Psychological Warfare or Psywar is "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". Simply put, Psychological Warfare involves the use of Propaganda and other measures in order to impact the behaviour of opposing factions.
Whilst the two concepts are often used interchangeably, Psychological Warfare refers to an overarching campaign incorporating many different facets, including Psychological Operations, False Flag, Disinformation, and various types of Propaganda; whereas Psychological Operations, or Psyops is used more to describe specific military operations and the tactical units which practice them.
Psychological Warfare involves a deep cultural understanding of the opposing force it is targeting. In order to conduct an effective assault on the hearts and the minds of the target audience, you must first get to know them intimately. Practitioners of Psychological Warfare can aim to engage their target audiences through a mixture of face-to-face and mass media communications, aiming to end/suppress conflicts with the minimum amount of bloodshed possible.
Types of Psychological Warfare can play huge roles in the short-term, long-term, and recuperative phases of warfare. Acts of Psychological Warfare, however, are not limited to times of declared war; they can be employed in areas of peace or conflict. They represent force multipliers, using nonviolent methods in often violent situations, relying on persuasion rather than brute force to forward the interests of the sponsor.
Acts of Psychological Warfare have four clear objectives:
1. Reduce the morale and combat efficiency of opposition soldiers
2. Foster mass dissension within and defections from opposition combat units
3. Support other propaganda and psychological operations carried out by allies
4. Promote cooperation and unity within friendly ranks, as well as resistance forces behind enemy lines.
The History of Psychological Warfare
Psychological Warfare is by no means a modern concept. Since prehistoric times, commanders such as Alexander The Great and Genghis Khan have understood the importance of inducing psychological fear in your opponents and inspiring support in your allies.
One of the first authoritative pieces of literature outlining Psychological Warfare tactics was written over 2000 years ago. "The Art of War", a manual detailing the use of deception and psychological manipulation as effective tools in warfare was written by a famous Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in the 2nd Century BC.
First World War
The First World War is considered by many to be the birthplace of modern Psychological Warfare. This is due in large part to the availability of mass media communications like radio and the modern printing press, and the innovative means to distribute communications to target audiences. These new measures to conduct psychological warfare included leafleting aeroplanes, balloons, mortar rounds, hand grenades, and artillery shells
During the Great War, Governments quickly realised that modern warfare would require the effective use of Propaganda to sway public opinion, and engage civilians as well as soldiers in the new concept of total war. The emergence of modern Propaganda during the First World War set the precedent for all future conflicts, sanctioning the widespread deception of civilians and manipulation of opposition forces..
Second World War
Psychological Warfare was used extensively by both sides of the conflict. Giant strides in the fields of behavioural sciences meant that Governments were better able than ever to understand why people behaved the way they did, and to apply this to their Psywar campaigns. It was increasingly understood that a large variety of different variable affected the success of Psywar initiatives in the field. Governments were quick to learn that communications must be in a format familiar to that particular target audience, meaning that a large number of Psywar initiatives were created specifically for individual villages, as opposed to the civilian population in general.
There was a much larger emphasis on pre-testing of Psywar initiatives, gauging the response of the target audience, turning Psychological Warfare into a much less artistic and more scientific pursuit. Directors of the Psywar campaigns would establish a theoretical model of their intended audience, and deploy tactical Psyops teams throughout the campaign theater to test the effectiveness of new material on small sample groups and report back their findings. Where possible, this was often carried out by conducting surveys and showing new Psywar products to sample audiences.
Further advances in mass communication technologies greatly enhanced the capability of Governments to achieve their Psywar objectives. Whilst Psychological Warfare was pioneered during the First World War, it has been suggested that it really came into its own as an effective and efficient weapon system during the Second World War, with many of the same tactics being used, but under increased intensities. .
From the perspective of Psychological Warfare, the Korean War represents the most significant battleground for the war of ideas between Western Democracy and Eastern Communism. United States and United Nations efforts pioneered the use of tactical loudspeakers and radio broadcasts to disseminate information to the Korean masses. Leafleting became the most prominent aspect of the US Psywar campaign in Korea, having the advantage of air-superiority to airdrop huge quantities of printed Propaganda.
Communist Psychological Warfare, however, was more effectively able to target vast quantities of the Korean public. Allies of the Communist regime were able to effectively engage with the target audience through oratory Propaganda, appealing to the vast swathes of the Korean population that were illiterate or semi-illiterate. The Communist regime also showcased their abilities to utilise indoctrination as a tactic in Psychological Warfare, causing widespread collaboration and cooperation among American prisoners of war.
Being one of the first modern wars fought entirely on the Asian continent, huge differences in language, culture, customs, climate and terrain hampered American efforts at effective Psywar measures. With the United States suffering huge Propaganda defeats, the Korean War was one of the first to demonstrate the immense power of Communist regimes to conduct effective Psychological Warfare campaigns.
Building on its efforts in the Korean War, the United States employed similar Psychological Warfare tactics in the Vietnam War. Learning from the mistakes of Korea, American Psywar strategies were put in place to better target the illiterate civilians and soldiers, making more prominent use of loudspeakers among ground troops. The United States also pioneered the use of aircraft as loudspeaker platforms; the US Air Force’s 14th Special Operations Wing was specifically commissioned for aerial Psychological Warfare purposes in Vietnam. Equipped with leaflet dispensers and loudspeakers, aircraft would skim the treetops, broadcasting messages to the enemy. Whereas leaflets can be discarded an ignored, an audio broadcast over loudspeaker cannot; the target becomes a captive audience.
Taking further advantage of its air superiority, The United States continued to use airdrops to distribute leaflets; one of the most successful of which was the "Safe Conduct Pass" it has utilised in the Second World War and the Korean War, guaranteeing defecting troops from opposing sides safe passage into territory controlled by allied forces. Wordless leaflets were also created to combat illiteracy, but were often subject to misinterpretation by opposing factions.
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