“Mind War” and the Public’s Opinion

"For the past two years, U.S. military leaders have been using Iraqi media and other outlets in Baghdad to publicize Zarqawi’s role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly list the "U.S. Home Audience" as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign."  Tom Ricks


The disastrous war in Vietnam or more properly in what used to be called Indochina, led to many strange twists and turns in the development of American institutions. 

The Army fought well in Indochina.  It won all the big fights.  It won nearly all of the smaller fights.  The counter-insurgency doctrine eventually applied experience considerable success, but we lost the war.  The communists control Vietnam in spite of all that pain, all that death.

Not surprisingly, the military (especially the Army) tried, in its unhappiness, to explain its defeat to itself.  The issue of institutional failure was examined for years and years and lessons were learned for good or ill.  One of the big "lessons" learned was a renewal of the "stab in the back" theorizing that always follows the defeat of an army that survives the defeat.  In this case, the belief grew up that the war had been lost in the United States itself through the "betrayal" of the cause by the media.  As a result, the armed forces focused on the value of what is now called "Information Operations" to control that aspect of the "battle space."  The "battle space" is now conceived of as extending to the United States as a legitimate area of operations for conducting "Information Operations (propaganda) to maintain US citizen support for the war effort.

In this article by Ricks we have a documented example of the authorized planning for such an effort conducted in both the the US Homeland and in the theater of active COMBAT operations.  COMBAT operations are now referred to in armed forces doctrine as "kinetic" operations in order to distinguish such operations from "Information Operations" and operations in cyber-space.

I attach an early paper written and published by advocates of such an approach to warfare.

Pat Lang

Download Mindwar.pdf



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24 Responses to “Mind War” and the Public’s Opinion

  1. rpe says:

    I’m old enough to remember how the war in Vietnam was reported at home and until late in the game, long after the war was lost, most of the press still supported the war.
    Early critics and writers on the war such as Halberstram, Brown, and even Bernard Fall thought we were fighting it improperly but all of them supported the effort. Walter Cronkite strongly supported the war, and ” victory through airpower” up until the Tet offensive. The stabbed in the back by the press is nonsense. the strongest and most strident opponents of the war that I knew were the VVAW. Now some of those guys were scary.

  2. John Howley says:

    I held off on this post—not wanting to deflect discussion off the reservation. However, as I re-read the Mindwar document, I realized that the German precedent is indeed central to this topic. The Mindwar author’s efforts to restrain himself from making too many approving references to the Nazi Mindwar machine are palpable.
    First, a disclaimer — I object to the misuse of facile allusions to Hitler Germany in political discourse. This is especially a problem in blogs. I am NOT seeking to smear the Bush Administration in particular or the U.S. military in general with the charge of “fascist;” such hyperbole serves to stop rather than stimulate thinking.
    You raised the problem of the “stab-in-the-back” canard. At best, it can be a mere coping mechanism for dealing with defeat, perhaps even healthy.
    Unfortunately, it can also morph into a political strategy with devastating consequences. Ian Kershaw, in his multi-volume and widely acclaimed biography of Adolf Hitler, clearly documents that the future “fuhrer” received his first training in public speaking as part of a German Army program for demobbed troops. Veterans were trained as street-corner orators to combat the left as the German state disintegrated in winter 1919. As a result of this program, Hitler found that he was quite good at public speaking and rather enjoyed it. Furthermore, Kershaw points out that the German Army’s “talking points” (as we would call them today) included anti-semitism. The rest, as they say, is history.
    Conclusion? We need to consider carefully the political and psychological consequences of defeat on a nation (our nation). This is an under-studied topic with respect to Vietnam in relation to the popular psyche as a whole, not only the officer corps.
    IF the tragedy unfolding in Iraq (Iran?) turns into another Vietnam-like defeat (I make no such predictions), then the political and cultural interpretation of the defeat will have profound consequences for ourselves and our grandchildren.
    There may already be a PSYOPS unit working on this.

