LTC John Alexander’s Military Review article in support of “psychotronics” – intelligence and operational employment of ESP – was decidedly provocative. Criticism of research in this area, based as it is on existing frontiers of scientific law, brings to mind the laughter that greeted the Italian scientist Lanzani in 1794 when he suggested that bats navigate in the dark by means of what we now call sonar. “If they see with their ears, then do they hear with their eyes?” went the joke, but I suspect that the U.S. Navy is glad someone took the idea seriously enough to pursue it.
Psychotronic research is in its infancy, but the U.S. Army already possesses an operational weapons system designed to do what LTC Alexander would like ESP to do – except that this weapons system uses existing communications media. It seeks to map the minds of neutral and enemy individuals and then to change them in accordance with U.S. national interests. It does this on a wide scale, ewbracing military units, regions, nations, and blocs. In its present form it is called Psychological Operations (PSYOP).
Does PSYOP work, or is it merely a cosmetic with which field commanders rather not be bothered?
Had that question been asked in 1970, the answer would have been that PSYOP works very well indeed. In 1967 and 1968 alone, a total of 29,276 armed Viet Cong/NVA (the equivalent of 95 enemy infantry battalions) surrendered to ARVN or MACV forces under the Chiou Hoi amnesty program – the major PSYOP effort of the Vietnam War. At the time MACV estimated that the elimination of that number of enemy troops in combat would have cost us 6,000 dead.
On the other hand, we lost the war – not because we were out-fought, but because we were out-PSYOPed. Our national will to achieve victory was attacked more effectively than we attacked that of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, and perception of this fact encouraged the enemy to hang on until the United States finally broke and ran for home.
So our PSYOP failed. It failed not because its principles were unsound, but rather because it was outmatched by the PSYOP of the enemy. The Army’s efforts enjoyed some battlefield success, but the MACV PSYOP did not really change the minds of the enemy populace, nor did it defend the U.S. populace at all against the propaganda of the enemy. Furthermore the enemy’s PSYOP was so strong that it – not bigger armies or better weapons – overcame all of the Cobras and Spookys and ACAVs and B-52s we fielded. The lesson is not to ignore our own PSYOP capability, but rather to change it and strengthen it so that it can do precisely that kind of thing to our enemy in the next war. Better hardware is nice, but by itself it will change nothing if we do not win the war for the mind.
The first thing that is necessary to overcome is a view of PSYOP that limits it to routine, predictable, over-obvious, and hence marginally effective “leaflet and loudspeaker” applications. Battlefield devices of this sort have their place, but it should be that of an accessory to the main effort. That main effort cannot begin at the company or division level; it must originate at the national level. It must strengthen our national will to victory and it must attack and ultimately destroy that of the enemy. It both causes and is affected by physical combat, but it is a type of war which is fought on a far more subtle basis as well – in the minds of the national populations involved.
So let us begin with a simple name change. We shall rid ourselves of the self-conscious, almost “embarrassed” concept of “psychological operations”. In its place we shall create MindWar. The term is harsh and fear-inspiring, and so it should be: It is a term of attack and victory – not one of rationalization, coaxing and conciliation. The enemy may be offended by it; that is quite all right as long as he is defeated by it. A definition is offered:
MindWar is the deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war.
it is deliberate in that it is a planned, systematic, and comprehensive effort involving all levels of activity from the strategic to the tactical. It is aggressive because opinions and attitudes must be actively changed from those antagonistic to us to those supportive of us if we are to achieve victory. We will not win if we content ourselves with countering opinions and attitudes instilled by enemy governments. We must reach the people before they resolve to support their armies, and we must reach those armies before our combat troops ever see them on battlefields.
Compare this definition with that of psychological warfare as first offered by General William Donovon of the CSS in his World War II-era, “Basic Estimate of Psychological Warfare”:
“Psychological warfare is the coordination and use of all means, including moral and physical, by which the end is attained – other than those of recognized military operations, but including the psychological exploitation of the result of those recognized military actions – which tend to destroy the will of the enemy to achieve victory and to damage his political or economic capacity to do so; which tends to deprive the enemy of the support, assistance, or sympathy of his allies or associates or of neutrals, or to prevent his acquisition of such support, assistance, or sympathy; or which tend to create, maintain, or increase the will to victory of our own people and allies and to acquire, maintain, or to increase the support, assistance, and sympathy of neutrals.”
If the euphemism “psychological operations” resulted from, as one general officer put it in a 1947 letter, “a great need for a synonym which could be used in peacetime that would not shock the sensibilities of a citizen of democracy”, then it may have succeeded domestically. On the other hand it does not seem to have reassured the sensibilities of the Soviets, who in 1980 describe U.S. PSYOP as including:
“..unpardonable methods of ideological sabotage including not just flagrant lies, slander, and disinformation, but also political blackmail, provocation, and terror.”
