The Media Goes To War: 8 July, 1987


Combat aircraft, soldiers, weapons, and equipment were not the only things streaming into Western Europe in those tense early July days. The global media was heading off to war as well, and there was a significant amount of anxiety all around. The relationship between the US military and the media had not yet fully healed from American media’s treatment of the services during the Vietnam War. It had bred a deep resentment and distrust of the media in US military circles. Even the post-Vietnam generation of officers, NCOs, and soldiers took the lessons to heart.  As a general rule, soldiers have to contend with reporters. It is part of the job. However, no directive exists that can force a soldier to like it. In the post-Vietnam years, the relationship between America’s defenders and its media can best be described as a cool, yet peaceful co-existence. With the world moving towards another major war, there was no guessing what shape the relationship would assume once the shooting started.

The events leading up to the outbreak of hostilities took the US and global media by surprise, as it did to essentially everyone else on the planet. Overnight, the major networks, publications and newly emerging cable news networks had to formulate a plan of action. The Pentagon and NATO headquarters in Brussels was doing much the same thing with regards to the media. Soon there would be hundreds of reporters on the ground in Europe to deal with. A plan was needed, and quickly.

There was much to consider. This war would involve unprecedented Western media coverage. Satellites, and emerging technologies were changing the way reporters covered conflicts. The ability to go live anywhere in the world was a simple act nowadays. The diminishing size of cameras, recorders, and other devices made journalists more mobile. Could they be trusted to report objectively and without revealing details and information that could potentially cause harm to the war effort? Was there enough time to give reporters rudimentary training on how to survive on the modern battlefield and then send them out into the field to join a unit already there? What would the bent of the media be in general; Pro-US and NATO, objectively neutral, or hostile?

By 8 July, a number of journalists had made it forward and joined military units assigned to them by NATO or the Pentagon. It was not simply up to a journalist, or their respective parent agency to decide what unit they would be attached to. For that matter, no reporter was permitted to travel freely anywhere. If they were found to be moving about without their unit or a previously authorized military escort, the offending party was transported to the rear immediately and inevitably sent home. For the most part, journalists were assigned to units belonging to their respective home country. It made little sense to place a Portuguese reporter with a Dutch infantry battalion, for example. Journalists from nations not involved in the fighting were assigned to roving press pools that rarely made it close to the battle line.

In the last days of peace some issues did crop up between the military and media. A BBC reporter attached to the British Army of the Rhine mentioned offhandedly in a live transmission with anchors back in London the delays  some units of the Dutch Army were having in reaching their prewar positions. Farther south in the US V Corps area of operations an intrepid young reporter from NBC reporter took a camera crew out to record a piece on an abandoned village in front of the US Army battalion he was attached to. The battalion commander provided an escort and warned the reporter not to explore the town because it had been ‘prepared.’ The reporter, naturally, became curious. At the first chance he got, he and his crew ditched their escort to explore the deserted town more thoroughly on their own. Less than three minutes later, he stumbled across a claymore mine that had been placed near an intersection. The reporter and his two-man camera crew were all severely wounded and had to be medevaced to the rear. Brussels, and the Pentagon were incensed and came down hard on the media. It was announced that the parent company of any journalist who violated field regulations would be punished along with the offender. All journalists, cameramen and employees of the parent company would be removed from their attached units and transported to the rear for the duration of the conflict.

Senior officers in Brussels, Washington, and across the globe had more important issues to contend with than the media. As the morning dragged on, solid indications started to appear which made it clear the Soviet offensive was likely set to begin within the next 24 to 36 hours.




Romanov Reflects 8 July, 1987

1986-1987: Moscow, Red Square

General Secretary Grigory Vasilyevich Romanov stared hard at the men seated around the conference table with him. Together, they made up the leadership core that would reenergize the rapidly failing Soviet Union and ascend the CCCP to new heights of power and global leadership. These men were all subordinate to Romanov, willfully accepting their places and roles in the new hierarchy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. There was to be no sharing of power. When Romanov began planning for his eventual seizure of power shortly after being ousted by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, he deliberately kept his intentions from being known even by these men who were all close to him. Nothing was said until minutes before the bold undertaking was launched. As Romanov had fervently hoped, these men immediately realized the opportunity presented to them and gave their support without a second thought.