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:


  4. Norbert Schulz says:

    How odd, only yesterday morning I e-mailed to another reader on the _Dolchstoßlegende_ …
    (starting from a slightly different context) ‘… will America be capable to absorb the lessons? Germany didn’t after WW-I and eventually became autoritarian. The stab-in-the-back explanation why Germany lost WW-I was quite convenient, and, as that pattern of explanation and exculpation served the U.S. right just as well with regards to Vietnam, I trust in them to try to exploit it again aginst everything anti-war in case the U.S. lose Iraq. Beware if you’re a democrat or protester then.’
    In the narrative of the U.S. right smear like ‘Hanoi John’ has its place. It shows the Vietnam variant of the _Dolchstoßlegende_ is still persuasive to people. Just listen to nutjob Anne Coulter and her claqeurs. For many of the things she sais, she’d go to jail in Germany because of the crime of ‘Volksverhetzung’ (roughly to be understood as inflammatory demagoguery), and rightly so. That’s been one of the lessons Germany learned from the times of the streetcorner orators preaching hate. They are a dangerous folk.
    It also shows that this narrative has poisoned the political landscape for over thirty years. It tells something about the power and persistence of such narratives. Using them is playing with fire.

  5. semper fubar says:

    It’s a shame that the ONE lesson none of these nincompoops ever seem to learn is that if you lie to trick the country into going to war (pumping up threats, creating bogeymen, fabricating attacks on the nation) and said war doesn’t go swimmingly well, you shouldn’t be too terribly surprised if the public soon tires of it and starts to question what the heck we’re doing over there to begin with.

  6. Norbert Schulz says:

    my take is he means:
    VVAW = Vietnam Veterans Against the War

  7. rpe says:

    Norbert Shulz
    correct. The ones I knew were seriously angry men.

  8. jonst says:

    For good reasons.

  9. Sonoma says:

    “..the belief grew up that the war had been lost in the United States itself through the “betrayal” of the cause by the media. As a result, the armed forces focused on the value of what is now called “Information Operations” to control that aspect of the “battle space.” The “battle space” is now conceived of as extending to the United States as a legitimate area of operations for conducting “Information Operations (propaganda) to maintain US citizen support for the war effort”.
    In other words, the current civilian leadership concurs with a conclusion that U.S. citizens are incapable of using their own judgement to draw fair minded conclusions. That, when war comes, civilians who do draw conclusions at variance with political-military dictates should rightly be considered domestic enemies. The so-called “battle space”, indeed, extinguishing the concept of an inviolate “homeland”.
    Well, that would certainly explain the ease with which domestic surveillance is rationalized by those who service the beast.
    Anyone can change their mind. Therefore, everyone is a potential enemy.

  10. Some Guy says:

    The thought of this makes me so weary. If everyone is an enemy there really seems no point anymore does there? There are bad wars. Why haven’t we come to terms with the fact that we wage some of them and learn some useful warning signs?
    I know it is naive, a simpleton’s question, but it is all I can wonder.

  11. ckrantz says:

    Reading the PDF raised the question in my mind how much of the run-up to war could be considered a mindwar or psyops operation with the emphasis the writer made on how you must target all participants to be effective including the domestic.
    It would certainly fit the general profile of “intelligence being fixed around the policy”. Of course the danger is that you start to belive your own propaganda wich seems to be the case in certain circles today.

  12. jonst says:

    The question you now say is “raised” in your “mind” was settled, correctly or not, in my mind (the battlefield now i guess or one of them)long ago. To paraphrase “someguy” we’re all, potentially, the enemy now. All we have to do to draw attention is to question someone’s vision, insisted upon vision, of the future. That is all it takes and they put a check next to your name.
    Who will stop these people? We will. I hope.

