Thursday, October 8, 2009
psychological warfare in Vietnam
I assume when discussing psychological warfare in Vietnam, one must first know what exactly psychological warfare (PSYWAR) is. The U.S. Department of Defense defines PSYWAR as: "The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives." In Vietnam, this use of propaganda was vastly different than that of past wars in that there was now a new and unfamiliar medium, the television. This was more than effective in the early stages of the war, but as time passed, those watching were able to deduce that what they were viewing was not necessarily an accurate portrayal of the events of the war. It became increasingly more difficult to keep the support of the American citizens as they watched a war that we were not "winning," a war abundant with casualties and lacking noticeable progress.
While the television was hugely important, there were also many more traditional mechanisms used. The picture above shows A U.S. Air Force C-47 releasing psychological warfare leaflets near Nha Trang, South Vietnam in 1969. (Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.) These leaflets were created and distributed by the Joint U. S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) and would be comprised of pictures, sayings, and text with the purpose influencing the minds of, as well as instilling fear and confusion in, opposing forces (an example, showing a dead Vietnamese soldier, can be found below). You could also find PSYWAR on the radio and even in organized programs, such as the Phoenix Program. PSYWAR could even be found in every day objects. The U.S. Special Forces operatives would leave playing cards in the mouths of those they had killed as a signature and a detterent. This program was designed not only to assassinate Viet cong members, but also to terrorize those who sympathized or supported the Viet cong in an effort to almost scare them passive.
Propoganda was not the only form of PSYWAR though, there were also a vast amount of psychological operations in place (PSYOPS). These included, but were not limited to, both misinformation and disinformation. As we read about the shame in being afraid, in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, "Now and then, however, there were times of panic, when they squeeled or wanted to squel, but couldn't, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and sobbed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and to God and to their mothers and fathers, hoping not to die." This was the effect that PSYWAR was trying to provoke.