A History of Alaska, Volume III: Gibraltar of the North


Nielson, Jonathan M. Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara


Author of "American Historians in War and Peace: Patriotism, Diplomacy, and the Paris Peace Conference, 1918-1919"

The Second World War was to Alaska what the First World War had been to the nation. The essential reality of Alaska’s experience during World War II was the end of its isolation from the continental United States. As a consequence of the war, Alaska’s territorial era entered its twilight years, eclipsed by the dawn of statehood nineteen years later and driven largely by military imperatives. A further legacy was Alaska’s inevitably
significant role in the militarization of the Arctic, a strategic watershed that emerged in the postwar confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. The conjunction was fortuitous as it enhanced Alaska's strategic importance in national defense. Indeed, Alaska was in the estimation of one military authority America’s “Gibraltar of the North.”

While the presence of the armed services in Alaska continued to decline as the war’s strategic focus shifted south, worsening relations with the Soviet Union by 1945-46 caused growing alarm in Washington. Perceptions of hardening Soviet intransigence and more strident demands in Europe and elsewhere provoked concerns about postwar American-Soviet relations. Given these perceptions, it was obvious that zones of confrontation and potential conflict emerged everywhere America-Soviet interests and ambitions clashed and that this might be especially serious where the two superpowers came closest to each other territorially. Here, “a kind of watery…invisible…Berlin Wall” demarcated the “free world” from the communist bloc…an “ice curtain” every bit as real as the barrier Winston Churchill so vividly described in his famous "iron curtain" speech.

Within a few years a vast defense perimeter ran from extreme northwestern Alaska, through Attu and the Aleutian islands, Paramushiru in the Kuriles, the Bonin Islands, to the Philippines, and thence eastward to the Pacific coast of South America.

Abruptly Alaska was elevated anew to geographic and strategic stature, and it now seemed unlikely that the territory could ever again be left defenseless. Thereafter with advent of the Great Circle Route over the pole, Alaska's military relevance increased steadily and assumed even greater importance during the postwar decades. This reflected changing military relationships, advances in military technology, and revised
strategic doctrines. As United States-Soviet relations became increasingly abrasive, voices in Congress were again heard calling for Alaska's re-militarization.

American History, American Studies, Colonial Studies, Imperial History, Military History, Alaska, Alaskan History, Russian History, Japanese History, International History, Political Science, US Politics, Public Policy, Statehood, Western Settlement, World War II, Cold War
Release Date: 
April 1, 2018
Hardcover: 978-1680530605
Trim Size: 
6 x 9

1727 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 507
Washington, DC 20036