Psychological Operations or PSYOP are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of organizations, groups, and individuals. Used in all aspects of war, it is a weapon whose effectiveness is limited only by the ingenuity of the commander using it.
A proven winner in combat and peacetime, PSYOP is one of the oldest weapons in the arsenal of man. It is an important force protector/combat multiplier and a non-lethal weapons system.
Psychological Operations (PSYOP) or Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) is simply learning everything about your target enemy, their beliefs, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Once you know what motivates your target, you are ready to begin psychological operations.
Psychological operations may be defined broadly as the planned use of communications to influence human attitudes and behavior ... to create in target groups behavior, emotions, and attitudes that support the attainment of national objectives. The form of communication can be as simple as spreading information covertly by word of mouth or through any means of multimedia.
A psychological warfare campaign is a war of the mind. Your primary weapons are sight and sound. PSYOP can be disseminated by face-to-face communication, audio visual means (television), audio media (radio or loudspeaker), visual media (leaflets, newspapers, books, magazines and/or posters). The weapon is not how its sent, but the message it carries and how that message affects the recipient.
For instance, our American
flag, when it goes by in a parade do you feel a sense of pride? How about when
you hear our national anthem played? How about "God Bless the
It has long been said that: "The pen is mightier than the sword". That is because, if used properly, words can be an inspiration to motivate others. Some examples:
"Remember the Alamo"
"Give me liberty or give me death"
"I regret I have but one life to give for my country"
"Ask not what your country can do for you? Ask what you can do for your country"
Now for psychological operations to
be effective, you must carefully plan your
propaganda. You must make sure that you know everything about your enemy
and that you are targeting his beliefs and not using your own. For example, at
the very beginning of Desert Shield, just after
"just like Adolph Hitler"
For Americans and most of
On the reverse side,
knowing your enemy's beliefs can work for you. For example, remember when
Saddam Hussein broadcasted live images of his "Human Shields, the woman
and children of westerners that were in
How do you get to know your enemy? Intelligence reports, Area studies, in country research, defectors, native help, and even the enemy prisoners of war all are sources of information. As leaflets were developed during Desert Storm, they were tested on cooperative EPWs (enemy prisoners of war. Some of the recommendations for changes to the leaflet's illustrations made by these EPWs were: remove any trace of the color red (a danger signal to Iraqis), show Allied soldiers with chin beards rather than clean-shaven faces (beards convey trust and brotherhood in Iraqi culture), and add bananas to a bowl of fruit shown being offered to surrendering Iraqis (bananas are a great delicacy in Iraq). Also, an illustration depicting a surrendering Iraqi thinking of his family back home confused the EPWs. "Thought bubbles" are well-known in Western culture, but virtually unknown to Iraqis. The illustration was dropped.
In a memo written to then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on 24 October 1953, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower defined psychological warfare as anything "from the singing of a beautiful anthem up to the most extraordinary kind of physical sabotage."
Used during peacetime,
contingencies and declared war, these activities are not a form of force, but
are force multipliers that use nonviolent means in often violent environments.
Persuading rather than compelling physically, they rely on logic, fear, desire
or other mental factors to promote specific emotions, attitudes or behaviors.
The ultimate objective of
Now please note that I stated above that Psychological Operations as conducted by the US Military is the dissemination of "truthful" information, not propaganda which is categorized as "white, gray, or black". Now what is the difference between PSYOP and propaganda? A memorandum prepared by the Chief of Army Field Forces at Fort Monroe, Virginia in September of 1953 briefly explained the difference between "gray" propaganda, messages broadcast with the goal of "avoiding identification," and "black" propaganda, which involves "attribution to a source other than the true one."
A more recent set of
definitions, reportedly used by former CIA chief William Colby and cited in at
least one commercial publication, calls truthfully-attributed and non-
attributed messages "white" propaganda, whereas messages falsely
attributed to a third party are considered "gray." The term
"black propaganda" is reserved for those materials "planted by
Historically, the application of psychological operations in one form or another has proven to be almost as essential to the successful waging of war as the use of manpower and weaponry. However, in spite of its long history of successful employment, the potential for using the power of persuasion through psychological operations as a force multiplier to achieve national objectives with a minimum of destruction, has been recognized by only the most perceptive of military leaders and statesmen. Furthermore, it has been since World War II that PSYOP has come into its own as an effective weapon system.
The giant strides made in the area of behavioral sciences, which can now enable us to know and understand why people behave as they do, combined with the development and perfection of mass media communications, have greatly multiplied the capability and value of PSYOP as a means of achieving our own national objectives without needless bloodshed.
