Artistic Illustration of Psychological Warfare
Image 1: Artistic Illustration of Psychological Warfare showing the leaflets and documents used during world war to spread Propaganda.

Psychological warfare is one of the most effective but often underestimated aspects of warfare. The way psychological warfare was used throughout history to target the morale and emotions of many soldiers is a clear example of why people are often made so aware of the ugliness and carnage of war that they overlook one of the most commonly used weapons.

The leaflets contained images of adultery, a theme that undoubtedly brought a sense of unease among many soldiers, who were dropped and spread by the attackers. Paper filled with propaganda used to reduce the energy and enthusiasm of soldiers and brainwashed people to protect them from its effects is the power of psychological warfare when it is successfully carried out. Psychological warfare focuses on the fears and wants of its targets and exploits them to achieve the goals. learn more

What is Psychological Warfare?

Psychological warfare is the intentional tactical use of propaganda, threats, and other non-combat strategies to mislead, intimidate, demoralize, or otherwise influence an enemy’s thinking or conduct during wars, threats of war, or periods of geopolitical upheaval. Military Information Support Operations (MISO), Psy Ops, political warfare, “Hearts and Minds,” and propaganda have all been used to describe psychological warfare (PSYWAR) or the basic characteristics of modern psychological operations (PsyOp). “Any action carried out primarily using psychological tactics to provoke a predetermined psychological reaction in others” is how the term is defined.

Various kinds of Tactics and Strategies

Various strategies can be employed to influence the value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behavior of a target audience. It is sometimes paired with black operations or false flag methods to bully confessions or reinforce attitudes and actions conducive to the originator’s intentions. It’s also utilized to break enemy morale by employing techniques that try to lower troops’ psychological states.

Governments, organizations, groups, and individuals are all possible target audiences, and they are not restricted to the military. Civilians in foreign territories can likewise be targeted by technology and the media and social media to influence their country’s leadership. Psychological warfare has been documented throughout history. Psychological warfare has been employed frequently in modern times too. Because mass communication allows for direct communication with an enemy population, it has been employed in a variety of campaigns. Disinformation and misinformation campaigns can be carried out by agents anywhere in the world using adult and adultery content, social media channels, and the internet.

According to the CIA

According to the CIA, The key to a successful PSYOP is knowing what motivates the target. This means to achieve their goals, psychological warfare campaign planners first try to learn everything they can about the target population’s beliefs, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. In all cases, the objective of battlefield psychological warfare is to destroy the morale of the enemy leading them to surrender or defect. The term psychological warfare is most commonly used to refer to the following military tactics:

  • Distribution of pamphlets or flyers encouraging the enemy to surrender and giving instructions on how to surrender safely.
  • The visual “shock and awe” of a massive attack employing vast numbers of troops or technologically advanced weapons.
  • Sleep deprivation through the continual projection of loud, annoying music or sounds toward enemy troops.
  • The threat, whether real or imaginary, of the use of chemical or biological weapons.
  • Radio stations were used to broadcast propaganda.
  • Random use of snipers, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
  • “False flag” events: False flag incidents, attacks, or operations used to convince the enemy that they were carried out by other nations or groups.

Former OSS (now CIA) officer Daniel Lerner outlines the US military’s WWII Skyewar operation in his 1949 book Psychological Warfare Against Nazi Germany. Lerner divides propaganda for psychological warfare into three categories:

  • White propaganda: The information is accurate and only slightly skewed. The information’s source is cited.
  • Grey propaganda: The data is mainly accurate, and there is no information that can be refuted. There are no citations, though.
  • Black propaganda: The information is misleading or deceptive, and it is credited to sources who are not responsible for its fabrication.

Lerner further wrote, “While grey and black propaganda efforts have the most immediate impact, they are also the most dangerous. The target populace will eventually recognize the material as incorrect, discrediting the provider. Credibility is a condition of persuasion, You must first persuade a man to believe what you say before you can get him to do what you want.”

Hearts and Minds

Psychological warfare uses propaganda to affect the values, beliefs, emotions, reasoning, motives, or conduct of its targets in a non-lethal effort to capture “hearts and minds.” Governments, political organizations, advocacy groups, military personnel, and civilians can all be targets of such propaganda tactics.

