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Psychologycal warfare

Discussion in 'Jukwaa la Elimu (Education Forum)' started by Pezzonovante, Aug 28, 2008.

  1. Pezzonovante

    Pezzonovante JF-Expert Member

    Aug 28, 2008
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    Psychological Warfare, broadly defined as the attempt, usually during time of war, to persuade adversaries to behave in a manner desired by the source. The use of psychology as a weapon to assist military victory is as old as war itself. The ancient Chinese general, Sun Tzu, wrote more than 3,000 years ago that: “to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.” Throughout history, successful military commanders, from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Charlemagne, and to Napoleon, all understood that the relationship between what a soldier thought and what he did on the battlefield was critical to the achievement of victory or defeat.

    Modern psychological warfare came of age during World War I. Millions of leaflets were dropped by aeroplane and balloon in an attempt to persuade enemy soldiers to surrender, defect, or desert. This was largely soldier-to-soldier communications, otherwise known as combat propaganda or battlefield propaganda. This is not to suggest that the messages were false. Indeed, they had to be credible if they were to be believed. But these “paper bullets” also had to be fired at the right time, so that the message coincided with the need, ability, and self-interest of the recipient to think and behave in the desired way. By 1918, the British had become the somewhat embarrassed masters of the craft under the tutelage of Lord Northcliffe and his Department of Enemy Propaganda located at Crewe House in London. He was dubbed by the Germans as the “Minister for the Destruction of German Self-Confidence”, and in subsequent years they were to blame British psychological warfare as a major reason for their defeat. Adolf Hitler even devoted two chapters in Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”, translated 1939) to this somewhat dubious claim. In fact, it was more of a rationalization, rather than an explanation, for the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918.

    In the years that followed, developments in communications technologies—such as radio, sound cinema, and, later, television—would make new media available to the psychological warrior’s arsenal to disseminate his messages. Moreover, the rise of authoritarian regimes with aggressive internationalist ideologies in the 1920s and 1930s ensured that this activity would no longer be confined to the traditional battlefield. When World War II erupted in 1939, “munitions of the mind” bombarded both civilians and soldiers in an attempt to undermine enemy morale at every level. And it was during that war that psychological warfare became more sophisticated in its techniques.


    Three types of activity were identified. “White”, or overt, activity truthfully identifies the source so that the recipient knows where the message is coming from. To be credible, white psychological warfare messages need to be based upon truthful statements. During World War II the BBC earned itself an enormous reputation for credibility by broadcasting “facts” into occupied Europe that Nazi propaganda was trying to suppress (conversely, the so-called Tokyo Rose broadcasts by Japan designed to lower Allied morale contained so little credible information that they were listened to as light relief by Allied servicemen). To retain its credibility, the BBC distanced itself from a second type of activity, known as “black”, or covert, psychological warfare.


    Black activity purports to come from a source different from the true one. Born of a lie, it enjoys considerably more latitude with the “truth” and frequently used what many people find distasteful methods for injecting its messages into the enemy target’s mind. The British created a highly secret Political Warfare Executive (preferring a different label to psychological warfare) to conduct this activity. This largely consisted of black radio stations that captured audiences with the use of lurid language, scandal, gossip, and rumours—as well as some facts thrown in—that appeared to originate from within Germany but in fact came from Britain. The mastermind behind these radio stations was Sefton Delmer, a former Berlin correspondent of the Daily Express.

    Once the United States entered the war in December 1941, they committed huge resources, including a squadron of bombers dedicated solely for leaflet drops over occupied Europe, to what they preferred to call psychological warfare, or “psywar”. Billions of leaflets were dropped, hours of programming were broadcast, and, on the battlefield, combat loudspeaker teams shouted their messages to enemy forces. But, by the end of the war there were no plaudits for psychological warfare’s effectiveness on a par with those made in 1918. The German soldier proved highly reluctant to surrender, and millions fought to the bitter end. The Japanese soldier’s morale and dedication to his imperial cause was even harder to break down. The “surrender or die” message at the core of Allied battlefield psywar was countered by Nazi propaganda themes like “victory or death”, and it took a second atomic bomb before the Japanese laid down their arms in 1945.


    The third category was “grey” psychological warfare. This avoids any identification of the source, and came to the fore during the Cold War, which dominated the post-World War II era down to the early 1990s. This was as much a war of words and ideas as it was a nuclear stand-off between the West and the Soviet Union. As such, it was an ideological confrontation between two competing ways of life. Both sides used all categories of psychological warfare. The white aspects could be seen in the broadcasts of Radio Moscow and the Voice of America, or would manifest themselves in the Olympic Games or even the space race. The black and grey activities were usually fought in the shadows in a secret war between the Central Intelligence Agency and the KGB, with planted stories in the world’s media about the evils of the other side. The Soviets labelled their work as “disinformazia”. The US Information Agency (1953-1999) maintained that it only told the truth. What was certainly true was that the environment for psychological warfare was no longer on the tactical battlefield but in the wider strategic global information space.


    This is not to suggest that there was no room for battlefield psywar. It was used in the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, and in the Vietnam War. But by the 1970s the preferred term was psychological operations, or psyops, reflecting the broader application of its use beyond combat situations. This became even more appropriate after the Cold War ended, coinciding with Operation Desert Storm in which psyops played a significant role in forcing the Iraqi army to leave Kuwait in 1991 (see Gulf War). About 29 million leaflets were dropped on that occasion, reinforcing messages broadcast from an EC-130 Hercules aircraft that had been converted into a flying radio and TV station. This was Commando Solo, which was again deployed in the “operations other than war” in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo during the 1990s. An astonishing 103 million leaflets were dropped during NATO’s “humanitarian intervention” in Kosovo in 1999.

    During Operation Enduring Freedom—the so-called war against global terrorism initiated after the attacks on the US of September 11, 2001—psyops has been deployed as both a “combat force multiplier” in the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq and as a strategic “perception management” tool in the struggle for “hearts and minds” in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Psyops remains a tool used largely by the military while other official persuaders prefer to call their activity “public diplomacy”, “information operations”, “strategic influence”, as well as “perception management”. But in the global “info-sphere”, and the age of the Internet, the deployment of psychology in conjunction with communications media and the use of force remains an essential ingredient of how human beings communicate with one another, in peace and war, and in all points in-between.