense spending that would explode in the post-WWII context. These fears and desires were ably stoked with the fuel of a new Cold War paranoia with Russia, and it is here that the much witnessed rhetoric of “national security” gained something of the dimensions associated with it today.
WWII was global in every sense of the word, leaving few nations untouched or immune to its horrors. It is a pivotal moment in human history, and a clear line of demarcation. The United States that emerged on the other side was strikingly different from the one that had entered in many ways, and a burgeoning MIC was one telling measure of these differences. It is to this troublesomely elusive concept of an MIC (and its implications) that we now turn.
Counters of the MIC
Wrapping solid descriptions around something as nebulous and moving as the MIC proves exceeding difficult. It wasn’t born out of a specific set of policy decisions or a unified agenda from a central source. Yet, in its growth and pervasiveness it has come to leave identifiable marks on everyday life, both in the U.S. and internationally. The following sections will attempt to identify and explore contours of the modern MIC. Such an analysis will reveal that the MIC is both remarkably different from the shape of U.S. military and defense prior to WWII and that it has had significant impact on shaping the world around us. In effect the MIC has emerged organically from a number of disparate choices and circumstances and built an ecology unto itself that demands attention and understanding. This paper proposes will address the most common critiques cited against the MIC, and posit that a new method of analysis centered on the ecology of the MIC is needed in raising awareness. It is from an increase in awareness that a politically active citizenry might act in making decisions that will steer the future course of MIC development.
The most obvious and telling line of demarcation in tracing the growth of the MIC is in U.S. military organization and the role the nation has taken on military issues internationally in the 20th century. For much of the first half of the century American military forces remained relatively small and the country pursued different policies that reinforced an image of isolationism on the world stage. The United States was slow in joining military operations in World War I and looked to policies of financial and diplomatic support for allied forces when WWII began. However, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the nation entered into active combat and as previously discussed, the gears of economy were soon put to the task of war. The fact that the U.S. was able to draw on its rich natural environment coupled with the fact that the destruction associated with war never came to the U.S. home front help explain two of the ways in which the earliest roots of the MIC were allowed to grow. The U.S. and Soviet Union emerged from WWII as the worlds most obvious superpowers, and the subsequent Cold War that grew between them is crucial in understanding the reorientation of U.S. military thinking. This is most clearly seen in the passage of National Security Act of 1947 which acted to completely reorganize U.S. military operations under the newly created Department of Defense (DoD). This is the portal through which money and influence could be channeled to completely remake the U.S. military, placing massive public funds to both weapons development and procurement as well as towards an expansive and multi-faceted standing army. Its existence throughout eras of relative peace was unlike anything the nation had seen before. And just as important to this was the active agents of industry that the military found in advancing its multitude of agendas. These were unlikely partnerships born out of the desperate moments of war that would go on to become the crucial component of a deeply entrenched MIC
When the union of military and industry began to take deep root in the immediate post-war period a disturbing trend was observed that helps explain how the two enterprises became so mutually reinforcing in their vision and decision making. This trend has come to be labeled the “revolving door” of the MIC, and is defined by the way in which many top military officials over time have left the sphere of public service and immediately found high-level work in the private defense contracting sector. In a December 26, 2010 issue the Boston Globe ran a troubling story revealing how pervasive this revolving door MIC culture has become. According to that report, “from 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives.” Furthermore, “thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense roles — nearly 90 percent.” The influence and insight that retiring top-level military officials bring to the private realm of defense contracting can’t be discounted, and helps underscore one of the ways in which the MIC has become so pervasively ingrained in everyday life.
Another important area in which an expansive MIC has come to hold a pervasive influence on everyday life is in both the reorientation of local economies (via acts of Congress) to facilitate MIC growth in particular regions, as well as the reconfiguration of space to accommodate MIC operations. With the massive amount of spending that can come with basing and facilitating private defense companies in local areas Congressional representatives over time have often worked actively in insuring that these industries (and their dollars) come to their locals. These projects have traditionally acted to both spur growth in regional economies (who become dependent on a particular arm of the MIC to maintain everyday life) and entrench the MIC throughout the nation.
With the military buildup that occurred after WWII and throughout the Cold War a reorientation of space has also occurred, with the operation of large scale military bases scattered across the landscape. A case study of this is seen in Hill Air Force Base in the Clearfield region of Utah (thirty miles north of Salt Lake). Opened as Hill Field in 1940 this base became a crucial strategic independent air force base for multiple military agencies throughout the latter 20th century. Hill AFB serviced as both a storage area for military equipment as well as a coordination location between multiple regional military hubs that grew up in the wake of WWII (and helped sustain the MIC) such as Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and the Tooele Proving Grounds in Dugway, Utah. Slowly over time the area around Hill AFB has been populated with suburban and commercial development (not an uncommon site around the country), further complicating the relationship between military, business, and civilians. Today much of the local regional economy of the Clearfield, Layton, and Ogden areas have become dependent on military spending and investment in Hill AFB, and the base reflects much of a larger national dynamic that is complicit with the growth of the MIC in the latter 20th century.
And as Chip Ward explains in Canaries on the Rim, many of these MIC landscapes are far from benign. Tying into a larger national rhetoric that has designated much of the Western U.S. as wasteland for military exploitation an investigation of the MIC shows how both places and people have often born the brunt of MIC activities in the West. Examples include experimentation that has taken place at Dugway, the heavy industrial efforts of MagCorp near the shores of the Great Salt Lake, and the nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) that created a generation of exposed downwinders. With their heavy reliance on civilian staff and private contractors (in addition to military personnel) these dark spaces on the landscape clearly reflect the MIC in full flower, with impacts felt both immediately in the environment and long-term writ large on the health of locally impacted communities. Of course, the MIC isn’t a brainless behemoth. Rather it is has traditionally been a highly coordinated effort that often draws on the best intellectual energy the nation has to offer, and it is to this dynamic aspect that we now turn.
Military Educational Complex
While the main currency fueling the Cold War were ideological divides the true fuel in spurring it forward was the sheer amount of intellectual energy and capital in both the U.S. and Soviet Russia. In America the MIC at its earliest inception had a deep connection with the world of higher education, namely through the Manhattan Project initiative. Through marshaling the best scientific minds the nation had to offer rapid advances were made. With the explosion of the first atomic bomb over the Jornada Del Muerto desert of New Mexico on July 16, 1945, the risk/reward of investment to return on utilizing academia in this way was given precedent. Over the ensuing decades the MIC would draw on the nation’s intellectual reserves in a myriad of ways, entrenching the MIC in yet another important part of American life.
Perhaps the most obvious place to see this relationship in action is through the creation of both the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and the Livermore Lab in Berkeley. Both of these institutions were backed by government spending while simultaneously managed by the University of California at Berkeley. Leadership and oversight in this schematic is difficult to separate, but what is clear is that the advances made at both laboratories in the post-WWII era were crucial in helping build and maintain U.S. atomic weapons program (and facilitate the stockpiling of nuclear weapons in the Cold War with Russia). This current of MIC coupling with academia is still readily observable today in the form of grants that are made available to colleges and universities. Often the most desirable and competitive of these are in fields that have some passing interest to military research and development.
But at the same time a compelling case can be made that while this relationship has the potential to be highly suspect it has also produced benefits to society. These benefits may be purely reactionary, for example the gaining of a better understanding of radiation and how to monitor and detect its presence based on the use of dangerous nuclear technologies. But others are more complex. Take for example the massive reaction that took place after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The immediate reaction from U.S. military strategists was that the real motivation for Sputnik wasn’t to probe the mysteries of space, but rather to initiate an effective intercontinental ballistic missile program. Reactions to the event effectively produced the NASA program, and helped fuel a “space race” that had definite ties to the MIC. The same rockets developed to lift space ships past Earth’s gravitational pull could also be used to rapidly deliver thermonuclear warheads to any point on the planet. However, for as terrifying as the byproduct of space exploration might be the benefits it has had for society cannot easily be discounted. The moon landing in 1969 was a galvanizing moment in the nation’s history, at a moment of deep social unrest. And if the esteemed physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is to be believed, it was the wonder and excitement produced by the national space program that helped fuel a generation of inquisitive scientists, doctors and engineers, each of whom have helped transform the world around us in meaningful and positive ways.
Of course, the MIC wasn’t solely reliant on NASA for developing theoretical approaches and experiments that could be co-opted for military use. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the Department of Defense is among the most compelling component parts of the MIC. DARPA has been tasked with the assignment of creatively thinking about ways to improve MIC efficiencies and weaknesses. It has produced a list of failures that read like events from a science fiction novel (such as the events popularized in the film Men Who Stare at Goats), while simultaneously producing groundbreaking advances like the prototype upon which the Internet has been constructed. Any analysis of the MIC needs to eventually turn to its expansive R&D arm and the ways in which advances in that arena have been put into civilian culture, transforming it in dramatic ways. It is into this world of a rapidly technologically advancing culture fueled by MIC advances that we now tread.
Military R&D Complex
The most compelling piece of evidence of both the growth of America’s MIC and its spread into all facets of modern living is witnessed in the sheer breadth and diversity of private companies who draw on Department of Defense dollars in the name of research and development. Such a list reveals major MIC players like Lockheed Martin and DuPont sitting alongside other well known brands as disparate as Apple, Sony, and Proctor and Gamble. Granted, the funds distributed by military spending may not have gone directly into the development of products that were then marketed for consumer demand. The larger point however is that these companies have grown from an influx of public money, hopelessly complicating and blurring the lines between the private sector and government.
In addition to the pervasive ways in which public money has aided various industry and corporate interests, another frame of analysis for how pervasive the MIC has become in shaping culture comes through an assessment of the complex public relations effort that the Department of Defense has made to improve public perception of the military. This includes both the obvious advertising efforts that glorify soldiers and the virtues presumably imparted by military service, as well as more subtle means. For example, massive amounts of DoD money have been spent on developing war simulation games, designed by private software design firms who then take the game engines and retrofit them for public consumption. Helped by incredible advances in technology these games have become a pervasive part of American culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and the impact they have had on public perception of the military is worth considering. Similarly the DoD has also partnered over time with major movie production studios, offering money, locations, and equipment to tell stories that again play an important role in shaping public awareness of the military and its role in everyday life. Films such as Top Gun, Navy Seals, and Transformers have benefited heavily from the availability of resources that can be directly linked to an MIC apparatus, and their widespread success should give pause in determining the popular culture perception of the government and military in everyday life.
