Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The U.S. Department of Defense defines psychological warfare (PSYWAR) as:
- "The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives."
History of Psychological Warfare
Although not always accredited as the first practitioner of psychological warfare, Alexander the Great of Macedonia undoubtedly showed 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 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, and directly altered the psyches of the Asiatic people to conform, it could be considered a form of psychological warfare.
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. This was indeed an honorable accomplishment, but would have been impossible to achieve had it not been for the use of psychological warfare. Next to mobility, defeating the will of the enemy was the greatest weapon for the Mongols. Before attacking a settlement, the Mongol general would demand tribute and submission to the Khan or otherwise threaten to attack. Most of the initial nations to be conquered, such as the nations of Kiev and Khwarizm, refused to surrender. Consequently, the Mongol general would engage his cavalry in a series of brilliant maneuvers that periodically left most of the enemy thoroughly slaughtered. He would spare a few, however, allowing them to take their tales of the encroaching hoard to the next villages. This created an aura of insecurity with the resistance, eventually supplanting the will of the villagers. Often times, this in itself procured the Mongol victory.
Most of the events throughout history involving psychological warfare utilized tactics that instilled fear or a sense of awe towards the enemy. But as humanity continued into the 19th century, advances in communications technology acted as a catalyst for mass propagandizing. One of the first leaders to inexorably gain fanatical support through the use of microphone technology was Adolf Hitler. By first creating a speaking environment that exaggerated his presence to make him seem almost god-like, Hitler then coupled this with the resonating projections of his orations through a microphone. This was a form of psychological warfare, because the image that he created for himself greatly influenced and swayed the German people to eventually follow him. During WWII, psychological warfare was used effectively by the allies as well. In fact, the enormous success that the invasion of Normandy displayed would not have been attainable had it not been for the brilliant deception tactics carried out by propaganda officers before D-Day. General Patton, who led the allied forces in the attack, prematurely convinced Hitler that the primary invasion force would land almost 200 miles east of Normandy on the French coast. This was made possible through several complex maneuvers executed successfully by the allied propagandists, but primarily, Patton's team used frequent radio broadcasts in German to make the Nazis think that the Allies were massing in a location to pursue a separate beachhead. Hitler was forced to make a choice – thankfully he made the wrong one, and after he had sent his strongest northern tank division to the baited location, the allies attacked Normandy. Before Christmas that same year, American, French, British, and Canadian forces were marching through the streets of Berlin. Patton's strategy was successful because of his powerful leadership and coercive deception.
Psychological Warfare Today
The information age was a new horizon, especially for psychological warfare, which manifested itself in an incredibly short amount of time, especially through the Internet. Information on almost anything was not so difficult to attain, even for the lower classes. Though this has been thought to be one of the greatest achievements in human history, the susceptibility for the misusage of information to control people and nations on a grand scale became apparent to some of the thinkers of the late 1900s. The looming threat and paranoia of this idea that the government could wage psychological warfare on its own people through the censorship of information influenced several anti-government /anti-establishment social revolutions in the 1960s and 1970’s , including counter-culture and anarchism. These movements have continued even into the present day, but are steadily decreasing due to the behaviors which some of its proponents have exhibited through the style of their music and the natures of their counterproductive, distasteful, and maniacal lifestyles.
- Distributing leaflets, e.g. in the Gulf War, encouraging desertion
- propaganda radio stations, such as Lord Haw-Haw in World War II on the Germany calling station
- Renaming cities and other places when captured, such as Baghdad airport
- shock and awe military strategy
- terrorism (as asymmetric warfare)
- Projecting repetitive and annoying sounds and music for long periods at high volume towards groups under seige
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