This is a general review of the advance of various pscychological warfare techniques throughout history. Not intended to be all inclusive, it touches on some prominent points of divergence setting psychological warfare strategies and tactics apart as a military discipline of its own from the time of Cyrusâ€™s Persia to contemporay Asymmetrical Warfare.
History of Psychological Warfare
by James Scott
All war has the simple objective of making the enemy bend to oneâ€™s own will. All losses inflicted upon the enemy, all injuries imposed, and all ammunition expended serve the purpose of changing the enemyâ€™s mind. When leaders can change an enemyâ€™s mind without firing a round, they secure victory while preserving lives and resources on both sides.
Psychological warfare has been practiced to this end since the earliest accounts of conflict. The Biblical account of Gideon presents an ancient example of psychological warfare applied as a force multiplier without regard for the enemyâ€™s lives, but without an overt bloodthirstiness. Gideon tested his volunteers psychologically for willingness to fight, releasing everyone who truly wanted to be elsewhere. He tested them for psychologically for aptitude, not wanting any soldiers who lacked the intuition and discipline to lift water to their mouths with one hand, while keeping the other hand free for a weapon. Then, with a force reduced to a few hundred he led a surprise night attack, and routed an army with a few hundred men.
At the other end of the spectrum stand leaders like the more modern Shaka, who inflicted terror not just on his enemies, but even upon his own Zulu warriors. Part of his psychological influence came from technological innovation â€” the Zulu spear â€” and pushing the boundaries of what contemporaries considered the limits of war. As with any conquerors among the worldâ€™s great historic civilizations, Shakaâ€™s reputation preceded him, until he exceeded that reputation himself. Ironically, when centuries later South Africa faced the challenge of uniting dozens of tribal cultures with Eurpean descendants, while encouraging racial equality, its state run television found yet another psychological purpose for Shaka. The production â€œShaka Zuluâ€ used South Africaâ€™s still fledgling television industry to provide a sense of shared heritage for South Africans of any cultural heritage.
The two approaches, one of winning over hearts and minds, one of forcing masses into terrified submission, have had varying degrees of success. History shows that in most cases the former approach produces the most beneficial and longest term results, but the short term results of the latter are often needed for stability first. History ultimately remembers leaders who rely on terror not just for initial victory, but for maintaining influence, as despots and tyrants. The same psychological tactics that once earned leaders reputations for strength now eventually follow them to The Hague. Such methods have become relegated to the realm of terrorism in asymmetric warfare. The Idi Amins and Moamar Khaddafis of history find themselves locked out of the community of nations as impolite company. The psychology of strict terror remains merely as a tool of desperation.