The Ecology of the MIC: New Methods for Analysis
Scholarship focused on analyzing and critiquing the MIC has tended to focus on particular arguments against its ongoing existence. These have tended to include an argument that the MIC is fundamentally grounded on a “merchants of death” premise and that as long as the pivotal figures involved are making money on the fear, suffering, and death of others the MIC will remain devastating, intractable, and war-driven. Another common critique of the MIC is that it has become hopelessly large and bloated, consistently drawing on a resource base of public funding to the detriment of other policies and programs. Evidence for both of these claims comes in many forms, but I propose that perhaps another way of approaching analysis and critique of an MIC that this paper has posited as deeply rooted in U.S. historical circumstance and wide-ranging in influence is to analyze the ecosystem that has grown up around the MIC. In this way we can better understand the fruits of MIC (both positive and negative) as well as untangle the ways in which it is intimately linked to a society that reflects its basic unsustainability.
One place to begin is in grappling with the flora and fauna of MIC, namely the products and advances that have been born of its R&D. Parsing these out is extremely difficult but the point remains that while most efforts have resulted in growing the apparatus, several have had crucial significance in transforming the everyday life of global citizens. The most obvious example of this is the Internet which grew out of early work on creating a decentralized network under DARPA. In assessing the “fruits and branches” of MIC in this way it becomes easier to trace its deep influence on daily living as well as make informed decisions on what products born of the MIC have enduring value (and should be built upon with future grants and capital resources).
Another means of assessing and attempting to parcel out the complex webs slung by the MIC on all parts of culture involves framing the web of interconnected MIC networks as the trophic cascades readily seen in the natural world. A most obvious place to see this is in the power exchanges and interactions between regional locations that have become dependent on MIC spending and the ways in which political interests move to insure and protect these exchanges. Such a method of analysis would help better understand the ways in which decisions can have large scale impacts that are felt throughout the connected web of MIC and its constantly flowing energies.
Ultimately a strong argument can be made that the ecosystem of the MIC is wholly unsustainable, and that in fact it has grown in direct proportion to the (perhaps unconscious) fact that the way of life it protects as currently constituted is likewise unsustainably geared. One can argue that the ecology of the MIC is a terminal one, with vivid examples that show antithesis to the regulating systems one would expect to see in any other ecology. In 2012 the National Journal published an article citing the ramifications of the DoD utilizing public money to help bail-out various defense industries who haven't kept pace with the changing circumstance of a post-Cold War world. In effect the DoD has helped foster an MIC apparatus in which certain component parts have become too big to fail (to the detriment of the whole).
Similarly another ongoing critique of the MIC is the ways in which it creates and fosters a culture of waste and want. This is seen in both unnecessary expenditures for which the Pentagon is often chastised, as well as the fact that the DoD has managed to remain autonomous and powerful enough to avoid the types of internal auditing procedures that are routinely placed on all other parts of the government bureaucracy. Again, so often charges directed in this way are met up against the rhetoric of national security and secrecy which have become a form of passable currency for MIC proponents and defenders.
A final method offered by this ecological analysis of the MIC again shows how deeply it is rooted in a particular way of human living that has been short-lived on the Earth and is ultimately unsustainable. This is the heavy reliance on fossil fuel and extractive resources that fuel and drive MIC actions, whether it is weapons and technology development or the massive moving of infrastructure, troops, and the like when the war-making arm of the MIC is engaged. Currently the U.S. military stands as the world's largest single user of petrochemical resources. In effect a massive amount of resource is being utilized to protect a way of living almost entirely dependent on the continued massive use of resources. Analyzing the MIC apparatus from this ecologically driven perspective again provides an insight and critique of the MIC that has often been lacking in other modes of analysis. But ultimately while the ecology of the MIC has grown rapidly over the 20th century, it is a human driven system capable of change and possible improvement.
Conclusion: Symbols on the Landscape
Twenty-five miles outside of Tucson, Arizona, buried beneath sand and saguaro lays the ruins of a Titan II Missile silo. Between 1962 and 1982 this site was one in a constellation of similar structures, each solely engineered to incite potential apocalypse. Today tourists can wander these Cold War ruins and see firsthand the massive efforts that a Cold War fueled MIC carved into desert bedrock. The structures themselves are antiquated. The complex computer systems that used to drive this place could now exist in a smart phone. Again, the products of MIC color an experience, providing witness to an unceasing drive to create and improve on creation (in this case making technology smarter, smaller, and faster). This and other sites like it across the country will serve as the long-term evidence of America's MIC, as well as a grim psychological reminder of the psychic costs that the greatest conflict never fought had on our society. For today, as Richard Slotkin notes, “we are in the process of giving up a myth/ideology that no longer helps us see our way through the modern world, but lack a comparably authoritative system of beliefs to replace what we have lost” (654).
To the west winds blow across the Nevada Test Site, the primary proving grounds for the nuclear program that did more to impact human existence on this planet than any other military endeavor to date. With the national moratorium on weapons testing that came in 1993 this is a space in transition. Because of the toxic byproducts lacing the earth here it is unsuitable for commercial or residential transition. Instead, in true MIC fashion the land is once again being recalibrated to fit a need that exists somewhere between the blurred nexus of military and industry. Today the government leases portions of the NTS to private companies who can test any number of rockets and explosions under the relentless Nevada sun. It is a transition that has gone mostly unnoticed by the public at large, but aids tremendously in fueling the continued growth and stability of America's MIC.
In his January 17, 1961 farewell speech to the nation, outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to articulate the phrase “military industrial complex” and it is his phrasing that has been popularized into cultural thought. Of course, his warning about an MIC is at almost complete odds with his presidency which saw the largest buildup of military in country up to that point, in effect incubating the burgeoning MIC which would only strengthen and deepen over the 20th century. However, the fact that Eisenhower could see the potentially negative aspects of a powerful MIC is apparent in another part of his speech which offers a prescription for the perils of MIC. Chief among these is the need for an active and engaged citizenry who refuses to give their government a blank check or underwrite nefarious actions through willful ignorance. Of course, it might be argued that one of the great ironies of the MIC is that it has helped fuel the kinds of technological innovations and global connection that overwhelm the senses and make ignorance and/or passivity the safest response.
The need for an MIC can be debated ad naseum, but the truth of the matter is that in a global community, and with the unique circumstances seen in America, something like the MIC might have been potentially inevitable. America was born in war and that symbology has colored thinking of what this country means ever since. What isn't inevitable is its ongoing growth. What currently walks the landscape is a system out of balance. The symbolic bald eagle that marks U.S. currency today carries more spears than olive branches and in doing so helps to create circumstances in the global community that will ensure that we will continue to need a strong military. But as noted before, the MIC is human driven and subject to directed change. What if the system were brought into better harmony with capital and resources directed away from the exclusive MIC drain they currently flow into and put into other more humanitarian efforts. Would the need for the kind of MIC ecology we see today still exist? It begins with an engaged and active citizenry, one capable of understanding the MIC, its deep roots, and the potential for something better.
Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.
The Atomic Cafe. Dir. Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, & Pierce Rafferty. New Video Group, 1982.
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Crosby, Alfred. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Fox, William L. Aeriality. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009.
Fox, William L. Playa Works: The Myth of the Empty. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002.
Fox, William L. The Void, the Grid, & the Sign: Traversing the Great Basin. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000.
Fradkin, Philip L. Fallout. Boulder: Johnson Books, 2004.
Goin, Peter. Nuclear Landscapes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Hevly, Bruce and John M. Findlay. The Atomic West. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998.
Kuletz, Valerie L. The Tainted Desert: Environmental Ruin in the American West. New York: Routledge, 1998.
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Ledbetter, James. Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
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The Utah State Archives is pleased to announce that the historic Territorial Second District Court case file pertaining to the trial and conviction of John D. Lee for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre has been digitized and posted online on the Digital Archives.
The records in this case file cover Lee’s first trial that began in July 1875 and ended in a hung jury, as well as the subsequent second trial where blame for the massacre was placed squarely on Lee, which led to his conviction and a sentence of death by firing squad.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred in September 1857. The Baker-Fancher emigrant party, traveling through Utah on their way to California (from Arkansas), was attacked by members of the local Iron County Militia and some local Paiute Indians. The emigrants fought back and a five day siege ensued. On the fifth day members of the wagon train were lured out under a banner of truce and massacred under orders from local militia leaders. All told one hundred and twenty men, women, and children over the age of seven were slaughtered. Seventeen infants and young children were spared and taken into the homes of local Mormon families (before eventually being united with extended family members outside of Utah).
For nearly two decades no one was brought to justice for the crimes committed at Mountain Meadows. The official story from Mormon officials became that the massacre was conducted solely by local Paiute Indians. Prior to the massacre John D. Lee had been a prominent pioneer in building up the Mormon communities of Southern Utah, but after a federal judge began investigating the massacre in 1858 he went into hiding.
By 1870 pressure was mounting on Federal officials to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. At this time Lee was officially excommunicated from the LDS Church and given instruction by Brigham Young to make himself scarce in Northern Arizona.
With passage of the Poland Act in 1874, Mormon control over the Territorial justice system was loosened. John D. Lee was arrested and brought to trial in the Second Territorial District Court in Beaver.
The case records that are now online from series 24291 trace the procedural history of the Lee trials. During the first trial the prosecution attempted to pin blame for the Mountain Meadows Massacre largely on the Mormon hierarchy, with Brigham Young as a central figure. In spite of the defense offering an often incoherent narrative of the massacre, the jury of eight Mormon’s, one former Mormon, and three non-Mormon’s ended up hung (with all but the three non-Mormon’s voting to acquit).
The second trial of John D. Lee was radically different from the first. The prosecution pinned blame for the events at Mountain Meadows squarely on Lee, and contended that Lee was the driving force behind planning and carrying out the execution. Resigned to the fact that he was being made a scapegoat for the massacre at Mountain Meadows, Lee requested that no defense be made on his behalf. He was ultimately found guilty of first degree murder by an all-Mormon jury. On March 28, 1877, John D. Lee was taken to Mountain Meadows where he was executed by firing squad. His body was then taken to Panguitch, Utah for burial.