An analysis of recent conflicts has demonstrated the value of psychological operations/warfare on and off the battlefield. As a result, military authorities are now beginning to accept the fact that psychological operations is a very special combat weapon…one that every military commander must consider employing, and defending against, if he is to accomplish his mission with minimum losses. This recognition of the important role of PSYOP has resulted in its integration into many training programs and tactical exercises, as well as the consideration of PSYOP employment in all future military operations.
Tactical PSYOP is addressed to a specific enemy combat group, to induce them to perform a specific action that will affect the current or short-range combat situation.
Aimed at a larger audience, Strategic PSYOP is put into effect by a carefully planned campaign against a larger target audience than that toward which Tactical PSYOP is directed.
Consolidation PSYOP’s mission is to assist the civil and military authorities in consolidating their gains, by establishing and maintaining law and order, and by re-establishing civil government in an occupied or liberated area.
All three types of psychological operations - - Tactical, Strategic and Consolidation--- can be employed to produce the following desired effects:
Now Psychological Operations (PSYOP)is not a new military tactic by any means. There are numerous examples of the use of psychological warfare throughout history. The following are some historical examples which illustrate the attainment of each of these four objectives.
Perhaps one of the earliest examples of Psychological Warfare was attributed to "Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander had conquered most of the known world during his reign. With each region he conquered he left behind soldiers to keep control of the newly conquered area. Eventually, there came a point when Alexander realized that he had stretched his army too thin and was now in danger of losing to a large opposing force. Alexander's only option was to retreat and regroup forces with the armies he left behind. However, to do so would certainly incite the opposing force to pursue him and very possibly capture or defeat his now smaller army.
Alexander knew that if he could intimidate the opposing force they would be scared to follow his army. Alexander instructed his armorers to make several oversized armor breastplates and helmets that would fit "giants", men 7 to 8 feet tall. As Alexander and his forces withdrew during the night they left behind the oversized armor. The oversized armor was of course found by the opposing force who then believed that they had come close to engaging in a battle with giants. A battle that they surely would have lost. The oversized armor coupled with the stories they had heard from travelers of the savagery of Alexander's army caused enough doubt and fear that they elected not to pursue Alexander's army.
Sun Tsu, recognized as one of the greatest military tacticians of all times, strongly advocated the use of psychological warfare as a force multiplier. Sun Tsu wrote that:
"To capture the enemy's entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. For 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. Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy. Next best is to disrupt his alliances by diplomacy. The next best is to attack his army. And the worst policy is to attack cities.
Sun Tzu understood that given the opportunity, an adversary will surrender to a superior commander prior to conflict. In order to have a chance to be that superior leader, PSYOP must be coordinated and included in initial planning and implemented prior to conflict. If hostilities begin, proper PSYOP implementation can end the conflict earlier than otherwise expected. PSYOP is a force multiplier and resource saver.
Mongol leader Genghis Khan was
widely known for leading hordes of savage horsemen across
Psychological operations were used
extensively by all sides during World War
II. Adolf Hitler rose to power by exploiting the dissatisfaction of
supporters of the traditional left and right wing parties, by dwelling on the
failure of these parties to solve the problems created by the conditions
Radio broadcasts became a
major means of passing propaganda to the enemy.
However the best and most
innovative use of psychological warfare must be attributed to a radio broadcast
by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). During the period May through
September 1940, when the German invasion of
"…..and so it will be best if you learn a few useful phrases in English before visiting us. For your first lesson, we take ‘DIE KANAUEBERFAHRT’. The channel crossing."
"Now, just repeat after me: ‘DAS BOOT SINKT.’ The boat is sinking. The boat is sinking"
"DAS WASSER IST KALT. The water is cold. SER KALT. Very cold"
"Now I will give you a verb that should be very useful. Again, please repeat after me. ICH BRENNE. I am burning. Du Brennst. You are burning. ER BRENNT. He is burning. WIR BRENNEN. We burn. IHR BRENNT. You are burning. SIR BRENNEN. They are burning."
This was rather crude
material: but it proved effective. The phrases about burning in the
Cover and deception operations are complex and intricate affairs, invariably involving many talents, techniques and resources. Perhaps the most ambitious and spectacular cover and deception operation of modern times was the effort of the Allies to convince the German high command that the upcoming Allied invasion of Europe would occur across the beaches near the Pas de Calais, rather than the narrow sand strips and cliffs of Normandy nearly 100 hundred miles away.
Through imaginative employment of
psychological operations the Allies created the fictitious "Army Group
Patton," which was poised to strike across the
Even after the Allied
invasion came at
The next example concerns the fourth objective of psychological operations, that is, its use to promote cooperation, unity and morale within friendly units and people as well as within resistance forces behind enemy lines.
