Overview of Psychological Operations
asked to define Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) most people
think they can draw upon some military examples. PSYOPS can
operate between a national level down to the personal level.
Although thought of as primarily a military tactic PSYOPS is
used by government and non-military originators as well.
This overview will describe the objectives of PSYOPS
and how (mostly) military and non-military users have used
conventional and unconventional tactics or techniques to
reduce the opponent's will to resist or fight. Poorly planned
and/or executed PSYOPS can be shown to actually bounce back
upon the originator with disastrous effects.
Overview of Psychological Operations
purpose of psychological operations (PSYOPS) is to influence,
reinforce, and demoralize an opponent to secure the
originator's objective. PSYOPS
is a planned operation(s) to communicate select information to
foreign governments, groups, organizations, and individuals in
order to influence their emotions, motives, objective
reasoning, and behavior.
considering unconventional methods of PSYOPS, such as beating
an opponent on a tennis court or football field, there are
similar but less conservative methods that are used.
A football team may try to taunt the opposing team the
night before by defacing the team's mascot and thus making the
opponent feel less focused on strategy and more on a win based
on revenge. Muhammed
Ali was notorious for demoralizing his opponents in the ring,
not only with his punch but also with his words, "I am
the greatest. Not
only do I knock 'em out, I pick the round!" (Ali)
Most citizens of North America are affected and
influenced by an effective and powerful but bad example of
negative campaign advertising does not actually look like
PSYOPS, it does achieve the same results.
The message is, "While you may not like our
candidate, the other candidate is a skunk and here is
purpose is to demoralize the candidate and cut his or her
operations (PSYOPS) is usually thought to be a part of a
military objective but is sometimes used in other parts of a
country's arsenal of weapons of influence.
US military is not the only place where PSYOPS is
taught and used. In
this report, the reader will view examples of conventional
conventional military PSYOPS, there are several essential
actions that considered when planning a line-of-attack as
defined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1996).
They are: 1) clearly defined mission, 2) analysis of
all targets, 3) actions that are evaluated for psychological
implications, 4) reliable medium or media for transmission, 5)
rapid exploitation of PSYOPS themes, and 6) continual
evaluation of the results of PSYOPS are considered relevant to the mission and goals.
Military operations have a psychological impact on both
offensive and defensive forces.
Moving an aircraft carrier off a rival's shores,
conducting amphibious landing training or surgical air
strikes, or executing an underground special operations into
an adversary's heartland all influence attitudes, emotions,
motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of
foreign governments, their leaders, groups, and individuals.
(Joint Chiefs, 1996) Imagine how a soldier must feel when he
looks up in the sky and sees the sky filled with enemy or
opposition airplanes; the soldier's confidence in his nation
and security has just been lowered.
PYSOPS can reinforce the perceptions of the opponent
and plant the seed of doubt about the opponent's leadership.
morale is both an individual and group experience, and no two
soldiers or individuals are alike, their breaking points are
not alike. Many
soldiers have endured such horrific conditions for prolonged
periods of time without losing faith in their cause or
fall deeply into despair and hopelessness in less grueling
had little effect on those with exceedingly high levels of
morale. (Gilmore, 1998)
following are different applied examples of military
Some were very effective at achieving their objectives,
while another had failed miserably.
of the earliest recorded descriptions of battlefield PSYOPS is
recorded in II Chronicles 20 of the Old Testament.
During the reign of Jehoshaphat (871-850 BC) the
city-state armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, formerly
friendly to Judah, were scouring the countryside for plunder
and made their approach to attack Jerusalem.
Armies of that day consisted of poorly trained
outnumbered, King Jehoshaphat turned to prayer. The prophet Jahaziel delivered divine instructions, promising
a miracle like no other ever seen before.
told where the attack was to originate, Jehoshaphat was also
told to line up his army on the ridges and to stand firm but
not fight. Instead
the army was to sing and praise God.
Normally the military band is only used after a fight
but Jehoshaphat staged the band in the front line for all to
the army of Judah not in a fighting posture, the armies of
Ammon and Moab attacked and wiped out the army of Mount Seir.
Then Ammon and Moab attacked one another and fought
until no one remained. The
army of Judah merely walked down to the battlefields and spent
the next three days collecting all the booty from the dead
rejoicing and celebrating in the Valley of Beracah, the army
of Judah returned home with their new wealth.
War II - Pacific Theatre
the World War II Pacific Theatre, Allied personnel involved in
PSYOPS, wanted to understand and
also communicate with Japanese soldiers on a personable level
rather than view them as fanatical devotees to a lost cause.
The Allied personnel's purpose was to reduce their will
to fight and encourage the Japanese to surrender.
Allied forces knew that the Japanese soldiers were most
concerned with the necessities of combat survival such as
food, water, ammunition, weapons air and naval support and
capable leadership. As
the war progressed, the necessities became very low in
continuing victories of the Allied forces caused the Japanese
soldiers not only to worry about their survival, but also the
safety of their family and home.
PSYOPS had two policies they followed when executing PSYOPS:
tell the truth and do not criticize
the Japanese emperor." (Gilmore, 1998)
Trust was essential in maintaining credibility of
information that was distributed by the Allies.
It established trust between the Allies and the
Japanese soldiers who they hoped to influence.
