Psychological warfare  

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Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations (PSYOP), have been known by many other names or terms, including MISO, Psy Ops, Political Warfare, "Hearts and Minds," and propaganda. The term is used "to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people." (Szunyogh, Béla, 1955) Various techniques are used, and are aimed at influencing a target audience's value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behavior. It is used to induce confessions or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator's objectives, and are sometimes combined with black operations or false flag tactics. It is also used to destroy the morale of enemies through tactics that aim to depress troops' psychological states. Target audiences can be governments, organizations, groups, and individuals, and is not just limited to soldiers. Civilians of foreign territories can also be targeted by technology and media so as to cause an effect in the government of their country.

In Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Jacques Ellul discusses psychological warfare as a common peace policy practice between nations as a form of indirect aggression in place of military aggression. This type of propaganda drains the public opinion of an opposing regime by stripping away its power on public opinion. This form of aggression is hard to defend against because no international court of justice is capable of protecting against psychological aggression since it cannot be legally adjudicated. The only defense is using the same means of psychological warfare. It is the burden of every government to defend its state against propaganda aggression. "Here the propagandists is [sic] dealing with a foreign adversary whose morale he seeks to destroy by psychological means so that the opponent begins to doubt the validity of his beliefs and actions."



Alexander the Great

Although not always accredited as the first practitioner of psychological warfare, Alexander the Great of Macedon undoubtedly showed himself to be effective in swaying the mindsets of the populaces that were expropriated in his campaigns. In order to keep the new Macedonian states from revolting against their leader, Alexander the Great would leave a number of his men behind in each city to introduce Greek culture and interbreed. Since this method of persuasion did indeed influence loyalist and separatist opinions alike, it directly altered the psyches of the occupied people to conform.

The Mongols

Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongols in the 13th century AD, united his people to eventually conquer more territory than any other leader in human history. Defeating the will of the enemy was the top priority.

Before attacking a settlement, the Mongol generals demanded submission to the Khan, and threatened the initial villages with complete destruction if they refused to surrender. After winning the battle, the Mongol generals "kept true to their promises" and massacred the survivors. Examples include the destruction of the nations of Kiev and Khwarizm. Consequently, tales of the encroaching horde spread to the next villages and created an aura of insecurity that undermined the possibility of future resistance. Subsequent nations were much more likely to surrender to the Mongols without fighting. Often, this more than the Mongol's tactical prowess secured quick Mongol victories.

Genghis Khan also employed tactics that made his numbers seem greater than they actually were. During night operations he ordered each soldier to light three torches at dusk in order to deceive and intimidate enemy scouts and give the illusion of an overwhelming army. He also sometimes had objects tied to the tails of his horses, so that when riding on an open and dry field, would raise a cloud of dust that gave the enemy the impression of great numbers.

The Mongols also employed other gruesome terror tactics to weaken the will to resist. In one infamous incident during the Indian campaign, the Mongol leader Tamerlane built a pyramid of 90,000 human heads in front of the walls of Delhi, to convince them to surrender. Other tactics included firing severed human heads from catapults into enemy lines and over city walls to frighten enemy soldiers and citizens, and spread diseases in the close confines of a besieged city.

Vlad Dracula

Vlad Dracula would physically and psychologically torture his enemies with brutality. His most well-known psychological tactic was an incident involving impalement (thus earning him the title "Vlad the Impaler"), where the bodies of thousands of Ottoman soldiers were suspended in the air, impaled through the heart or rectum on giant wooden sticks. This was so effective, it made an Ottoman army cancel their campaign to invade Romania.

See also


US specific:

World War II:



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