This April will mark the 36th anniversary of the Thistle Disaster of 1983-1984. Thistle was originally the name of a town located at the junction of Highway 89 and Highway 6 up Spanish Fork Canyon. It became the name used to describe a massive mudslide which created a natural dam across the Spanish Fork River and destroyed the town of Thistle (along with large sections of railroad lines and highways).
The story began in April 1983 when, after unusually heavy precipitation, Utah Department of Transportation crews responded to reports that shifting earth had left huge cracks in U.S. Highway 6. Not long after a giant mudslide, moving at 6-18 inches an hour, dumped more than one million cubic yards of earth over the highway and destroyed the Denver and Rio Grande western railroad line through Thistle. Highway crews were unable to save either the road or the tracks as the mud mountain continued its descent from early April into May.
The massive slide created a natural dam across the Spanish Fork River, and the dam in turn created Thistle Lake, which completely submerged and destroyed the town of Thistle. The U.S. Corp of Engineers, the Utah National Guard, and construction workers from many companies joined UDOT workers in response to the Thistle slide. Efforts to control the slide turned to reconstruction of rail and roadways, and creation of a drainage tunnel to help bring down Thistle Lake.
Several years back I had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative effort with fellow archivists from USU and SUU to build an online exhibit of various records and record collections relating to the history along Highway 89. One of my contributions was a collection of photographs of the Thistle disaster, taken in real time by the Utah Department of Transportation’s staff photographer. Recently I revisited that online exhibit and curated some photos that document the disaster as it was unfolding. Enjoy!
This past Friday, January 04, Utah celebrated its 123rd birthday as the 45th state in the Union. Statehood Day usually goes by with little celebration unless it happens to fall on an anniversary or the same day as an inauguration. At the Utah State Archives we decided to do our part by putting together a small program and original record show-and-tell in the State Capitol. Prepping for it gave me the chance to brush up on some of my early Utah history, and I wanted to dedicate this blog post to the history and records that led to Utah’s statehood.
Utah’s long and weird path to statehood began when the first Mormon migrants entered the valley and laid down settlements in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Within two years this small group submitted the first of what would eventually become seven (!) applications for statehood. The Federal Congress took one look at Utah’s 1849 petition to create the State of Deseret and determined that there were too few people residing in too large of a proposed area for statehood status. The congress did take the step, however, of granting territorial status on Utah which allowed for the creation of territorial government, and a territorial delegate to represent the new Utah Territory in Washington D.C.
As time past, more and more of the territorial appointments in the new Utah Territory were given to outsider, non-Mormons. This led to resentments among the Mormon population of Utah, which, coupled with a growing non-Mormon population brought to the territory by mining, immigration, and the railroad led to renewed attempts to petition the feds for statehood status. Petitions were made in 1856, 1862, 1872, 1882, and 1887. All met the same fate in being denied, primarily because of the ongoing practice of polygamy among Mormons in the territory.
The list of Federal legislation targeting polygamy is nearly as long as the number of failed applications for statehood. It includes the Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, the Poland Act of 1874, the Edmunds Act of 1882, and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. This last piece of legislation was the most far-reaching in its attempt to end polygamy and break up the power of the LDS Church in the Utah Territory. It upped fines and jail sentences for those found guilty of polygamy. It dissolved the corporation of the LDS Church and confiscated all church property valued over $50,000. It created new layers of territorial government targeted directly at breaking apart the nebulous ties between church and state in the territory. And, interestingly, it ended women’s suffrage in the Utah Territory, which had passed by popular vote in 1870.
Anti-polygamy sentiment manifested itself in other areas as well. In 1879, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds vs U.S. that the practice of polygamy as fulfillment of a sacred duty was not protected by the 1st amendment. With Edmunds-Tucker, the U.S. Marshall and his deputies in the territory began enforcing the new law and its strict penalties leading to mass arrest and incarcerations of known polygamists. Idaho was granted statehood in 1890 with a state constitution that featured a provision specifically targeted at keeping practicing polygamists from voting or holding office. With the church in dire straights, and on the verge of financial collapse, LDS church president, Wilford Woodruff, responded with an 1890 manifesto against the continued practice or preaching of polygamy.
By the time of the Woodruff Manifesto, the demographics in Utah had changed radically from the misfit band of Mormon settlers who had first entered the valley in 1847. With the assumed collapse of polygamy (spoiler: it took years for it to really leave the church), and the real collapse of a political framework in the territory that had effectively created secular and sectarian political parties, the time was right for another attempt at statehood.
In December 1893 the territorial delegate for Utah, Joseph L. Rawlins, recommended a bill for Utah statehood in the Federal Congress. It passed both chambers, which led to President Grover Cleveland signing the enabling act for Utah statehood on July 16, 1894. The enabling act authorized the people of the territory to: elect delegates to a state constitutional convention; draft a state constitution; and elect officials to fill roles within a new state government framework.
In November 1894 the process was started with the election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. The constitutional convention met in the Salt Lake City and County Building between March 4th and May 8th of 1895, and produced Utah’s State Constitution. Interesting facets of this founding document include a provision that forever prohibits the practice of polygamy in the state, a guarantee of perfect toleration of all religious sentiment, a call for schools to remain free of sectarian control, and a provision restoring women’s suffrage within the new state.
In the November election of 1895 the people of Utah voted to ratify the new state constitution and elected officials to serve in newly proposed state offices. The Utah Commission certified the election results and made a formal recommendation for statehood to Federal officials in Washington. Utah entered the Union as the 45th state when President Grover Cleveland signed the Utah Statehood Proclamation on January 4, 1896. When news of the signing was received businesses shut down and there were celebrations in the street. Two days later, on January 6th, formal celebrations took place with the swearing in, and inaugural address, of Utah’s first statehood governor, Heber M. Wells.
Ellsworth, G. (n.d.). Utah’s Road to Statehood. Retrieved January 3, 2019, https://archives.utah.gov/community/exhibits/Statehood/intronew.htm
Haddock, Marc. January 4, 2010. Utah Remembers Its Roots With Statehood Day. Retrieved January 3, 2019, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/705355950/Utah-remembers-its-roots-with-Statehood-Day.html
Munson, H. January 4, 2013. Utah’s Very Interesting Path to Statehood. Retrieved January 3, 2019, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/utahs-very-interesting-path-to-statehood
Part of an ongoing series that repurposes different ideas I explored as part of my graduate studies in the Environmental Humanities.
Wide Open Spaces:
Exploring Varying Conceptions of Place in the Western Film Genre
The small southern Utah city of Kanab is in a state of slow moving flux. Located near the Utah-Arizona border this small enclave was once trumpeted as “the Hollywood of Utah.” Today the Little Hollywood Museum sits not far removed from the Parry Lodge which was built in 1931 to accommodate Hollywood production companies and actors who trekked in to tell stories reliant on the unique red rock landscape that surround this place. But times have changed and despite an identifiable civic pride in the towns colorful history Hollywood doesn't visit this dusty corner of the southwest very often anymore. Instead, like most of Utah, Kanab’s economy has become increasingly reliant on the tourist dollars spent by recreational pleasure-seekers who have found it to be a handy stop in between Bryce Canyon (to the North), Zion Canyon (to the West), and the Grand Canyon (to the South). Movie memories in the form of photographs and mixed pieces of ephemera hang on the walls of several local businesses, but even these sites are giving way to the chain restaurants, hotels, and other assorted services that tend to grow rapidly in the wake of industrial tourism. In its own way this small Utah town provides a powerful example of the shifting and transitory nature of place.
Sense of Place and the “Old West”
Exploring the divides between how place exists not only as a geographic, physically bound area but also as location for ascribed human value is of central interest to environmental criticism. Conceptually place has a variety of built in assumptions and implications. Theoretical treatments of place open dialogues and debate to a number of questions and issues in need of consideration. Without firm place-based attachments do people miss out on something essential to the human experience? How does place as a concept continue to hold value in the face of mass migrations and meshing of humans and cultures that have acted to blur formerly held boundaries in our globalized world? And what does place truly mean in the context of a highly constructed and visual culture?
Many ecocritical approaches acknowledge the broadness and multiplicity of place, and it is often positioned against the idea of space as a way of framing. Lawrence Buell offers one general conceptualization wherein space merely exists as environment that lacks any ascribed human meaning. In this sense “up to a point, world history is a history of space becoming place” (63). This anthropocentric view presents place as a subjective phenomena. Because of this place must reckon with temporal forces that keep it from being a static “thing” and instead render it inherently unstable. As time passes place is subject to change and a centrally located issue becomes how it retains its relevancy in the face of inevitable alteration. Edward Casey argues that places are “something in process, something unconfinable to a thing. Or to a simple location. Place is all over the place, not just here or there, but everywhere” (337). An obvious point here is that regardless of its specific conception there are uniquely human feelings, ideas, and emotions tied to the development of a sense of place. This is to say that place has something uniquely human ascribed to it that acts to differentiate it from any other place (or space) on the planet.
But what of this issue of living in a wholly unique time in the history of our species when (via technology) we are able to “visit” and conceptualize places that we never actually enter into physically? And what to make of places that even more sinisterly have never truly existed? It is an issue that takes on special import within a globalized context. This blurring of boundaries that comes with globalized living troubles the issue of place further. In his argument for more versatile and adept conceptions of nature and ecocriticism, Timothy Morton pays specific attention to the idea of place as it has been traditionally understood in ecocritical thinking. Morton’s meditation leads him to wonder “what if globalization…revealed that place was never very coherent in the first place?” (170). This idea takes on special resonance in a world where the primacy of visual images in discourse has become increasingly ubiquitous. In a global context, (where images and ideas find immediate, widespread use) one critical question becomes what kinds of places are finding their way into the cultural imagination?