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PSYOP propaganda is just a type of cleverly “weaponized” information that may be transmitted in a variety of ways:

  • By verbal communication in a face-to-face setting.
  • By Television and movies by example of audiovisual media.
  • By Shortwave radio broadcasts, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty or Radio Havana, via audio-only media.
  • By Leaflets, newspapers, books, magazines and posters are all visual media.

The message they carry and how well they affect or persuade the target audience is more significant than how these propaganda weapons are delivered.

History of Psychological warfare

Psychological Warfare in Ancient Times

Warlords and leaders have known since ancient times the value of lowering the morale of opponents. Soldiers in the formidable Roman legions used a tactic of shock and awe to terrorize their enemies by firing swords against their shields in a rhythmic pattern. Persian armies in 525 BC Cats were taken hostage in the Battle of Pelusium to gain a psychological advantage over the Egyptians.

In the 13th century AD, Genghis Khan, the leader of the Mongolian Empire, ordered each soldier to carry three burning torches at night so that the number of his men would be visible to him. Khan also made arrows with whistles that screamed through the air, terrorizing his enemies. Mongol armies also used severed human heads on the walls of enemy villages to terrorize the local people, which was probably the most extreme kind of shock and astonishment.

During the American Revolution, the British Army wore colorful uniforms in an attempt to intimidate the more modestly dressed infantry of George Washington’s Continental Army. The bright reds, on the other hand, proved to be a disastrous blunder, as they provided clear targets for the even more demoralizing American snipers of Washington.

Psychological Warfare in Modern Times

During World War I

The beginnings of contemporary psychological warfare can be traced mainly to World War I. Western civilizations were becoming more educated and urbanized at that time, and mass media were available in the form of large-circulation newspapers and posters. Propaganda could also be delivered to the adversary using airborne leaflets or an explosive delivery system such as modified artillery or mortar rounds.

During that time the British and Germans began to spread propaganda on the domestic and western fronts at the start of the war. The British had several advantages in addition to superior weapons that helped them win the battle for world opinion: they controlled much of the underwater cable system at the time, and they had the world’s most prestigious news system. He also had a lot of experience in international and cross-cultural communication. These powers were simply transferred to the battlefield.

In contrast to the reputation of the German diplomatic services, the British had a diplomatic service that maintained strong connections with numerous nations across the world. While German attempts to incite revolution in regions of the British Empire, such as Ireland and India, were futile, the British were able to successfully encourage Arabs to rise against the Ottoman Empire thanks to their significant experience in the Middle East.

David Lloyd George appointed Charles Masterman, a Member of Parliament (MP), to head a Propaganda Agency at Wellington House in August 1914. Arthur Conan Doyle, Ford Madox Ford, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and H. G. Wells were among the literary luminaries hired for the assignment. During the war, over 1,160 leaflets were printed and given to neutral countries and, eventually, to Germany. The Report on Alleged German Outrages of 1915, one of the first big publications, had a huge impact on public opinion around the world. The booklet detailed actual and claimed atrocities perpetrated by the German Wehrmacht against the Belgian people.

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The bureau was absorbed into the new Department of Information in 1917, and it expanded into telegraph communications, radio, newspapers, magazines, and motion pictures. Viscount Northcliffe became Director of Propaganda in Enemy Countries in 1918. The department was split between H.G Wells’ propaganda against Germany and Wickham Steed and Robert William Seton-propaganda Watson’s against the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the latter’s efforts focused on the Empire’s lack of ethnic cohesion and stoked the grievances of minorities such as Croats and Slovenes. It had a crucial impact on the Austro-Hungarian Army’s final collapse at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.

Aerial flyers featuring postcards from prisoners of war outlining their compassionate conditions, surrender notices, and general propaganda against the Kaiser and German generals were dropped above German trenches. MI7b had dispersed about 26 million leaflets by the conclusion of the war. The British developed unmanned leaflet balloons that drifted across no-land men after the Germans began shooting down the leaflet-dropping planes. Despite harsh penalties, at least one out of every seven of these pamphlets was not handed in by the soldiers to their superiors. POWs claimed to be disillusioned by propaganda flyers depicting German forces as mere cannon fodder, and General Hindenburg admitted that “unsuspectingly, many thousands took the poison.”

