The Wire Services: The Weakest Reed
Early in 1964 reports began to appear in professional military periodicals that a major exercise was to be conducted in May. It would test for the first time the plausibility of rules governing the use of nuclear weapons in the defense of Western Europe. From stitching together these snippets of information, it became apparent that this was to be the first war gaming on anything like a realistic scale of a nuclear conflict between the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the forces of what was then the Warsaw Pact, constituting the Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations it had incorporated into its empire through conquest in World War II.
To this day, Joint Exercise Desert Strike, conducted during the last two weeks in May of 1964 across 100,000 square miles of the Mojave Desert, is the only major military exercise ever to have put to a realistic test the pressures that could force one side or the other in such a conflict to resort to "tactical" (i.e., battlefield-size) nuclear weapons equivalent to 1,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT (1-15 kilotons). The issues raised in that test would have a frightening relevance to the opening weeks of the Persian Gulf War, in 1990-91, and a continuing validity as nuclear weapons technology spreads to an increasing array of nations, many of them unstable or under criminal leadership.
None of the reporters who routinely cover the Pentagon reported the upcoming exercise. But informed by other means of its importance, Richard Leonard, managing editor of one of the most respected major newspapers in the United States, the Milwaukee Journal, responded, "No question about its importance, but we'll rely on the wire services."1
He was referring to the Associated Press, United Press International, and