During World War II, the
very survival of the
The two Russian institutions with the deepest roots in the past, the Army and the Church, were cultivated by Stalin’s propagandists as never before in Soviet history. The historic accomplishments of Russian armies were glorified. The church hierarchy and class distinctions were returned to pre-revolution standards. Even the official newspaper, "PRAVDA," dropped its Marxist motto, "WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE," and substituted the openly nationalistic slogan, "DEATH TO THE GERMAN INVADER." The ensuing struggle became and is still officially known in Soviet history as "The Great Patriotic War".
Thus we see how even Josef Stalin, one of the most hard-headed dictators of the 20th Century, realized that his conventional military weapons alone, were not enough to meet the challenge of the German armies. In retrospect, we can see that his choice of utilizing psychological operations to augment his conventional military forces, would prove to play a major role in maintaining the survival of his communist regime for so many years.
Having learned the
effectiveness of radio broadcasts and leaflets during World War II, the U.S.
Army Far East Command's small Special Projects Branch of the Headquarters G-2
(Intelligence) Division, began radio broadcasts and leaflet drops over the
The 1st Loudspeaker and
Leaflet Company used both vehicle and aircraft mounted loudspeakers to get
their verbal messages across. However, as in previous
Psychological Operations were used by both sides. Many G.I.'s may remember the notorious "Hanoi Hannah", who like "Tokyo Rose" of WW II broadcasted a daily radio program where she played music, coupled with the North's view of the news and messages of discouragement to our troops.
The Americans countered with their own radio broadcasts, and leaflet programs.
These air attacks failed to
deter the communists from protracting the fighting for over eight years in
After having already made what it considered to be its maximum feasible concessions in the Vietnam peace talks, the United States resorted to escalation or threatened escalation to bring the negotiations to closure.
Severe U.S. escalation or threatened escalation was required to extract comparatively modest concessions from both enemies. In Vietnam, Washington had to employ massive B-52 and fighter-bomber strikes on Hanoi and Haiphong to force the communists to complete a peace agreement, the key provisions of which they had already accepted.
The communists agreed to terms only after their military forces on the battlefield had been stalemated. Prior to the settlements, the communist forces in Vietnam had mounted major offensives, the defeat of which left them no prospects for immediate further military gains.
At H-Hour, 1-508th Abn had the mission of securing Ft. Amador, an installation shared by the U.S. and Panama Defense Force (PDF). Because of the need for OPSEC, American dependents could not be evacuated in advance of the attack. This complication, and the requirement to minimize enemy casualties and physical damage, made PSYOP loudspeaker teams, from the 1st Bn, 4th PSYOP Gp, a key asset. The battalion sealed off the PDF portion of Ft. Amador and ensured that all noncombatants were safe. After daylight, the task force set about systematically securing the area. When initial appeals failed to persuade the PDF to surrender, the commander modified the broadcasts. The holdouts were warned that resistance was hopeless in the face of overwhelming firepower and a series of demonstrations took place, escalating from small arms to 105mm howitzer rounds. Subsequent broadcasts convinced the PDF to give up. The entire process allowed Ft. Amador to be secured with few casualties and minimal damage.
The Gulf War brought a whole new meaning to the use of multimedia in psychological operations. Radio and TV broadcasts, leaflets, and loudspeakers used the themes of Arab brotherhood, allied air power, and Iraqi isolation to induce large numbers of enemy soldiers to desert. One of the most effective tactics involved the dropping of leaflets on a particular unit, informing it that it would be bombed within twenty-four hours and had to surrender to avoid destruction. Over a seven-week period, 29 million leaflets in at least 14 varieties were dropped behind Iraqi lines, reaching approximately 98% of the 300,000 troops. Click here for some examples of Gulf War leaflets.
The 4th PSYOP Group began broadcasting the "VOICE OF THE GULF" radio network on 19 January 1991. It operated continuously through 1 April 1991 with more than 210 hours of live broadcasting and 330 hours of prerecorded programs. A total of 2072 news items were aired along with 189 PSYOP messages. The VOICE OF THE GULF network consisted of a 50 KW AM transmitter located at Abu Ali, Saudi Arabia broadcasting on AM 1134; a 10KW AM transmitter located at Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia broadcasting on AM 1179; a 1KW FM transmitter located at Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia broadcasting on FM 87.5 and two Volant Solo EC-130 aircraft of the 193rd Special Operations Group broadcasting on AM 690 and FM 88.5 and 87.9.