Films from the Western genre serve as a unique opportunity to explore this issue of place and some of its potential ramifications in a global setting. Western films are unique in their construction in that they are situated in a specific temporal location, but generally have little else to with the complex historical realities that lay at the heart of the place or time they are conveying. Being both ahistorical and simulacra, the Western genre has offered writers and filmmakers a wide pallet on which to paint their ideas. Central to this argument is the unique role environment plays in Western film narrative. As Lee Clark Mitchell points out “the landscape celebrated consistently in the Western [offers] opportunity for renewal...it always signals freedom to achieve some truer state of humanity” (5). In this respect the Western has a facet similar to many forms of nature writing that focus on particular insights and epiphanies that are assumed to only come through a retreat from civilization and a return to corporeal contact with nature. Furthermore Mitchell argues that “the joining of body and landscape persists as a central dynamic of the Western...because it helps define an ideal of masculinity” (173). But through this fusing of environment, characters, and ideals the Western place become a culturally constructed area riddled with a variety of conflicts and issues worthy of consideration.
Under critical assessment troubling questions about this culturally constructed “Old West” arise. Do the touchstone films of the Western genre convey certain shared values such as self-sufficiency, pragmatism, and heroic (mostly male) virtue? Or do these films perpetuate myths of white male dominance and the inevitability of Westward expansion? Do Western films offer an idea of “progress” that acts to justify and perpetuate hegemonic beliefs that are of central concern to many environmental and social justice theories? Contrasting the modernist film making of John Ford with that of postmodernist Sergio Leone demonstrates some of the central issues that trouble this idea of Western place. As important cultural touchstones they also provide a springboard into the analysis of contemporary projects that deal in many of the same tropes, environments, and ideas and force us to more deeply consider the complexity of place construction and whether or not they are truly areas we should esteem as a source of shared cultural value.
John Ford and Monument Valley
The malleability of place and its fractured implications are on full display in the Western films of John Ford. Over the course of a career that spanned six decades, and produced 54 Westerns, Ford relied heavily on the dramatic landscapes and natural architecture of Monumental Valley (on the southeastern Utah-Arizona border). As the distinctive landscape came to play a recurring character throughout his Western films a question becomes how iconic and fixed they are in the public's mind as the primary environment of “the West.” That Ford was fully cognizant of the importance of the geographically fixed Monument Valley in the construction of his narratives is evident when he states, “I think you can say that the real star of my Westerns has always been the land…I have been all over the world, but I consider [Monument Valley] the most complete, beautiful and peaceful place on Earth” (qtd. in Florence 37). This thread was picked up and perpetuated further by Ford's biographer, Andrew Sinclair, who wrote that “the landscape is truly part of Ford's technique in translating the Western into legend” (D'Arc 208). But obviously a cinematic narrative is not just a series of fixed images, and it is the thorny junction of environment, characters, attitudes, and events that become fertile ground for ecocriticism and social justice theory.
That John Ford was a modernist filmmaker is revealed in his reliance on narratives that convey a “grand narrative” that assumes the implicit rightness and progress of its protagonists. One way to conceptualize the meanings and motivations of Ford in this context is to consider three separate films that rely on the distinctive environment of Monument Valley as situated environment. Examining Fort Apache (1948), The Searchers (1956), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) provides evidence of the troubled and conflicting aspects of John Ford's culturally constructed "West."
Fort Apache is a loose adaptation of the historical loss suffered by General George Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn. Starring Henry Fonda and John Wayne the film tells the story of brash Colonel Owen Thursday (Fonda) who oversees a U.S. Calvary unit in a mythical Western setting fabricated in Monument Valley. His low opinion of the neighboring Apache tribe and refusal to listen to the experienced advice of Captain York (played by Wayne) eventually leads to conflict and a suicidal military order that gets many of his men killed in battle. The film is unique in its portrayal of the hostile Indian nation as being something slightly more nuanced than violent savages, as they end up sparing the life of York who they esteem as an honorable warrior. However, the ultimate motivation of the film is not to provide critique of the complex and troubled relationship between U.S. military forces and Indian tribes, but rather a glorification of the regiments who died in battle. In this way it conveys a sense of the inevitable “rightness” of U.S. military expansion in the West and perpetuates a frontier myth that has deep, troubling roots in American culture.
Made eight years after Fort Apache in the same Monument Valley locale, The Searchers is far more disturbing in its overtly racist sentiment toward Indians. It stars John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a man on a mission to hunt down a Comanche raiding party who has kidnapped his niece (Natalie Wood). Over the course of his five year search he has determined that the point of his mission is not rescue, but rather to kill the niece who he assumes has been fully assimilated into the Indian way of life. He is joined in his search by an adopted nephew Martin (Jeffery Hunter) who is part Indian. The overt racism exhibited by the Edwards character, particularly positioned against the attitudes of his young nephew, speak to the racially divisive context of 1950's America in which the film was made. Ford's portrayal of Indians in this film is far from nuanced or sophisticated which is fairly ironic as Ford was inducted as an honorary member of the Navajo tribe during its filming (D'Arc 217). At the end of the film Edwards rescues his niece and returns her to her family before walking off into the wilderness while a door literally (and metaphorically) slams shut on his receding image. This last shot is conflicted in its message, particularly in light of Ford's quoted views on Indian conflict. One could argue that in this final image Ford is making a comment that the attitudes and ideas of an elder generation portrayed by Wayne are coming to an end. However, Ford himself seems to refute this reading when he states, “the Indian didn't welcome the white man...and he wasn't diplomatic. We were enemies and we fought. The fight against the Indian was fundamental to the story of the West” (qtd. in Libby 286). Such a position speaks to a limited conception of the true cost of Westward expansion as well as the complicated historical context that lead to conflict. But, as Ford had a unique means to convey his particular beliefs and attitudes in the rhetorically forceful combination of word and image (and that said product has found international audience within a globalized context) the troubling implication of Western place becomes all the more significant.
Finally consider the curious example of Cheyenne Autumn which doubles as the final Western film Ford directed. It tells the story of a Cheyenne Indian tribe moving from a reservation in Oklahoma back to their ancestral lands in Wyoming. The U.S government perceives this move as an act of aggression and the film becomes an interesting commentary on failed U.S. policies toward Indian tribes as well as something of a departure for Ford in his usual treatment of Indians. Cast in a much more sympathetic light the Indians of this film are tragic figures that come closer to representing the noble savage trope that has a long history of use in the Western literary tradition. Traditionally the noble savage is a member of a vanishing (or lost) civilization who is imagined as having fundamental insights into ways of living peacefully and in harmony with each other (and nature) that have been lost in the face of colonial conquest and the march of progress. Positioned against the attitudes conveyed in Ford’s earlier films Cheyenne Autumn stands distinctively apart. And with the iconic landscape of Monument Valley once again serving as background it creates a very different conception of place than that provided by either Fort Apache or the Searchers.
So, what do these examples show about the modernist vision of John Ford’s West? Critic Jon Tuska contends that one of Ford's greatest flaws is found in his troubling treatment of Indians and the way “he couched his racism behind a facade of apparent paternalism” (61). By relying on members of the Navajo tribe in Monument Valley to fill in an assortment of Indian roles in his films one could argue that Ford's interest had absolutely nothing to do with conveying the customs and complexity of indigenous culture in a historically accurate sense. Another criticism that can be leveled at Western films in general (and Ford specifically) is their uneven treatment of women. Positioned against virtuous, heroic male characters Tuska argues that “that the roles assigned to women have been invariably prescriptive. All we can learn about women from the vast majority of Western films is what roles the patriarchy felt they ought to play, and nothing at all of the roles they really did play on the frontier” (235). However, these challenges to Ford are balanced against the technical skill and ability he had in creating “pictorial splendor and images of memorable composition and striking beauty” (Tuska 61). This visual component is certainly under heavy consideration in understanding how these stirring images and ideas have constructed and maintained a certain perspective of the West as a specific place in the cultural imagination.
John Ford’s West is unique in that it is a place of numerous characters and ideas often positioned against the same unchanging backdrop of Monument Valley. Critical analysis opens his films to the question of whether his portrayals reflect the rugged individualism, pragmatism, and self-reliance often associated with the Western hero. Or do said portrayals feed into Western hegemonic assumptions about assumed power relationships (between both sexes and cultures). Furthermore, in his treatment of native populations does Ford perpetuate a myth that reinforces the “rightness” of white settlement in the West? These are all troubling questions that suggest how the kinds of place presented in the Western film genre are conflicted and open for valuable ecocritical analysis.
Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western
Now consider the examples of a West in which the same formal elements and conventions that are a hallmark of Ford are used in wildly different ways (and in exotically distinctive locales). The spaghetti Westerns of Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone provides a premium example for comparison. As Neil Campbell posits in The Rhizomatic West, Leone's work provides a clear turn towards postmodern film making in the Western genre. Working outside of the American Hollywood system afforded Leone the opportunity to create Western film narratives that are familiar in their design but wildly different in their meaning and implications, in effect “creating rich and playful texts that...delve into and analyze established ideologies, iconographies, and histories of the West” (119). One example of Leone's ability to create a fractured sense of seemingly recognizable place is found by contrasting the iconic actor he often relied on (Clint Eastwood) against the figure so often associated with John Ford (John Wayne). In such Ford films as Stagecoach (1939) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) the characters portrayed by John Wayne tend to demonstrate the rugged individualism and myth of heroic male virtue that are central to Ford's modernist vision. Balanced against the equally iconic Man With No Name characters portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the Leone classics A Fistful of Dollars 1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966), the central aims of Leone stand out in sharp relief. The characters of Eastwood are mysterious, ambiguous, and morally conflicted. “The Man” (Eastwood) often places his own needs and self-preservation over any assumed nobility or sense of community (both of which find resonance as tropes throughout the mythic Hollywood West).
Another point central to the argument of the ambiguity of place can be found in the simulacra environments of Leone that convey a place called North America, but that were in actual reality created an ocean away in areas of Spain and Italy. That these films have found reverberation with a worldwide audience and effectively convey a sense of the mythic North American West in question speaks to the shifty nature of place. This postmodern effect of knowingly twisting formal elements (such as environment) is played with to even greater effect by Leone in his masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). In this film he pays homage to the film making of Ford by traveling to America and utilizing many of the same environments that Ford drew upon (including Monument Valley). However, as Neil Campbell explains the use of this environment is done while telling a story that is both similar in form and completely different in tone and meaning to a classic Hollywood Western (123-129). In the film Henry Ford is cast as the villain (an ironic choice as he was the tragic hero Tom Joad in Ford’s 1940 Grapes of Wrath) who is found working for an unscrupulous railroad baron. The “progress” and “connections” associated with the railroad and its assumed virtue in helping settle the West is presented as a conflicting element in Once Upon a Time in the West and in this way it presents a complex example of a filmmaker creating a new vision of place with wildly different expectations and outcomes than the type that has deep roots in the American cultural imagination.