The British began airdropping Le Courrier de l’Air, a regular leaflet newspaper, for civilians in German-occupied France and Belgium, in 1915. The French government assumed control of the media at the start of the war to conceal negative coverage. They didn’t start using similar strategies for psychological warfare until 1916 when the Maison de la Presse was established. Professor Tonnelat and Jean-Jacques Waltz, an Alsatian artist code-named “Hansi,” commanded the “Service de la Propagande aérienne” (Aerial Propaganda Service). Although the complete publication of US President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which had been substantially edited in German publications, was given via airborne flyers by the French, the French tended to distribute image-only leaflets.

The Central Powers were sluggish to employ these tactics, but the Germans were successful in convincing the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to declare ‘holy war,’ or Jihad, against the Western unbelievers, at the commencement of the conflict. They also attempted to incite insurrection against the British Empire in Ireland, Afghanistan, and India, among other countries. After the toppling of the Tsar, the Germans were most successful in granting Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, free passage aboard a sealed train from Switzerland to Finland. When the Bolshevik Revolution brought Russia out of the war, it quickly paid off.

During World War II

Adolf Hitler was heavily influenced by the British psychological warfare tactics used during World War I, and he attributed Germany’s defeat to the effects of this propaganda on the soldiers. In the decades ahead, Hitler grew determined to use mass propaganda to affect the minds of the German people. He was able to persuade many civilians that his cause was not simply a fad, but the way of the future by naming his movement The Third Reich. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Joseph Goebbels was chosen as Propaganda Minister, and he depicted Hitler as a messianic figure who would save Germany. For added effect, Hitler used this with the resonating projections of his orations.

The psychological warfare intended for both the Czechoslovak population and government, as well as, critically, Czechoslovak allies was a big aspect of Germany’s Fall Grün invasion plan for Czechoslovakia. It was so successful that Germany was able to seize Czechoslovakia without having to conduct an all-out war, sustaining only minor losses in a covert war before the Munich Agreement.

The Political Warfare Executive was set up by the British at the start of World War II to generate and distribute propaganda. Using strong transmitters, broadcasts could be made across Europe. Sefton Delmar organized a successful black propaganda campaign through a number of radio stations designed to appeal to German soldiers, as well as distributing news materials that dented their morale. Thus British Prime Minister Winston Churchill used radio programs to spread anti-German propaganda.

During World War II, the British used deception extensively, creating numerous new techniques and ideas in the process. ‘A’ Force, established in 1940 under the command of Dudley Clarke, and the London Controlling Section(LCS), chartered in 1942 under the command of John Bevan, was the primary protagonists at the time. Many military deception methods were invented by Clarke. His concepts for merging fake battle orders, visual deception, and double agents helped define Allied deception strategy throughout WWII, earning him the moniker “the greatest British deceiver of WWII”.

Many novel psychological warfare methods were developed in the run-up to the Allied assault of Normandy. The plan for Operation Bodyguard outlined a general strategy for deceiving German high command about the invasion’s actual date and location. Under the supervision of the London Controlling Section(LCS), planning began in 1943. At the Tehran Conference, a draught strategy known as Plan Jael was presented to Allied high command. Operation Fortitude was designed to persuade the Germans that the Allies were stronger than they were, using fictitious field armies, phony operations to lay the ground for invasion, and leaked information regarding the Allied battle order and war preparations.

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In the English Channel, elaborate naval deceptions (Operations Glimmer, Taxable, and Big Drum) were carried out. Small ships and planes simulated invading fleets along the coasts of Pas de Calais, Cap d’Antifer, and the real invasion force’s western flank. At the same time, the RAF was dropping phony paratroopers to the east and west of the Normandy landings as part of Operation Titanic.

Double agents, radio traffic, and visual deception were used to execute the deception. By the start of the war, the British “Double Cross” anti-espionage operation had been a major success, and the LCS was able to use dual agents to bring back false intelligence about Allied invasion intentions. During the North African War, counterfeit tanks and other military assets such as visual deception were used to fabricate. For the bodyguards, simulated hardware, including a simulated landing craft, was created to give the impression that the attack would take place near Calais.