Of course like some of the other big wars, Iraq chose to use a woman, "Baghdad Betty", to conduct propaganda broadcasts to deter and disillusion their enemy. Unfortunately for Iraq, they forgot that a truly effective psychological warfare program must have the input of highly-qualified clinical psychologists "who specialize in the unconscious dynamics of human behavior and motivation'' and who are knowledgeable about the "values and customs of different cultures.'' Such expertise is essential to the "selection of a culturally appropriate and effectively persuasive concept and value-based theme" that is the heart of any PSYOP. In one of her first broadcast Baghdad Betty warned the American soldiers listening that while they were in the desert of Saudi Arabia, their wives and girlfriends were sleeping with Tom Cruise, Tom Selleck and Bart Simpson. Now it was ridiculous enough to infer that our wives and girlfriends would be seduced by two movie stars but by their failure to do thorough research on the American culture, Betty lost any chance of credibility by telling our servicemen that a cartoon character was seducing our women back home.
During Desert Storm the 4th PSYOP Group fielded 71 Tactical loudspeaker teams. These teams provided support to USARCENT (both XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps), USMARCENT and USSOCCENT. Loudspeaker teams broadcast surrender appeals, harassment and deception tapes. Most loudspeaker teams had Saudi Arabian, Egyptian or Kuwaiti linguists attached to execute live broadcasts as the situation dictated. Loudspeaker teams were also innovatively employed for prisoner control at the EPW camps with broadcasts designed to accomplish prisoner pacification and underscore Military Police authority.
One of the best examples of the successful use of loudspeakers occurred during the Gulf War. The allied coalition effectively isolated, both physically and psychologically, a large element of Iraqi forces on Faylaka Island. Rather then reduce the island by direct assault, a tactical PSYOP team from the 9th PSYOP Battalion, aboard a UH-1N helicopter, flew aerial loudspeaker missions around the island with cobra gunships providing escort. The message told the adversary below to surrender the next day in formation at the radio tower. The next day 1,405 Iraqis, including a general officer, waited in formation at the radio tower to surrender to the Marine forces without a single shot having been fired.
How successful was the US PSYOP campaign in Desert Storm? The International Red Cross reported that nearly 87,000 Iraqi soldiers turned themselves over to coalition forces, most of them clutching the leaflets or hiding them in their clothing. All incidents of surrender were bloodless. Perhaps the best testimony to the effectiveness of PSYOP was given by an Iraqi General when he stated that:
"PSYOP...was a great threat to troop morale, second only to the coalition bombing campaign."
Thus, psychological operations are coming of age. We saw from historical examples, how Tactical, Strategic and Consolidation PSYOP can cover the short-range, long-range and recuperative phases of warfare, to reduce enemy morale and combat effectiveness; to promote dissension within and defections from enemy ranks; to support cover and deception operations; and to promote unity, cooperation and morale within our own military and those of our allies, and to provide meaningful domestic assistance to less fortunate groups and communities.
Why then , you may ask, has the value of psychological operations taken so long to receive general recognition, and why is it full potential yet to be realized?
Part of the answer to this question was covered earlier in our presentation, when it was discussed that although psychological operations has been utilized by various military leaders over the centuries, it has only been recently with the major advances in behavioral sciences and mass communications that PSYOP has come into its own as an effective weapon system of great potential.
Another part of the answer to this question lies in the attitude of people towards psychological operations. To some, it produces images of government controlled communications/mass media, telling the people only what the government wants them to hear. To others, it raises the horrid specter of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, practicing the technique of the "big lie" which has incorrectly become synonymous with "propaganda". Still to others, the mere mention of "psychological" operations or warfare invokes visions of "mind control" through some mysterious means of brainwashing.
It should be clear that modern psychological operations, or PSYOP, is none of those things. On the contrary PSYOP is not unlike the public advertising that we are all exposed to wherever we go, every day, through all kinds of mass media. However the negative connotation that some people attach to the word psychological" prevents many people from recognizing the simple truth. Everyone knows that if you do not have a good product to sell, people will not continue buying it, no matter how much you advertise. The same applies to the points of view advertised through the use of psychological operations. Thus we have no reason to fear PSYOP, but we do have ample reason to respect it for what it can do.
By the application of sound PSYOP techniques, through face-to-face communication and mass media communications, we have demonstrated , time and time again, that we can appeal to the intelligence, reason, and emotions of our target audience to get them to think and act as we desire. If these people are shooting at us, we can persuade them to lay down their arms. If they fear us, we can convince them that they have nothing to fear. If they are belligerent and uncooperative, we can show them the value of unity and cooperation. Lastly and most important, the utilization of PSYOP can prevent needless bloodshed, destruction and misery. That is why we say, with conviction, that psychological operations, or PSYOP, is truly a humane weapon.
Operations are a vital part of the broad range of