Working firmly outside of the Hollywood system offered Sergio Leone the opportunity to reimagine and reconstruct the West in provocative and powerful new ways. That Leone considered himself firmly outside the American context that produced traditional Westerns “permitted...a unique 'outside' vision to emerge” opening up “a critical dialogue asking questions about the West as history and representation” (Campbell 149). This “participation without belonging” afforded Leone the opportunity to establish dialogism with the Western film genre in which he borrowed key themes, imagery, and ideas while alternately employing them in ways that offer powerful critique to American attitudes and assumptions that lie at the heart of the formal Hollywood Western. His critiques seemingly embrace subversive attitudes toward the assumed virtue of the male hero, the promise of inevitable progress, and the prescribed roles of various groups including women and Indians. Lee Clark Mitchell contends that the films of Leone “clearly spoof the classic Hollywood Western” and that the genre provided him “with a recognizable structure that freed him to express a surreal sense of dismay at the genre” (239). In this respect the spaghetti Westerns of Italy provide a fractured sense of Western place that offer a variety of challenges to the kind constructed by American filmmakers like John Ford. The questioning, rebellious nature of Leone's film and the ways they subvert and challenge assumptions that underlie many Hollywood Westerns fit well into the chaotic social context of the 1960's in which they were produced. It can be argued that they have ultimately proven more enduring over time than their American counterparts, and it is the effects of this fractured West offered by Leone and how his postmodern reinterpretations have found echo in the contemporary popular culture that we now turn.
A central question becomes how the West has evolved and changed in the cultural imagination since the Westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone. While the genre has seemingly lost popularity (as evidenced by the sheer decline in the number of Westerns made on a year-to-year basis) the familiar forms and tropes continue to find use. One offbeat example of a deconstruction and mocking of the “Old West” imagined by filmmakers like John Ford is found in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy, Blazing Saddles. Filmed in California ten years after passage of the American Civil Rights Act, Blazing Saddles creates an ironic western place in which Bart (Cleavon Little), a black man, is made sheriff of the fictional town of Rockridge. The film ironically deconstructs notions of the rightness and inevitability of white progress and Westward expansion by portraying a black protagonist who ultimately proves wiser and more sophisticated than any singular white character in the film. In fact, the white characters of the film are largely portrayed as menacing brutes or bumbling idiots (while the Jewish Brooks makes one brief cameo as an Indian Chief!). In these ways Blazing Saddles presents a narrative that satirizes many of the assumptions and stereotypes that are central to copious American Western film narratives.
Another way to look at this twisting perpetuation of complex place is to turn to the Western films of Clint Eastwood, specifically his award-winning, Unforgiven (1992). Throughout his Western films Clint Eastwood demonstrates the profound influence working with Sergio Leone had upon him. This influence finds ultimate form in the story of his highly conflicted character, William Munny. Through back story we learn that Munny is a notorious killer who has tried to leave his past behind him and fashion a new family life as a frontier farmer. He is lured back into a world of violence by a reward being offered by a brothel of prostitutes who are looking for justice after violence is done on them by two passing cowboys in the fictional town of Big Whiskey. Throughout the film Munny is conflicted and at odds with the violent past he has tried to leave behind and the hope for a better life he can offer his children with the reward money. The film also provides an interesting and complex treatment of its female characters. The prostitutes of Big Whiskey show a greater degree of nuance than women are generally afforded in Western film, and the sense of community that exists between them ultimately proves stronger than almost any other human relationship portrayed. Much like the work of Leone, Eastwood recycles formal elements from the Western genre and in doing so presents a narrative that supplies a greater degree of sophistication in its treatment of Western place.
And as the example of Sergio Leone’s Italian-produced Westerns demonstrate, the forms and tropes of the genre have the potential to be lent vibrant new life outside of a strictly American context. One powerful example of this is found in Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat’s 2005 film, The Proposition. Taking place in the “wild West” of the 19th century Australian outback the narrative focuses on a morally conflicted criminal named Charlie (Guy Pearce) who is offered a pardon from his life of crime if he is willing to help colonial English forces track down his outlaw brother Arthur (Danny Huston). Couched in a historical era that is every bit as complex and conflicted as that of the American West, the narrative deftly moves between characters and imagery that are instantly recognizable as key to the Western genre. To escape the law of colonial forces Arthur has taken to the outback and found refuge with aboriginal tribes of the area (an indigenous group of human beings whose real life history of pain and persecution is remarkably similar to that of the American Indians). Ultimately Charlie kills his brother Arthur, leaving the viewer with a divergent set of emotions. In one respect the elements of colonial force and “progress” are continually portrayed throughout the film as sinister and wrong (making the film similar to the postmodern ideas and commentary offered by Leone). However, by the end the motivations that lead Charlie to side with the agents of this progress and kill his “wild” brother Arthur are complicated and unclear. One interpretation may be that the text is attempting to convey a tragic sense of the inevitability of violence and the fracturing of human bonds (like brotherhood) in the face of massive global change. In this way The Proposition demonstrates a potent way in which the tropes, forms, and imagery associated with the Western genre can potentially be utilized in new ways to provide not only new conceptions of place, but also the ramifications of globalization. Films like this have the power to raise questions about the cost of civilization as well as the assumed inevitability of Westward progress, which, in turn, has had profound implications for American (and global) culture.
One final example demonstrates how advancing technology has increased the number of available platforms for perpetuation of the fractured Western conceptions of place. With the 2010 release of the highly popular video game Red Dead Redemption on Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, Rock Star Games introduced a new generation to many of the recycled elements and tropes that have helped inform a cultural sense of the West. Following a narrative thread that is more similar to the postmodern vision of Sergio Leone than the grand narratives imagined by John Ford, Red Dead Redemption relies heavily on a virtual construction of rendered environments that echo many of the Southwest locales that have become iconic and fixed in the cultural imagination. The protagonist of the game is a troubled anti-hero in the Eastwood tradition and the music and extended tracking shots used to establish mood and tone are hallmarks of Leone. Overall the game offers just one view of how Western place conception is finding new life, and thus why it is important to consider its construction and perpetuation in the future.
Returning to the Vermillion Cliffs outside of Kanab, this is an environment that has seen heavy use as a filming locale, from decidedly Western epics like Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) to the otherworldly science fiction of Planet of the Apes (1968). The wide open spaces and unique nature of the land make it a source of almost limitless possibility and imagination. Local history attests that this is the literal ground for almost inexhaustible storytelling opportunity, and couched in this framework the idea of place as it has been conceived, constructed, and portrayed in the Western film genre takes on crucial weight. As Noel Sturgeon argues in Environmentalism in Popular Culture, many of the frontier myths and tropes that were once pivotal to the Western genre are now finding new life in narratives that reach beyond the borders of our planet and into outer space (54-57). That the physical environments used to construct and portray these new alien worlds happen to be some of the same Southwest locales that formed many famous Western films brings the argument full circle. It underscores the complex and shifting nature of place as well as the vital role a sense of place holds for human beings. The unique demands of living in a highly technological and globalized context make it imperative that we are critically aware and continually push ourselves to imagine and construct places that are truly worth inhabiting.
Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Campbell, Neil. The Rhizomatic West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.
Casey, Edward S. The Fate of Place. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
D'Arc, James V. When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking In Utah. Layton: Gibbs Smith Publishing, 2010.
Florence, William R. “John Ford...The Duke...And Monument Valley.” Arizona Highways September 1981: 37.
Libby, Bill. “The Old Wrangler Rides Again.” John Ford Made Westerns. Ed. Gaylyn Studlar and Matthew Bernstein. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. 286.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Sturgeon, Noёl. Environmentalism in Popular Culture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009.
Tuska, Jon. The American West in Film: Critical Approaches to the Western. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
The twin concepts of “the west” and the “the frontier” are endlessly interesting to me because of how often they are re-purposed, re-visioned, repackaged, and resold (in all mediums). I have been playing a LOT of Red Dead Redemption 2 lately, which is the latest take on a re-visioned west in video game format. Its predecessor remains my favorite video game of all time, and so far this one is living up to expectations by being even bigger and more complex. Its attention to detail is also on point and the game is simply stunning to look at. Video games in and of themselves are a fascinating method for interactive storytelling, and it is doubly fun to pick out all of the cultural influences that have made their way into RDR2. And, because it is a big, complex video game it still has some glitches that need to be ironed out. The internet being the weird (and periodically hilarious) place that it is, people have been compiling these glitches into a YouTube video that is well worth the watch…
This is the third (and final) in a series of re-purposed blog posts written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. These posts will illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to try and tame the Colorado River and use its waters for unprecedented development in the arid west.
ENVISIONING THE CENTRAL UTAH PROJECT
Due to circumstances of geology and demographics, the bulk of Utah’s population lives on the eastern edge of the Great Basin, hundreds of miles (and thousands of feet of elevation) removed from the Colorado River water promised to the state by the Colorado River Compact. In 1946 the first scheme for addressing this disconnect was conceived. Modeled on successes by the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 20th century at Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir and nearby Heber Valley, local planners developed the concept of the Central Utah Project (CUP).
According to its proponents, the CUP would guarantee full use of Utah’s allotted share of the Colorado River by implementing a series of aqueducts, diversion and storage dams, and tunnels that would effectively move water from the eastern Colorado River Basin to other areas of the state, including the growing population centers along the Wasatch Front.
The first attempt to create the CUP came in 1946 when federal legislation was proposed by Utah senator, Abe Murdock. This legislation was met with defeat, as it was determined that any attempt at such a massive project in Utah needed to be bound up with larger planning in the Upper Colorado River Basin as a whole. Up to that point, the states of the Upper Basin hadn’t even determined how the Upper Basin allotment would be divided between them. This, in turn, spurred negotiations that would lead to the 1948 Upper Colorado Basin Compact, an agreement that granted Utah 23% of the 7,500,000 acre feet of water apportioned to the Upper Basin by the Colorado River Compact.