  13. rpe says:

    This post is a tad off topic, but I recently had occasion to think about the part of the plan to bomb Iran that assumes that the Iranian people, deliriously happy about their country being bombed and their countrymen killed, will rush into the streets to overthrow the Mullahs. I find this to be highly unlikely and agree with our host that all this talk about a ” democratic rebellion” by the American loving youth of Iran against those mean old Mullahs is utter nonsense. Some non Farsi speaking reporter goes to Tehran, with a list of people to talk to provided by various anti regime groups in America, and spends his time in Iran talking to the American educated, beautifully mannered, upper class Persians who were doing so well under the old Shah. They tell him the mullahs will be overthrown any day now, how much the Iranian people love Americans, and what a splendid fellow George Bush is. Our intrepid reporter returns home to report that Iran is on the verge of a revolution against the mean old mullahs, blah, blah. blah.
    Our reporter spends little or no time in the poor and lower middle class neighborhoods of Teheran were most of the people live, don’t have American educations, and don’t speak English. What many of these people do have in their homes is little shrines to their fathers, brother, and sons who were killed in the war against Iraq. I suspect that these shrines to patriotic sacrifice to defend the nation are as uncommon in the wealthier parts of Teheran as they are in the wealthier parts of America.
    The reaction to the Iraqi invasion by most of the Iranian people was a rush the frontiers by military age men that is startling similar to the actions of the French people in 1792 when the kings invaded to restore the Bourbons. Why anyone would think there would be a different reaction this time escapes me.

  14. ali says:

    http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/parameters/05summer/darley.htm has a useful view on the stab in the back.
    “In summary, as intimated by Clausewitz, the most important factor in tapping and shaping the “blind hatred” for an enemy that underpins public support for a conflict is aggressive, decisive national policy as reflected in bold actions to achieve clear, specific political and military objectives. Conversely, the absence of such focused and bold policy appears to be the primary factor that dissipates the resolve and focus of the people’s “moral forces.” It is also useful to note that such aggressive policy increasing the commitment of a people’s moral forces to the cause would include policy measures to demand participation and sacrifice from citizens on the home front in building the “battle sword” of overwhelming force, as well as to fund and produce the robust logistical support systems that are required in the execution of grand national policy to achieve military objectives.”
    Exaggerating the threat from the enemy and bold actions like bombing Iran certainly makes sense from this point of view. Not sure if it will do much good if the Iranians cut our supply lines though, it’s easy to forget that wars can be lost in many ways.

  15. Norbert Schulz says:

    The part lacking is particpation and sacrifice. Americans were encouraged to go back to their shopping malls, and to consume – or else They win.

  16. Norbert Schulz says:

    One more thought:
    When the “battle space” includes the “homeland”, then there are not only no borders, but also no limits.
    The so-called ‘unitary executive’, is a logical consequence of this view of war and presidential rule. It reduces the president to the ‘commander in chief’. Bush invoking this title is no accident, it’s a consequence. As long as there is war, it then must be imperative that presidential powers have no limit – all the laws binding the executive branch and the military limit his powers, and that’s technically speaking an obstacle in fighting this total war, ‘that (conveniently) might last for decades’.
    That means that under the ‘unitary executive’ theory in wartime everything is subordinate to warmaking – domestic laws like the ban on domestic disinformation by the pentagon, or the ban on torture. It indicates that the thinkers dreaming up this are making the same mistake domestically von Schlieffen made internationally (with his plan that by default violated the national sovereignty of Belgium): That military requirements drive policy.
    They are turning Klausewitz’ insight that war is the continuation of politics with violent means on its head. That has been the key weakness of the Bush doctrine from the beginning. It sees war as the ultimate solution for political problems, wrongly I think.
    That critique equally applies to Bush’s approaches to dealing with Iraq or Iran over fighting a localised counterinsurgecy in Iraq or a gloabal insurgency like Al Quaeda. The results speak for themselves.
    And that leaves out the damage their approach does to America and its political system domestically.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You are generally correct. But there are many many people that are unhappy with some of the internal policies that affects their personal lives.
    On the other hand, there are amny many people who owe their social position to the current dispensation.
    These groups over-lap.

  18. b says:

    1. Read Billmon’s: “Mutually Assured Dementia”
    2. Understand
    (Sorry for pimping Pat. It is important and relevant. Retracting to bases is just a small step in a bigger picture.)