The Normandy landings were a strategic success, as they caught German defenses without difficulty. As a result of Hitler’s subsequent lie, reinforcements from the Calais region were delayed for nearly seven weeks.

During Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, the US conducted a large-scale psychological warfare campaign. His Phoenix Program was designed to terrorize potential sympathizers and passive supporters, as well as kill members of the National Liberation Front (NLF or Viet Cong) of South Vietnam. On the other hand, The Chiu Hoi program of the South Vietnamese government encouraged NLF defections.

During Recent Times

The CIA used Contra forces extensively to destabilize Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. By transmitting illegal TV broadcasts, the CIA deployed psychological warfare techniques against the Panamanians. Through TV Marti, situated in Miami, Florida, the US government has employed propaganda broadcasts against the Cuban government. The Cuban government, on the other hand, has been effective in jamming TV Marti’s transmission.

The US deployed the shock and awe campaign in the Iraq War to psychologically maim and undermine the Iraqi Army’s will to fight.

More recently, the United States launched the Iraq War in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with a vast “shock and awe” campaign aimed at breaking the Iraqi army’s desire to fight and protect autocratic leader Saddam Hussein. On March 19, 2003, the US invasion began with two days of nonstop bombing of Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city. On April 5, US and ally Coalition forces took control of Baghdad, with barely minor resistance from Iraqi forces. The United States declared victory in the Iraq War on April 14, less than a month after the shock and awe invasion began.

ISIS, the terrorist organization, uses social media platforms and other internet sources to conduct psychological campaigns aimed at recruiting followers and combatants from all over the world in today’s continuing War on Terror.

Social media has made it possible to spread falsehoods on a large scale in cyberspace. Analysts discovered evidence of doctored or deceptive pictures being circulated by social media during the Syrian Civil War and the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, probably with state involvement, according to analysts. Military and government officials have used psychological operations (PSYOPS) and information warfare on social media platforms to control foreign propaganda from countries such as the United States, Russia, and China.

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Both the US and China have used “Cognitive Warfare” in their operations in the South and East China Seas, which includes both demonstrations of power, staged images, and the dissemination of disinformation.


“It is best to maintain one’s own army, battalion, company, or five-man squad intact; to smash the enemy’s army, battalion, company, or five-man squad is merely a second-best,” stated the famous Chinese Military Strategist Sun-Tzu. So winning a hundred battles isn’t the pinnacle of perfection; the pinnacle of excellence is subduing the enemy’s army without fighting at all”. These words from one of history’s most brilliant military strategists are still relevant today.

In today’s battle, it’s still important to keep your ranks intact as much as possible. Psychological warfare and operations have played a major role in capturing enemy prisoners and winning over the hearts and minds of both enemy civilians and combatants in twentieth-century and modern conflicts such as World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and various peacekeeping missions around the world.

“The whole range of political, military, economic, and ideological actions meant to alter the emotions, attitudes, or conduct of friendly or adversary audiences in favor of national objectives,” according to the Army Dictionary and Desk Reference (1999). “The use of propaganda to negatively influence the enemy’s readiness to fight” is how Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) is defined (Zurick, 1999, p.187). PSYOP is more strategic, with broad, long-term goals in support of overall military plans, whereas PSYWAR is more tactical, directed against the adversary and resulting in more immediate, noticeable changes in the enemy’s conduct.

Psychological warfare is simply a small part of the larger scope of Psychological Operations. Because the word “psychological operations” was not defined until a later period of some of the publications and acts, these two terms will be used interchangeably for the purposes of this work.

Outside of the researchers and personnel directly involved in the production or dissemination of products, modern psychological operations, and warfare techniques and procedures may not be well known, but during combat operations on the battlefield, a civilian or fighter may It is difficult to find anyone who has heard a radio broadcast or seen a leaf fall from the sky. Some psychological operations are well known, such as PSYOP which forced General Manuel Noriega to surrender by playing rock music and US PSYOP item loudspeakers. Psychological operations units have developed a fine science of knowing what to say and how to operate through trial and error and using contemporary technology. That’s why Sun-Tzu’s words from two thousand years ago still hold true today: “The ultimate victory is the defeat of the enemy’s army without fighting”.


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