In that same year (1948), the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) was also proposed. This legislative action proposed a comprehensive plan for developing the Upper Colorado River Basin. However, a variety of delay’s prevented the Congress from authorizing it until 1956. Upon its authorization, the Central Utah Project was born, effectively serving as the largest single participating unit in the CRSPA plan.
This early history of the CUP’s origination and initial planning is reflected in records held by the Utah State Archives, which includes correspondence records from the office of Utah Governor J. Bracken Lee (1946-1956), as well as Colorado River Commission case files created by the Utah Attorney General.
In simplest terms, the CUP serves to build the infrastructure needed to impound and transport water from the eastern Utah river basin to other water-starved regions in America’s second most arid state. The organizational apparatus for developing the CUP water delivery systems was born in 1964, with the legal organization of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD). The original seven-member board of the CUWCD was composed of one representative from each county in Utah impacted by CUP projects. This original board included members from the counties of Salt Lake, Summit, Wasatch, Utah, Juab, Uintah, and Duchesne. Later the board would expand to include representation from Garfield, Piute, and Sanpete counties. The CUWCD was established to both oversee the management of water projects associated with the CUP, as well as manage Utah’s repayment of federal funds that had been allocated for CUP projects by the Colorado River Storage Project Act.
The CUWCD set to work by first organizing water development projects around the state into seven distinct geographic units: Vernal, Upalco, Jensen, Bonneville, Uinta, and Ute Indian. Setting project priorities and allocating resources has often proved contentious, particularly as projects went over time and budget throughout the latter 20th century. For example, in 1965 the Bonneville Unit (the single largest unit of the CUP) was allotted $302 million in funds to complete its associated water projects. Construction delays and the passage of time meant that, by 1985, over $2 billion in funds had actually been spent developing the Bonneville Unit.
The early history of work done for the CUP, as well as ongoing debates of how to fund the project appear throughout several record series held by the Utah State Archives. These include Upper Colorado River project files from the office of Governor George D. Clyde (1957-1965), correspondence records from the office of Governor Calvin Rampton (1965-1977), natural resource working files from the office of Utah Governor Scott Matheson (1977-1985), and correspondence records from Governor Matheson’s office.
COMPLETING THE CUP
Over time it became increasingly clear that the broad, ambitious goals of the CUP would be bogged down by both slow construction, as well as a lack of adequate ongoing funding and support from the federal government. Funding for the CUP (through the Bureau of Reclamation) was often a contentious point of debate among federal lawmakers, and the entire project was nearly defunded completely during the term of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).
The tendency to stall or delay water projects ultimately led to an unprecedented action in 1992, when Utah’s state and local officials asked the federal government to turn over authority to complete all unfinished CUP work to the CUWCD. This request was granted with passage of the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA). This legislation authorizes the CUWCD to oversee completion of CUP projects, particularly those in the Bonneville unit which includes areas of exploding population growth along the Wasatch Front. In addition, the legislation provides a means for over-site and environmental mitigation of CUP work to be overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior through a newly created CUPCA office.
This climactic moment in the CUP’s history, as well as the negotiations that took place to secure passage of the CUPCA, can be traced in records held by the Utah State Archives, including Governor Norman Bangerter’s Washington Office records, as well as Governor Bangerter’s Chief of Staff correspondence records.
The future of the Colorado River, and its millions of users, is a hazy one. How reliable will the river’s flow remain, particularly in the face of changing environmental conditions and exploding population centers in the western United States? Water allocations from the Colorado River have been re-calibrated at points in the past, based on lower flows and the fact that the original numbers agreed to in the 1922 Colorado River Compact were based on unusually (and unsustainable) high years of river flow.
A similarly unknown future faces the major water storage projects along the river, including those that compose the Central Utah Project. Consider, for example, the unknown fate of the Hoover Dam, an aging structure holding back a dwindling water supply that is currently being drawn on by more people than at any other point in its history.
Major questions concerning the Colorado River, and its use, face each of the western states that rely heavily on its water. Will the answer be a doubling down on the types of costly reclamation efforts that were meant to help the arid southwest “bloom like a rose?” Or will the answers increasingly take the shape of users learning how to more efficiently utilize the regions most critical resource? Whatever way the future flows, it is clear that the Law of the River is still, very much, a work in progress.
This is the second in a series of re-purposed blog posts written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. These posts will illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to try and tame the Colorado River and use its waters for unprecedented development in the arid west.
UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN COMPACT
With the passage of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Colorado River Basin was divided into a Lower Basin unit (comprised of Arizona, California, and Nevada), and an Upper Basin unit (composed of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). For the first twenty-five years after the compact was ratified, the bulk of development that took place on the river occurred in the Lower Basin. The construction of Hoover Dam, and other projects in the Lower Basin, had a direct impact on growing the human populations of the southwest. This, in turn, fueled the need for ever-more water in the region.
With the lower basin’s voracious hunger for water, a movement to begin developing the Upper Basin’s water allotment gained real momentum. This movement was fueled, in part, by concerns among leaders in the Upper Basin that unclaimed water in the north would be forever captured and taken by the unquenchable thirst of agriculture and populations sprouting up in California, Arizona, and southern Nevada.
Negotiations for how to divide the Upper Basin share of the river began when representatives from each Upper Basin state met to discuss the issue in 1946. Utah’s interests in this ongoing negotiation were represented by both Governor Henry Hooper Blood, as well as Utah State Engineer, Ed H. Watson. Records from Watson’s office, in particular, reveal how prominently involved the State Engineer was in ensuring Utah received an equitable portion of the Upper Basin river allotment.
Two years of negotiation and planning ultimately culminated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948. This new accord added another chapter to the expanding Law of the River by guaranteeing a fixed percentage of water from the Colorado River to each Upper Basin state on an ongoing annual basis. Under the terms of this agreement, Colorado would receive 52% of the Upper Basin share, Utah 23%, Wyoming 14%, and New Mexico 11%. In addition, Arizona was allotted a 50,000 acre foot share for the small portion of the state that lies north of the division boundary line at Lee’s Ferry.
With an agreement between the Upper Basin states on how to share their allotment of the Colorado River, the stage was set for the emergence of a massive, federally backed plan that would usher in an era of unprecedented change in the Intermountain West.
THE COLORADO RIVER STORAGE PROJECT ACT
With a compact among the Upper Basin states in place, a plan begin to take shape that would coordinate and guide development in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Over the course of eight years, planning and negotiations took place that finally culminated with passage of the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) of 1956.
The provisions of this plan were broad and complex. At its heart the CRSPA sought to set in motion the construction of major water storage projects in the Upper Basin, as well as devise the means for transporting water across vast areas for the benefit of municipalities in the Colorado River Basin. CRSPA also marked a moment of important transition for the Bureau of Reclamation, and how it approached dam construction in the arid west. Prior development in the Lower Basin was done for the primary purpose of impounding a water supply that could be used for irrigation. Hoover Dam allowed for the generation of electrical power, but power generated by the dam was sold to growing populations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with the cash generated from that sale being used to pay off the original construction costs for the dam.
With CRSPA, a new model employed by the Bureau of Reclamation in its dam construction and management. Under this new method, the preeminent use of impounded water in the Upper Basin was no longer for irrigation, but rather for hydroelectric power generation that could be sold cheaply to the public. Revenues generated by these “cash register” dams were then used to subsidize farmers in the Upper Basin who, due to environmental constraints inherent to the Intermountain West, were generally unable to grow the wide variety of agricultural commodities routinely produced by their counterparts in the Lower Basin. This thorny issue of balancing a public utility produced by a government agency against the interests of private public utility companies became one of extreme importance to the administration of Utah Governor George D. Clyde in the early 1960’s.
In the ensuing decades after the passage of the CRSPA, its ambitious goals began to take tangible shape on the western landscape. One of its faces became the dams associated with the Curecanti Project in Colorado. Another was the Navajo Dam constructed in northwestern New Mexico. Along the Utah and Wyoming border CRSPA took shape in the form of the Flaming Gorge Dam. And, perhaps most famously, CRSPA led directly to the controversial construction of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Utah and Arizona border.
CONTROVERSY IN ECHO PARK
The story of Glen Canyon Dam remains a contentious moment in U.S. environmental history, as it squarely pitted the interests of the Bureau of Reclamation and western developers against those of a burgeoning American environmental movement.
When planning first began on the Upper Basin developments that would culminate with dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, planners first cast their eyes east towards Utah’s Uinta Basin. In the mid-1950’s planners and promoters pushed for the construction of two dam sites in Dinosaur National Monument, one at Echo Park (at the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers), and one at Split Mountain.
An unexpected push against placing the dams in Dinosaur National Monument by an organized environmental movement ultimately led planners to abandon the effort, and the U.S. Congress to enact laws that better spelled out the types of development that could occur in National Park Service areas. The complex legal discussions pertaining to Echo Park and Glen Canyon can be traced through records created by Utah’s Attorney General, and held at the Utah State Archives. With the Echo Park development off the table, and a promise from the Sierra Club not to oppose a dam site at Glen Canyon, the Bureau of Reclamation moved forward with development along the border of Utah and Arizona.
With passage of CRSPA, and allocation of $760 million in federal funds for Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, construction on Glen Canyon Dam began in late 1956. Upon its completion in 1966 its impounded waters (named Lake Powell after General John Wesley Powell who had first navigated the whole of the Colorado River in 1869) could reach a full capacity of 26, 214,900 acre feet, making it the second largest development along the Colorado after Lake Mead. The construction of the Glen Canyon Dam has long served as a significant moment of loss for many who were able to witness Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the dam.
CRSPA was a crucial moment in both the river’s history, as well as Utah’s relationship to it. In addition to providing the mandate and funds to build the dam sites at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, this legislation also authorized the creation of the Central Utah Project (CUP), a federal water project specifically tasked with overseeing Utah’s use and development of its allotted share from the river.
The story of federal efforts to establish and manage the Central Utah Water Project, which has proven to be among the most complex and costly provisions of CRSPA, will serve as the subject for the final blog post in this series.
Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
Worster, Donald. Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
This is the first in a series of re-purposed blog posts written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. These posts will illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to try and tame the Colorado River and use its waters for unprecedented development in the arid west.
THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN
The Colorado River originates in the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado, before making its 1,750-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, emptying at the Bay of California. Along the way it gathers run-off from a drainage basin 244,000 square miles in length, carves out the dramatic cliffs and canyons of southeastern Utah and Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and carries a silt load higher than any other river of comparable size.
The Colorado is an international river, draining water from seven western states, (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) as well as Mexico. Moving from the highest peaks of the Continental Divide down to the low, arid deserts of the Sonoran and Mojave, the Colorado River is a vital artery running throughout some of the American southwest’s most spectacular (and unforgiving) landscapes.
For much of human history, the Colorado River, and its tributaries, have served a vital role in providing life-giving water to the region’s inhabitants. Many Indian tribes of the southwest practiced dry farming and simple irrigation techniques using scant available water resources. This model was later expanded on by white settlers in the region, particularly the early Mormon settlers of Utah.
The Colorado gained some measure of national celebrity from the famed expeditions taken down it by John Wesley Powell, first in 1869 and again in 1871-1872. These scientific trips gave Americans a better sense of the canyon country frontier, as described vividly by Powell, as well as providing Major Powell with some sense of the harsh environmental realities imposed by the arid deserts of the southwest.
The story of the Colorado River in the 20th century, a period when it would become the most legally regulated river on Earth, begins with the explosive population growth witnessed in Southern California at the turn of the century. Water projects that carried water from California’s Owens Valley helped fuel tremendous growth in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Similar efforts to carry (and control) Colorado River water to the famously dry Imperial Valley for irrigation and flood control raised serious questions among all of the western states in the Colorado River Basin. The legal history of water in the west had placed water rights under the provision of prior appropriation. Simply put, the first to develop a water right was the first to own it: “first in time, first in right.”
What if California’s rapacious, and seemingly unending, thirst lay claim to the bulk of available Colorado River water, and blocked anyone upstream from making later use of it? What if earthworks built by California to tame unpredictable floods from the Colorado locked in place an inequitable infrastructure, forever in favor of the Golden State?
With these fundamental questions in mind, representatives from the seven basin states (as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary, Herbert Hoover) met on January 26, 1922 and began work on an expansive interstate compact to regulate and share the Colorado River among all of its interested parties.
NEGOTIATING A COMPACT
In the eleven months between January and November, 1922 multiple meetings were held that would culminate in the Colorado River Compact. Over the course of its legal history, the various compacts, agreements, and legal decisions that have been placed on the Colorado River have come to be known as “the Law of the River.” In this regard, the Colorado River Compact is the backbone that serves to connect everything else together.
Utah’s representative to the 1922 negotiations was State Engineer, R.E. Caldwell, having been appointed by Utah Governor Charles Mabey. Records from the State Engineer documenting Caldwell’s work on the Colorado River Compact (as well as other river-related records from the office) are held by the Utah State Archives in series 13912.
The major provisions ultimately agreed to in the Colorado River Compact were unique, and critical in dictating all future development made on the river.
The first of these provisions was the decision to effectively create two separate artificial basins within the larger Colorado River Basin. The Upper Basin was to consist of the mountain states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico (the states that provide the bulk of the flow to the river). The Lower Basin was formed from Nevada, Arizona, and California. The line of demarcation separating these two units was designated at Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona.
A second consequential provision of the compact stipulated how much flow from the river each basin was eligible to claim. Calculations for the Colorado’s annual flow were taken from dubious readings maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation during a multi-year period that saw the river rage higher than at any other point in its recorded history.
Based on these flawed Bureau estimates, the flow of the Colorado River averaged 17.5 million acre-feet of water annually. The Colorado River Compact stipulated that 15 million acre feet of this share was to be divided equally between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin. The Lower Basin was awarded an additional 1 million acre feet under the threat that its representatives would walk away from the negotiations without that bonus allotment. The final 1.5 million acre-feet of flow was reserved for Mexico, a number that was cemented into law by an international treaty in 1944. It was left for the states within each basin to determine the percentage of their allotted flow that would go to each state.
Each member representative from the compact negotiations signed the accord and returned to their respective state, leaving final ratification of the compact to state legislatures or voters. In Utah, the Colorado River Compact was ratified immediately by the Utah state legislature during its 1923 session, and the compact was filed with the lieutenant governor, where it is currently found in series 20221.
The process of ratifying the agreement did not come easily for other states, however, as interstate squabbles arose over a host of issues. The most divisive of these occurred between Arizona and California, who couldn’t agree on how to divide the 8,500,000 acre-feet granted to the lower basin.
For six years the Colorado River Compact languished until the U.S. Congress intervened with passage of a bill that simultaneously provided a path for formal ratification of the Colorado River Compact, as well as authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to begin work on what would become the largest dam project on Earth, up to that point.
BOULDER CANYON PROJECT ACT
The Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928 paved the way for nearly a century of reclamation activity on the Colorado River that has left a decidedly mixed legacy. One major provision of this piece of legislation was to make the Colorado River Compact legally binding. It sought to do this by settling the feud between California and Arizona over their shared water allocation. Accordingly, California was limited in its annual diversion to 4.4 million acre-feet per year, while Arizona was granted 2.8 million acre-feet (leaving the remaining 300,000 acre feet in the lower basin to Nevada). The Boulder Canyon Project Act went on to say that the Compact would become legally binding upon ratification by six of the states, one of those states needing to be the compact’s biggest player, California. This was accomplished, in spite of the fact that Arizona (out of protest) refused to formally ratify the compact until 1944.
In 1927, the year before the Boulder Canyon Project Act was passed, the Utah legislature formally repealed their original 1923 ratification of the compact. This was followed, in 1929, by a second ratification of the Colorado River Compact by the state of Utah, as well as the creation of a Utah Colorado River Commission. This commission, whose records can be found in series 165, was made up of three members appointed by Governor George Dern, and tasked with representing Utah’s interest on all matters related to the Colorado River.
The second major provision of the Boulder Canyon Project Act, was a mandate to build the first major dam site on the Colorado River. The location chosen for this was in the Black Canyon near Las Vegas. Construction on the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover) commenced during the heart of the Great Depression, in 1931. Over the course of six years thousands of workers built massive diversion tunnels, rerouted the Colorado River from its bed, sunk the foundations for the dam at bedrock, and ultimately constructed a 726′ plug in the Black Canyon that could hold back up to 28,537,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in the impounded area named Lake Mead.
The water held at Hoover Dam has served a variety of purposes in the ensuing decades. A canal built downstream (named the All-American Canal) carries water from the Boulder project west, into California’s Imperial Valley. The water of Lake Mead has been used for recreation, irrigation, industrial use, and municipal use in both Las Vegas and the cities that mushroomed in southern California throughout the 20th century. Hydroelectric power derived from the dam has played a pivotal role in growing the populations in one of North America’s most inhospitable environments. Electricity generated at Hoover Dam has helped build industry, attract tourism, and provide critical hydration and conditioned air in a region often devoid of both.
VIEW FROM THE UPPER BASIN
The Hoover Dam served as the first vivid example of what a massive, federally backed water project on the Colorado River could look like. Upstream, leaders of the Upper Basin states kept a keen eye on the tremendous growth in the Lower Basin spurred by the Boulder Canyon Project. In many ways, the dam provided a template for future projects in the Upper Basin, as well as providing incentive for the Upper Basin states to organize into a coalition, lest they eventually lose their allotted water share to future projects in the Lower Basin.
Evidence that developing the state’s Colorado River share was a pressing issue for Utah leaders is found in records kept by two different governor’s of that era. Governor George Dern (1925-1933) maintained a subject file on the Colorado River Compact (series 206) that reflect Utah’s interaction with other western states on Colorado River issues, as well as the negotiations and discussions that went on with the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project.
Dern’s successor, Governor Henry Blood (1933-1941), in turn, maintained a Colorado River correspondence files (series 22918), which contains legislative bills, resolutions, general correspondence, minutes and reports related to Utah’s earliest attempts to help devise an Upper Basin reclamation plans to assure its share of water as designated in the Colorado River Compact of 1922.
The Colorado River Compact and the Boulder Canyon Project Act provided the thread upon which all of the states in the Colorado River Basin would ultimately go about drawing on their share of the Colorado River’s seemingly vast potential.
The story of Utah’s participation in developing a reclamation plan for the Upper Basin, and the implementation of projects based on that plan, will serve as the story for the next blog in this series.
Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
Worster, Donald. Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Sticking with the western theme I started last week, here is a reading response to Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses that I wrote in a “literary topography” class back in grad school…
Throughout All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy draws attention to a number of crossings that are crucial to both driving the story and exploring many of the themes that underpin interests found throughout his work. These crossings take on a variety of forms that help to shape and drive the narrative.
The most obvious crossing takes place at the transitional space of dawn when John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins leave out from their Texas home into the unknown (at least to them) lands of Mexico. It is not long after their entrance into the country that they have a physical crossing with the kid, Jimmy Blevins, whose fate because intertwined with their own. This theme of crossing and the introduction of potentially potent variables into our lives that we have no true control over is a recurrent one for McCarthy. It finds powerful expression in No Country for Old Men where the villain, Anton Chigurh, explicitly informs those whose lives he has left subject to a coin toss that the fate that brought him, death, and the coin together at once were each independent and unavoidable.
Another crossing of critical importance in the narrative is the physical and emotional one between John Grady Cole and Alejandra. Their sexual crossing and illicit love supplies the impetus for driving the narrative from the pastoral ideal Cole and Rawlins find on Don Hector’s horse ranch to the subsequent hell of a Mexican prison. The juxtaposition of these events (and crossing between them) clearly marks John Grady Cole in a profoundly existential way. Recounting the events later to the Judge, Cole wonders why anyone would make him out to be anything special. The guilt and loss he is carrying from his accumulated crossings have scarred him in both body and spirit.
The final crossing I will address comes with the heroes return to his native land, deeply changed by the experiences taken up in his quest. Unfortunately for Cole, he quickly realizes that the transitional moments narrated in this interfacing between two worlds have effectively left him without country in either place. He cannot return to the Mexico that has scarred him, and the Texas home he is returning to is no longer the same (owing to the death of his father while he was away, as well as the fact that his mother has presumably sold off the ranch land that he initially wanted to run at the outset of the book upon his grandfathers death). John Grady Cole is left to ride into the West a troubled figure without a clear destination.