"Rather than blaming the emperor for devastating
results of the war, which would've alienated the target
audience, Allied Propaganda portrayed the emperor as an
unwitting victim of militarists who controlled Japan, whose
policies were leading down the path to destruction."
soldier's diaries and the interrogations of prisoners provided
a large body of neglected evidence so
that many soldiers experienced not only a crisis in confidence
but a collapse of faith in themselves, their leaders, and
their nation's ability to achieve victory. (Gilmore, 1998)
Nam -- Tet Offensive
large and well-equipped military coalition joined with the
forces of the Republic of Viet Nam (South
Viet Nam) and largely defeated the forces of the Viet Cong in
this veiled civil war by 1968.
Supplies and some personnel from the Peoples Republic
of Viet Nam (North Viet Nam) continued to flow in the South to
support the Viet Cong. The
Communist leadership decided to make one last fight and
attacked Government targets and facilities all over the
country during the holiday truce of Tet.
The attacks were briefly effective but most combatants
were killed or captured.
There was no effective fighting force left in Viet Nam
for the Communists.
four years the US Government had been exaggerating battlefield
successes and much remaining credibility
was removed when the US public saw on their living room
television sets the robust attacks of this
"defeated" foe. It was a psychological turning point in the United States for
military involvement in Southeast Asia.
Other nations had already left the coalition and the
political leaders in an election year promised an honorable
way out of the war. As
US forces declined the Communists began to send in soldiers
from North Viet Nam to fight. A major military defeat to the Communists was turned into a
victory when the major supporter of the continuing succession
of weak South Viet Nam governments departed.
Just Cause - Panama
leaflet drops, radio and television broadcast, wanted posters
as well as posters to turn in weapons for money, were all used
in Operation Just Cause in 1989-1990 in the arrest of Manual
Noreiga. It has
been reported that heavy metal music playing 24 hours a day
hindered Noreiga and his camp to think, plan, and sleep.
(Clancy, Stiner, Klotz, 2002)
This is an example of PSYOPS success.
April 19, 1993, in Waco, TX, David Koresh's Branch Davidian
center was attack by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms and the Federal Bureus of Investigation.
According to the documentary, Waco: Rules of
Engagement, and several accounts by surviving members, there
were several tactics, which were used to demoralize the
almost two months, loud speakers played sounds of rabbits
being slaughtered, the sound of a dentists drill, and clips
from talk shows about how David Koresh is much hated, played
24 hours a day; flashing bright lights was another technique
used. Very few did leave, while others stayed in fear for
their lives, and because of their beliefs.
This is an example of a PSYOPS failure.
for psychological operations began immediately after the
[Iraqi] invasion of Kuwait. Leaflet,
radio, and loudspeaker operations were combined and this
combination was key to the success of PSYOPS. Leaflets were
the most commonly used method of conveying PSYOPS messages.
Twenty-nine million leaflets consisting of 33 different
messages were disseminated in the Kuwait theatre of
building block approach for leaflet operations was used, with
the first leaflet themes being ones of peace
and brotherhood. Leaflet
themes began by emphasizing the UN's deadline and after the
deadline passed, Operation Desert Storm began themes change
emphasizing the abandonment of equipment and desertion were
the effects of specific munitions leaflets were also used to
inform Iraqi units that they were going to be bombed.
Feedback from interviews with enemy prisoners of war
validated the success of leaflet operations.
of the Gulf" was the Coalition's radio network that
broadcast from ground based and airborne transmitter,
18 hours per day for 40 days.
The radio script was prepared daily and provided news,
countered Iraqi propaganda and disinformation, and encouraged
Iraqi defection and surrender." (Joint Chiefs of Staff,
broadcast would open with a call to prayer... then essentially
news, sports, weather and interviews
with detainees. " PSYOPS veteran Rick Hoffman told NPR's
David Kestenbaum. "And then at some point during the
broadcast day, the next day's B-52 targets were announced but
never at the same time. When Iraqi soldiers wanted to know what was on the list,
they'd have to listen all day, exposing all the propaganda we
cared to deliver, " Hoffman said.
"It was an amazingly effective campaign." (Kestenbaum,
takes many shapes and forms. It can be used at a national or
regional level or down to a small group or personal level. The
purpose is always to promote the objectives of the originator
and diminish the will of the opponent to resist or fight. Most
conventional methods require some degree of trust or belief by
the opponent in the originator's message. Some unconventional
methods work when no trust or connection exists. As shown in
the Viet Nam example, the originator can unwittingly
self-inflict PSYOPS against itself.
Muhammad (n.d) Quote. Retrieved from
Tom; Stiner, General Carl (Ret.), Klotz, Tony (2002) Shadow
Warriors. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
William (1997) Waco: Rules of Engagement (1997) Documentary.
Allison B. (1998) You Can't Fight Tanks with Bayonets:
Psychological Warfare against the Japanese
Army in the Southwest Pacific. University of Nebraska Press.
Lincoln & London.
Bible (n.d.) Referencing the Kingdom of Judah
Chiefs of Staff (1996) Doctrine for Joint Psychological
Operations (Joint Pub 3-53) Retrieved
from Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School website:
Chiefs of Staff (1996) Referenceing the Final Report to
of the Persian Gulf War, April 1992. Retrieved from
Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School website:
David. (2001) Selling the War: Psychological Warfare Not So
Far Removed From Advertising. Article
retrieved from National Public Radio (NPR) website: http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2001/nov/psyops/0111109.psyops/html
Jerry (1999) Waco's 'Dark Questions' Elude Answers, Solace;
Davidians: After 6 1/2 years, investigation
into the siege is beset with conflicting reports, missing
Angeles Times (9/26/99). Retrieved from