The systematic efforts to affect morale, loyalty, etc., especially of large national groups



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Psychological Warfare
Psychological warfare is defined as “the systematic efforts to affect morale, loyalty, etc., especially of large national groups.” (The World Book Dictionary) What this is saying is it is an attempt of one nation to gain an advantage over another by using the mistrust, fear, and uncertainty that is a characteristic of a nation at war. The idea is to affect the enemy’s mind so they will take action favorable to his opponent.

Psychological warfare has been around as long as warfare has. But unlike regular warfare, it does not use conventional weapons. It uses mental “bullets.” The earliest known use of psychological warfare was by the Persians. They forced Ionian Greeks to fight in their armies. When they were about to attack, the Athenians went ashore and cut messages into the stone urging the Ionians not to fight. This brought uncertainty to the Persian army because they did not know if the Ionians would fight for or against them, so they did not have them fight. Other historical uses of psychological warfare include Chinese kites carrying messages and French balloons that would drop leaflets at intervals. Also, European archers tied messages to their arrows urging surrender, and shot them into castles. During the Civil War propaganda was used to support Lincoln and the Union. Parts of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Amnesty Declaration were printed in newspapers to undermine the Confederacy. Psychological warfare advanced in both World Wars with the invention of the leaflet bomb. Propaganda was widely used on both sides. Germany used the V-1 rocket to send leaflets to Britain. Further the use (and invention) of the radio helped to reach more people and broadcasts were made to give optimism to occupied nations. Sometimes those broadcasts contained hidden instructions for the resistance. Loudspeakers were used frequently throughout Vietnam and the Gulf War to coerce the enemy and give support to our own troops. Another example of the use of psychological warfare was by the U.S. Army and their attempt to persuade Manuel Noriega, Panama’s dictator, to surrender. They played rock music, which Noriega could not stand, over loudspeakers all day every day to fray his nerves and lower his resistance (Pease, 3-6).

There are three types of psychological warfare: strategic, tactical, and consolidation. Strategic PSYWAR uses propaganda to prejudice people and international opinion against an opponent. It has long-range goals and is both inside and outside the battle field. Tactical PSYWAR usually uses leaflets and loudspeakers. It is closely tied to the battlefield. Its goals are immediate. Finally, consolidation is aimed at civilians. Many times at civilians in a recently liberated area. It seeks to convince people they are better off under the new government.

There are four basic ground rules that need to be followed for any psychological warfare attempt to succeed. You need to know what the purpose is of the mission -- what you are aiming for. The second thing is to know your target. For this, target analysis is needed. Next is credibility. In order for you to be able to convince people of things you need to be credible otherwise they will not give you a second thought. And finally, the means of communication must be effective. If it does not reach the people then having the other three do not matter.

An understanding of the purpose of the mission is important. During the first world war the British were blockading Germany. Imperial Germany’s ambassador, Count Bernstorff, knew that they needed America’s help so he arranged an American press outing to show how cruel Britain was because there were starving children in Germany. However at the same time the German Berlin War ministry was planning a tour to show that the blockade was not working to try to trick the British into thinking that it was a waste of their time. So Berstorff’s plan did not work. In the end the United States entered the war on the side of the allies. An understanding of what the aim of the mission is and should be crucial. And like in this case, communication is needed. (Roetter, 15-16)

Target analysis is understanding the people you are trying to reach: use of the language and slang they use, and know about their communities, and habits. You need the “input of highly qualified clinical psychologists ‘who specialize in the unconscious dynamics of human behavior and motivation’ and knowledgeable about the ‘values and customs of different cultures’” (Ed, Gulfwar). An example of an ineffective campaign during the Gulf War is one of the first broadcasts by “Baghdad Betty” warning the American soldiers that while they are here fighting a war their wives and girlfriends are back home “sleeping with Tom Cruise, Tom Selleck, and Bart Simpson” (Ed, Gulfwar). It was bad enough that the Iraqi’s thought that then men’s wives and girlfriends would be sleeping with movie stars, but they totally turned them away when they said their wives and girlfriends would be sleeping with a ten year old cartoon character.

Failure to do enough research on the United States led to a loss in credibility in the Iraqi announcements. Credibility depends on a number of things. For example, the propagandist may not be talking the right language, his language may be out of date, or his pronunciation could be off. This was the case of William Joyce, a.k.a. Lord Haw-Haw, whose cultivated upper-or middle-class English accent went against any chance of reaching his target audience. The idea was to play on social tensions in Britain but even lower-class Britains found him hiding his Irish-lower-class accent just not credible. It was not only the accent, though, but the lack of understanding of the British social tensions that worked against him. During WWII there was one source that stayed credible, the B.B.C. This was because they told the truth good or bad. The reason it did so well, stayed popular, and kept such a high rate of credibility was simply “in times of war - which inevitably means uncertainty - people would rather know how things stand then to be fed news and information they distrust” (Roetter, 18).

Finally, the means of communication must be organized an effective. For example, in January of 1918 President Woodrow Wilson gave his famous Fourteen Points speech stating the terms Germany had to meet. On reading it, any German soldier and his family back home would wonder, if these were the terms, why even keep fighting. However the speech never reached Germany. It was printed in newspapers in neutral countries but the average German did not read those papers. Since broadcasting did not exist in WWI there had to be a different way to reach them. It was solved by Edgar Sisson, a representative in Russia. He realized this needed to be readily accessible quickly. He brought it to Lenin’s attention and Lenin agreed it should be available. So they made pamphlets in Russian to give support to the Russian people and German. They distributed them to prisoners of war that were returning home. They also threw them into the path of German and Austro-Hungarian armies that were advancing into the Ukraine. Even with the invention of broadcasting, leaflets still play an important role-especially if they are a “passport” to surrender. Newspapers are also effective, an article about a faulty piece of equipment planted in a newspaper can cause unease and concern in a target area. Throughout the Gulf War loudspeakers were used to broadcast surrender appeals, harassment, and deception tapes. One of the best examples of this was when the allied coalition had isolated, both physically and psychologically, a large group of Iraqi soldiers on Faylaka Island. Instead of assaulting the Island a PSYOP team flew helicopters around the island with cobra gunships as escorts. The helicopters told the Iraqi’s below to surrender peacefully the nest day by the radio tower. The next day 1,405 Iraqi’s, including a general officer, were waiting in formation. This all happened without firing a single shot by playing off their fear. (Ed, Gulfwar)



In conclusion, no war has been won by psychological warfare alone but it has played a crucial part in all wars. And it is probable it will be even more important in wars to come as information is more readily available. “In the future, because of the advent of nuclear weapons, words may be the only arms which the super-powers can employ without risking annihilation” (Roetter, 188). No one will know for sure, but we do know that if it is not planned correctly and intelligently, it will never work. All wars have needed psychological warfare because armies know that they need to “capture their minds and their hearts and souls will follow” (unknown).


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