Now, here they were less than three months since Romanov took power, in a position that none of them, including the General Secretary, anticipated would come so quickly. He understood the precarious position the Soviet Union had been placed in, largely due to Gorbachev’s attempted reforms. Glasnost and Perestroika would only serve to speed up the demise of the Soviet Union. Romanov recognized this and it motivated him to move decisively to prevent his predecessor and rival from sending the motherland into an irrecoverable tailspin.

Lamentably, Romanov quickly discovered the true condition of his nation upon assuming control. The Soviet Union was essentially on life support. The degeneration of the state’s power had advanced farther than anyone outside Gorbachev’s circle fully understood. The nation had been sedentary for far too long. Its economic strength had been allowed to atrophy, and Soviet military power would not lagging very far behind. Support for the Party was diminishing, and for good reason, Romanov believed. The Party was doing nothing for its people! Animosity was reaching the critical level in the Southern and Baltic republics. And of course, there was still Afghanistan to contend with.

Outside of the CCCP, the situation was more desperate. The Eastern European satellites were in even worse condition. All that was needed for a complete collapse was one errant event. Poles, East Germans, Hungarians, and Czechs were frustrated and despondent. Their living conditions steadily diminished while to the west, their counterparts in West Germany, France, the Low Countries and beyond were enjoying unprecedented economic prosperity.

The writing on the wall was clear: Nothing short of extreme measures was going to save the Soviet empire from being consigned to the dustbin of history. Those measures were less than 24 hours in coming, Romanov noted with some sadness. He certainly had not wanted it to come to this. At least not this quickly. Regrettably, time was against him. The Romanov coup had instigated a chain of events that would consume the State if left untreated. World opinion was decidedly against him. Many governments refused to recognize the legitimacy of his government. The United States had denounced the coup and demanded that Gorbachev be reinstated. Beneath the surface, the US was licking its chops and preparing to use the situation to its advantage, Romanov was positive. Sure enough, evidence of US military preparations around the world began to trickle in after he was in power. In response, Romanov took a hard stance and challenged the US and Reagan, hoping to dissuade any opportunistic moves while the Soviet Union was undergoing transition.

That was not to be, and it became clear very rapidly the US was not going to give Romanov the time needed to consolidate his hold on power, and begin repairing the dry-rot that had become so prevalent in the Soviet Union.

Security was inextricably linked to expansion, Western scholars liked to contend. Romanov agreed, though the current position was more akin to security being linked to a consolidation of power. Conversely, that would not be possible until NATO and the United States were forced into compliance with the Soviet Union’s intended course into the future. And to bring that about meant war, while the Soviet military still held the advantage over the armies, navies, and air forces of the West. An advantage which would cease to exist come 1988.

Therefore, action had to be taken immediately.




Denmark’s Home Guard Prepares


Gert Madsen, like dozens of other Danish Home Guard officers, received the telephone call he had been dreading, but subconsciously anticipating to come at any time, as he was preparing to leave his office in Holstebro on 5 July, 1987. The thirty-five year old Home Guard captain was a barrister in civilian life. He was an associate in a mid-sized firm in Holstebro which dealt with insurance claims. Madsen had joined the Home Guard after his conscription time in the Royal Danish Army came to an end. He did so out of a sense of obligation to his fellow citizens. It was only fair that he contribute something back to the country that had given him so much. So, on weekends, and select other times of the year, Madsen trained with the Home Guard.