The reluctance with which the Army has accepted even an “antiseptic” PSYOP component is well-documented in Colonel Alfred Paddock’s brilliant treatise on the history of the PSYOP establishment. Again and again efforts to forge this weapon into its most effective configuration were frustrated by leaders who could not or would not see that wars are fought and won or lost not on battlefields, but in the minds of men. As Colonel Paddock so aptly concludes:
“In a real sense, the manner in which psychological and unconventional warfare evolved from 1911 until their union as a formal Army capability in 1952 suggests a theme that runs throughout the history of special warfare: the story of a hesitant and reluctant Army attempting to cope with concepts and organizations of an unconventional nature.”
According to present doctrine, PSYOP is considered an accessory to the main effort of winning battles and wars; the term generally used is “force multiplier”. It is certainly not considered a precondition to command decisions. Thus PSYOP cannot predetermine the political or psychological effectiveness of a given military action. It can only be used to paint that action in the best possible colors as it is taken.
MindWar cannot be so relegated. It is, in fact, the strategy to which tactical warfare must conform if it is to achieve maximum effectiveness. The MindWar scenario must be preeminent in the mind of the commander and must be the principal factor in his every field decision. Otherwise he sacrifices measures which actually contribute to winning the war to measures of immediate, tangible satisfaction. [Consider the rationale for “body counts” in Vietnam.]
Accordingly PSYOP “combat support” units as we now know them must became a thing of the past. MindWar teams must offer technical expertise to the commander from the onset of the planning process, and at all levels down to that of the battalion. Such teams cannot be composed – as they are now – of officers and NCOs who know simply the basics of tactical propaganda operations. They must be composed of full-time experts who strive to translate the strategy of national MindWar into tactical goals which maximize effective winning of the war and minimize loss of life. Such MindWar teams will win their commanders’ respect only if they can deliver on their promises.
What the Army now considers to be its most effective PSYOP – tactical PSYOP – is actually the most limited and primitive effort, due to the difficulties of formulating and delivering messages under battlefield constraints. Such efforts must continue, but they are properly seen as a reinforcement of the main MindWar. If we do not attack the enemy’s will until he reaches the battlefield, his nation will have strengthened it as best it can. We must attack that will before it is thus locked in place. We must instill in it a predisposition to inevitable defeat. Strategic MindWar must begin the moment war is considered to be inevitable. It must seek out the attention of the enemy nation through every available medium, and it must strike at that nation’s potential soldiers before they put on their uniforms. It is in their homes and their communities that they are most vulnerable to MindWar. Was the United States defeated in jungles of Vietnam, or was it defeated in the streets of American cities?
To this end MindWar must be strategic in emphasis, with tactical applications playing a reinforcing, supplementary role. In its strategic context, MindWar must reach out to friends, enemies, and neutrals alike across the globe – neither through the primitive “battlefield” leaflets loudspeakers of PSYOP nor through the weak, imprecise, and narrow effort of psychotronics – but through the media possessed by the United States which have the capabilities to reach virtually all people on the face of the Earth. These media are, of course, the electronic media – television and radio. State of the art developments in satellite communication, video recording techniques, and laser and optical transmission of broadcasts make possible a penetration of the minds of the world such as would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. Like the sword Excalibur, we have but to reach out and seize this tool; and can transform the world for us if we have but the courage and the integrity guide civilization with it. If we do not accept Excalibur, then we relinquish our ability to inspire foreign cultures with our morality. If they then devise moralities unsatisfactory to us, we have no choice but to fight them on a more brutish level.
MindWar must target all participants if it is to be effective. It must not only weaken the enemy; it must strengthen the United States. It strengthens United States by denying enemy propaganda access to our people, and explaining and emphasizing to our people the rationale for our national interest in a specific war. Under existing United States law, PSYOP units may not target American citizens. That prohibition is based upon the presumption that “propaganda” is necessarily a lie or at least a misleading half-truth, and that government has no right to lie to the people. The Propaganda Ministry of Goebbels must not be part of the American way of life. Quite right, and so it must be axiomatic of MindWar that it always speaks the truth. Its power lies in its ability to focus recipients’ attention on the truth of the future as well as that of the present. MindWar thus involves the stated promise of a truth that the United States has resolved to make real if it is not already so.
MindWar is not new. Nations’ greatest – and least costly – victories have resulted from it, both in time of actual combat and in time of threatened combat. Consider the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The physical destruction of those two cities did not destroy Japan’s ability to continue fighting. Rather the psychological shock of the weapons destroyed what remained of Japan’s national will to fight. Surrender followed; a long and costly ground invasion was averted.