This tenuous nature of country and our attachments to it is a major theme of McCarthy and is echoed throughout the book. For some (like the vaquero's Cole visits when he returns to speak to Alejandra's aunt, Doña Alfonsa) " a man leaves much when he leaves his own country...the weather and seasons that form a land form also the the inner fortunes of men in their generations are passed on to their children and are not so easily come by otherwise." In other words, our places continually interface and exchange with our interior being, producing the internal topographies of our existence. Seemingly when these places are trespassed, violated, or otherwise destroyed we are left in the position of Cole, riding out looking desperately for country that can sustain us.
Recently, I started playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on my PS4. I’m not a HUGE video game nerd, but I’ll play a good game when time allows, and the original Red Dead remains the best video game I have ever played. RDR2 (so far) is even larger and more epic than its predecessor, with a sandbox world you can run around in that is stunningly gorgeous. The level of absurd detail they have packed in to the game is also worth mentioning.
Abruptly switching gears, this past weekend I took a break from my gaming to visit my brother, sister-in-law and new niece in Bozeman, MT. I took the route that skirts across the western edge of Yellowstone and over the Gallatin Mountains. At dusk, covered in a light brushing of snow, it was the RDR2 landscape brought to life.
Taken together, I now have a desire to segue my way out of two months of horror films and scary stories, and into a month or two of exploring Westerns (on film and in print). It is something that I dedicated some time and effort to back in grad school, when I was making connections between Western myth and subsequent (rough) treatment of environment, and I am very much looking forward to picking it up again (and possibly sharing what I discover in this blog). In typical fashion, I have made a Spotify playlist for the journey! Saddle up…
THE SUPERCONDUCTING SUPER COLLIDER
The history of human activity in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert suggests that it is a place where the biggest of human ideas can take root. During the 1980’s this tendency took the shape of a detailed proposal to turn a section of Great Basin desert into the world’s most cutting edge science and research destination.
The story begins in 1987 when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to undertake a site-selection process that would find a home for the world’s largest superconducting super collider (SSC). The design of a super collider called for two proton beams to be aimed at one another. In a super collider, particles moving at near the speed of light smash into one another and are broken down to their most basic subatomic particle units. In this way conditions that appeared moments after the Big Bang are replicated and scientists are able to learn more about the most basic forces that govern our universe.
For Utah leaders the SSC appeared to have the more tangible benefits of potentially spurring massive social and economic growth along the Wasatch Front. With Governor Norman Bangerter acting as Utah’s principle agent, state planners determined that Utah would make a formal proposal to the DOE for construction of the SSC in Utah’s Great Basin Desert. Early estimates pegged the project’s construction cost at $600 million per year over a six or seven year period. This included an influx of approximately 4,000 construction jobs and an annual operating budget for the SSC upon completion that would have totaled $270 million per year.
The consulting firm of Dames and Moore was hired by the state to conduct a site review and help draft the formal proposal that fit the site specific qualification criteria demanded by the DOE. Dames and Moore was assisted in the process by the Ralph M. Parsons Company, Roger Foott Associates, Inc., Bear West Consulting, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the Data Resources Section of the Utah Office of Planning and Budget.
The qualification criteria for the SSC that was issued by the DOE reveal the massive energy and resource needs of the project. The design of the SSC called for a tube 10 feet in diameter to be buried 20 feet below the ground surface, in order to shield above ground monitoring areas from radiation. This tube would have run 52 miles in an oval raceway measuring 17.4 miles by 14.6 miles. The above ground monitoring and campus facilities were to be connected to the underground testing areas. The DOE estimated that 4,000 acres was needed for above ground operations, with additional rights to another 4,000 to 5,000 acres for future tunneling. The power and water demands for the SSC and its off-site support facilities would have been equivalent to a town of 30,000 people.
Two initial reports were created by Dames and Moore in February and March of 1987 that laid out the specifications of the SSC, as well as an initial assessment of areas in Utah that could prove feasible for construction. Based on these reports, two areas in Utah’s west desert were chosen for a more thorough assessment and review.
Ultimately two separate multi-volume proposals were created for the sites in question. The first, entitled the “Cedar Mountains Siting Proposal” focused on a region 52 miles west of Salt Lake City, near Skull Valley. The second proposal, entitled the “Ripple Valley Siting Proposal” focused on an area 69 miles west of Salt Lake City, near the Knolls exit on Interstate 80. The reports generated for each site proposal focused on geology, local environment, public land availability, regional conditions, and available utilities and infrastructure. They also laid out concessions the state of Utah was willing to make to the DOE to ensure site selection. The formal siting reports were submitted to the DOE for review on September 02, 1987.
Due to the immensity of the SSC proposal, multiple government agencies were involved in its planning. The records created from this process are now held by the Utah State Archives. They include SSC proposal records from the Utah Energy Office, SSC Task Force records from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, special project files from the Utah Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, economic development recordsfrom the office of Governor Norman Bangerter, and SSC records from the Utah Office of Economic Business and Research.
FATE OF THE SSC
In December 1987, the National Academy of Science, and the National Academy of Engineering made a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Energy that Utah not be included on the shortlist of sites for the SSC. Instead, the project was ultimately awarded to Texas in November 1988. Construction on the SSC (now nicknamed “Desertron”) began in 1991 near the central-Texas town of Waxahachie.
During construction seventeen shafts were sunk and 14.6 miles of tunnel were bored (out of an estimated 54.1 miles needed) before claims of government mismanagement, sky-rocketing costs, an oncoming recession, and shifts in federal political power combined to end construction on the project for good in 1993. By the time construction was halted the federal government had spent $2 billion dollars on the SSC (with an estimated price tag of an additional $12 billion needed to successfully finish it).
Some of the massive costs associated with the project can be pinned on the extreme difficulties workers encountered with tunneling through bedrock and creating the needed infrastructure deep underground. Had the SSC project been completed, its two 20 TeV per proton energy beams would have made it the largest super collider on Earth (even larger than the Large Hadron Collider that was built near Geneva, Switzerland that became operational in 2009).
The DOE ultimately deeded the SSC site in Waxahachie to Ellis County, Texas after construction was halted. In 2006 the site was sold to a private company which began marketing it as a data center. The site was sold again in 2012 to chemical company, Magnablend.
In retrospect, it is interesting to consider the fate of the SSC had the site selection process landed on Utah, making this one of the better “what if” stories in recent Utah history!
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Utah Energy Office, Superconducting Super Collider Proposal, Series 353.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, Superconducting Super Collider Task Force Records, Series 10263.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, Special Report Files, Series 25708.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Economic Business Research, Superconducting Super Collider Records, Series 83904.
Kevles, Daniel J. “Good-bye to the SSC: On the Life and Death of the Superconducting Super Collider.” Engineering and Science Winter, Vol. 2 (1995): 15-26. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Last weekend the wife, kiddo, and I hauled our dogs out to the East Humboldt Range near Wells, Nevada. Much like their next door neighbor, the Rubies, the East Humboldt are stupidly beautiful mountains that belie the myth that Nevada is a dusty desert hellhole. This trip was ill-fated from the start, however, as hazy skies, scorching temps (even at 8,500 feet, wtf!?), and our rude dogs (who have zero campsite chill) all combined to drive us home a day earlier than planned. On our way out, Sarah suggested that we make the brief 12 mile drive out of Wells and visit the nearby ghost town of Metropolis, Nevada.
I am a big fan of ghost towns and make it a point to explore them whenever an opportunity presents itself. Utah and Nevada are littered with them. The vast majority are eerie reminders of the brief mining booms that bombarded the western U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Metropolis doesn't fit this pattern, however, and is all the more interesting for it.
The two interpretive markers at the former townsite allude to Metropolis' bizzaro history, but it took some digging (see what I did there!?) after we got home to unearth the full story. First off, Metropolis had a fairly recent founding with the first residents putting down roots in dusty soil in 1910. They came as part of a planned agriculture community settlement under the direction of the Pacific Reclamation Company of New York. "Pac Rec" established a field office in Salt Lake, so Metropolis had a strong Mormon contingent from its beginning.
By all accounts the early, heady days of Metropolis were pretty exciting. The Southern Pacific Railroad built a railroad spur from Wells and the town folk took bricks from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and built a 100 foot dam at nearby Bishop Creek (a tributary of the Humboldt River) to satisfy all of their thirsty needs. They apparently also failed to look into western water law, and were quickly sued by downstream residents of Lovelock who claimed that the denizens of Metropolis' were hoarding an unfair and illegal share of Nevada's scant water supply. In the end a court settlement significantly cut Metropolis' water allocation, reducing the number of planned acres for irrigated agriculture down from 40,000 to 4,000. Oops!
Because the townsite was apparently cursed the residents who decided to stick it out after Watergate (sorry, not sorry) were subsequently visited by some brutal years of hardscrabble living that included a scourge of crop devouring jackrabbits, a scourge of crop (and house!?) devouring Mormon crickets, the death of the Pacific Reclamation Company, and an abandonment of the railroad spur by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Metropolis Hotel burned down in 1936, the post office terminated service in 1942, and the town school shut its doors in 1947. Presumably anyone left had the good sense to get out after that (or eventually became the bad guys in the Hills Have Eyes).
I will refrain making a ham-fisted argument about how the history of Metropolis must be heeded, less we be doomed to repeat it (though recent news suggests that human beings are really bad at things like history, evidence, and basic logic). Instead, I'll end by endorsing a visit to the nearest ghost town the next time you happen to be near one. Better yet, do it with a four year old in tow! You can have a blast explaining that ghost towns aren't really full of ghosts...unless they're bad and make the ghosts come out and haunt them! As my daughter said more than once during our visit..."SPOOKY!!!"
McFarlane. 2014. The Metropolis That Wasn't. http://nevadamagazine.com/home/inside-the-magazine/history/the-metropolis-that-wasnt/. March/April 2014.
Moreno. 2018. The Rise and Fall of Metropolis, Nevada. https://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/lahontan-valley/the-rise-and-fall-of-metropolis-nevada/. May 24, 2018.
Travel Nevada. Metropolis Ghost Town. https://travelnevada.com/discover/30469/metropolis-ghost-town. Undated.