The telephone call was short and curt. Madsen picked up, verified who he was when asked and was told by a voice he did not recognize, “The Van Gogh exhibit at National Gallery opens in three weeks.” The code was one of seven that Home Guard officers had to memorize. Each one had its own meaning that was known to the recipient. For anyone who might have been eavesdropping they would have heard mindless chatter. This particular coded message instructed Madsen, and other Home Guard officers in the district to arrive at his local Home Guard depot at 9 o’clock that evening. He checked his watch. It was approaching 4:30 now. There was enough time to go home, spend some time with his wife and two boys, have dinner and then be at the depot in time.

The phone call had been expected for days, since US and Soviet warships exchanged fire in the Mediterranean. Each passing day brought a new deterioration in the crisis, and growing alarm in Western European nations. In Denmark, the tension was palpable. Citizens made a large effort to go about their regular daily routines and pay little attention to the growing menace to the east or the preparations for war taking place to the south and north.

When he arrived home, his wife Jane was waiting expectantly. The wife of a fellow Home Guard officer had called her with the news about the message going out. Madsen tried his best to calm and reassure her. A phone call and resultant meeting did not quite mean mobilization and imminent war. His wife, though, was not swayed. She understood what was happening, yet this moment was when the real world violently collided with hers. The insulation that kept Jane’s mind padded from the foul truth of the international situation was stripped away. She broke down and cried. Gert brought her into the bedroom, away from the kids, and consoled her. He assured her that he would not be packing up and leaving for war that evening, though in reality, he could not rule the possibility out entirely. In time, Jane came around, and dinner that evening was not the tense, subdued meal that Gert had begun to think it would be. Quite the opposite actually.

Madsen arrived at the Holstebro depot a little after 8 PM. The normal Elk’s lodge type of atmosphere that permeated weeknight meetings like this one was gone. In its place was quiet determination and concealed anxiousness. The Home Guard depot at Holstebro was larger than its counterparts in other towns across Denmark. Equipment and supplies for a battlegroup belonging to the Jutland Division was located nearby. In the event of mobilization, many of the reservists in this district would fill out that formation. Home Guard officers and enlisted personnel knew what their unit’s place would be in the Danish military’s order of battle in the event of mobilization. Madsen’s own company of 100 was specifically trained for and assigned to airbase security.

The senior officer for the district was Colonel Kruse, an affable, soft spoken civil servant in Ringkobing. He had been in this post for seven years now and proved himself as a capable officer in more than one field exercise. He normally spent the pre-meeting minutes socializing with the officers. Tonight, that was not the case. Kruse was nowhere to be found. His absence only amplified the restless air now permeating the depot. Madsen and his fellow officers speculated in hushed tones about where Kruse might be. Arne Dahl, a short, solidly built lieutenant mentioned that the colonel’s car was outside in the parking lot. This only fueled the speculation.

At 8:55PM an NCO directed the twenty-four officers into the large conference room. Madsen and the others filed in. He was fortunate enough to find a seat, many officers had to stand. Once everyone was settled, the narrow door at the front of the room swung open and Colonel Kruse strode in. The men rose and snapped to attention but Kruse waved them down. He informed the officers that the first steps towards a national mobilization were about to get underway. The government in Copenhagen was determined to ensure that Denmark was prepared to fulfill its NATO commitments and meet its own national defense needs. All active duty military personnel would be recalled to their bases, and leaves cancelled at midnight. The next morning at 6 AM all Home Guard personnel would be ordered to their depots and mobilization was to begin officially at 12 noon on 6 July.

For the evening, Kruse told the officers they would be given the assignment and orders for their respective units. He, and a pair of active duty officers who’d arrived during the meeting handled the matter. An Army major briefed Madsen when it was his turn.

“Madsen,” he began. “Your company is trained for air base security and defense, correct? Good. You will be assigned to Karup and augment the base security there. When your men are gathered here tomorrow, equipment will be issued. Trucks will arrive shortly thereafter to transport you to Karup.”

In the blink of an eye, Denmark, and Madsen’s transformations from peacetime to war were kicked into overdrive.