MindWar’s effectiveness is a function of its skillful use of communications media, but no greater error could be made than to confuse MindWar with merely a greater and more principled propaganda effort. “Propaganda” as defined by Harold Lasswell “is the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or groups with a view to influencing the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups for predetermined ends and through psychological manipulations.”
Propaganda, when it is recognized as such – and anything produced by a “PSYOP” unit is so recognized – is automatically assumed to be a lie or at least a distortion of truth. Therefore it works only to the extent that a militarily-pressed enemy is willing to do what we want him to do. It does not work because we have convinced him to see the truth as we see it.
In his “Conclusions” chapter to the Amy’s exhaustive 1976 case-study of PSYOP techniques, L. John Martin affirms this coldly and bluntly:
“What all this boils down to is that if our persuasive communication ends up with a net positive effect, we must attribute it to luck, not science… The effectiveness of propaganda may be even be less predictable and controllable than the effectiveness of mere persuasive communication.”
Correspondingly propagandists are assumed to be liars and hypocrites willing to paint anything in attractive colors to dupe the gullible. As Jacques Ellul puts it:
“The propagandist is not, and cannot be, a ‘believer’. Moreover he cannot believe in the ideology he must use in his propaganda. He is merely a man at the service of a party, a state, or some other organization, and his task is to insure the efficiency of that organization… If the propagandist has any political conviction, he must put it aside in order to be able to use some poplar mass ideology. He cannot even share that ideology, for he must use it as an object and manipulate it without the respect that he would have for it if he believed in it. He quickly acquires contempt for these popular images and beliefs …“
Unlike PSYOP, MindWar has nothing to do with deception or even with “selected” – and therefore misleading – truth. Rather it states a whole truth that, if it does not now exist, will be forced into existence by the will of the United States. The examples of Kennedy’s ultimatum to Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Hitler’s stance at Munich may be cited. A MindWar message does not have to fit conditions of abstract credibility as do PSYOP themes; its source makes it credible. As Livy once said:
“The terror of the Roman name will be such that the world shall know that, once a Roman army has laid siege to a city, nothing will move it – not the rigors of winter nor the weariness of months and years – that it knows no end but victory and is ready, if a swift and sudden stroke will not serve, to persevere until that victory is achieved.”
Unlike Ellul’s cynical propagandist, the MindWar operative must know that he speaks the truth, and he must be personally committed to it. What he says is only a part of MindWar; the rest – and the test of its effectiveness – lies in the conviction he projects to his audience, in the rapport he establishes with it. And this is not something which can be easily faked, if in fact it can be faked at all. “Rapport”, which the Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological Psychoanalytical Terms defines as “unconstrained relations of mutual confidence”, approaches the subliminal; some researchers have suggested that it is itself a subconscious and perhaps even ESP-based “accent” to an overt exchange of information. Why does one believe one television newsman more than another, even though both may report the same headlines? The answer is that there is rapport in the former case; and it is a rapport which is recognized and cultivated by the most successful broadcasters.
We have covered the statement of inevitable truth and the conviction behind that statement; these are qualities of the MindWar operative himself. The recipient of the statement will judge such messages not only by his conscious understanding of them, but also by the mental conditions under which he receives them. The theory behind “brainwashing” was that physical torture and deprivation would weaken the mind’s resistance to suggestion, and this was true to a point. But in the long run brainwashing does not work, because intelligent minds later realize their suggestibility under such conditions and therefore discount impressions and opinions inculcated accordingly.
For the mind to believe in its own decisions, it must feel that it made those decisions without coercion. Coercive measures used by the MindWar operative, consequently, must not be detectable by ordinary means. There is no need to resort to mind-weakening drugs such as those explored by the CIA; In fact the exposure of a single such method would do unacceptable damage to MindWar’s reputation for truth. Existing PSYOP identifies purely-sociological factors which suggest appropriate idioms for messages. Doctrine in this area is highly developed, and the task is basically one of assembling and maintaining individuals and teams with enough expertise and experience to apply the doctrine effectively. This, however, is only the sociological dimension of target receptiveness measures. There are some purely natural conditions under which minds may become more or less receptive to ideas, and MindWar should take advantage of such phenomena as atmospheric electromagnetic activity, ionization, and extremely low frequency waves.
At the root of any decision to institute MindWar in the U.S. defense establishment is a very simple question: Do we wish to win the next war in which we choose to become involved, and do we wish to do so with minimm loss of human life, at minimum expense, and in the least amount of time? If the answer is yes, then MindWar is a necessity. If we wish to trade that kind of victory for more American lives, economic disaster, and negotiated stalemates, then MindWar is inappropriate, and if used superficially will actually contribute to our defeat.
In MindWar there is no substitute for victory.