  19. Stanley E. Henning says:

    As an old Army PSYOP officer who taught in the JFK Center PSYOP school (1972-73), served on the US-Korean Combined Forces Command (CFC) PSYOP staff (1981-83), and served my last tour of duty as the USCINCPAC PSYOP Staff Officer (1991-93), I would like to warn all those who are desperate enough to think that they can overcome other peoples by trying to enforce “group think” among their own people, that this is total self deluding nonsense. Assuming “group think” could be successfully nurtured and enforced to “support” our operations in Iraq, it would likely only result in massive disillusionment and demoralization when the moment of truth finally arrived, laying bare the fact that the real issue was failure of total commitment by our “leadership” in the first place. This likely applies to Vietnam as well – so don’t blame the press!!!!! And, by the way, our “group think” does not necessarily have any effect on the opponent unless it is credible or, in this case, backed up by “group action”, not just “group think”. PSYOP that lacks credibility in the opponent’s mind is meaningless. The problem lies with our half-hearted actions and attempt to gloss over what was a blunder in the first place. Of course these half-hearted actions have still managed to divert large amounts of precious resources from a number of much greater potential challenges that we face.

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Tell’em like it is.

  21. Norbert Schulz says:

    The most absurd part in the ‘Mindwar’ document was the one about that they always speak the truth, which, even if it doesn’t exist yet, will become true. You see, belief makes things become true. For some odd reason, it never made me pass an exam.
    Reminds me of the story of this guy who slept with three girls, who were friends of each others. They talked to each other and found out what he did, they called him a cheat, and decided to demand an explanation. His reply went along the line: “Look, gals, when I told everyone of you that you are the love of a lifetime, I meant it so when I said it. I was being honest!”
    They were not satisfied with the explanation, nor did his firm belief, given that he was honest, make his truth become accepted. That is to illustrate that truth may be a very subjective ting. To achieve credibility, the actions are considered by the audience, too.
    The only point where I find ‘Mindwar’ coherent is in that war, to allow for a convincing PsyOps campaign, must be in tune with what PsyOps preaches. There must not be a contradiction between message and actions. But that now, isn’t so brilliant a discovery after all.

  22. canuck says:

    I would like to pose a hypothetical and three questions:
    Hypothetical: Is it possible this administration’s bold move is to secure only the coastline of the Province of Khuzestan in Iran. It’s the home to 90% of the oil production. I don’t have a lot of details, but I did read this: “The first step taken by an invading force,’ reported Beirut’s Daily Star, ‘would be to occupy Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province, securing the sensitive Straits of Hormuz and cutting off the Iranian military’s oil supply.”
    1) Is this administration crazy enough to try such a plan?
    2) Is there any possibility US military generals would refuse to follow that order from the Pentagon and the Commander-in-Chief?
    3) Your reactions to these three articles if you wouldn’t mind?
    Brett Scowcroft: Don’t get belligerent
    As a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, Tehran has every right to exploit nuclear energy for civilian use
    April 13, 2006

    ARE we pursuing the right strategy to ensure that Iran (or, for that matter, any other aspirant nuclear power) does not cross the threshold to join the ranks of nuclear weapons states?
    Brett Scowcroft

  23. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The Strait of Hormuz is at the other end of the Gulf from Khuzistan. I suspect that you know that so I must have missed something.
    An occupation of Khuziztan would form a brdgehead that would call for endless Iranian attacks within and without the perimeter.
    At the same time they would make life hell for us in Iraq.
    Sorry, but I don’t have time to read the articles. pl

  24. Glen says:

    Pyops against the enemy have a long history and I’m sure these will continue. Pyops against the folks at home is putting the cart in front of the horse. I would suggest that the attitude on the homefront drives the outcome of the war and pyops to reverse that attitude may prolong the agony of a loosing effort but will never turn it around. The military would do well to become proficent at polling the homefront for it’s opinions so as to inform the WH when they are promoting a war which the WH bosses (John Q. Public) will not support.

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