Psychological Operations (A broad explanation)

n. Refers to any act or "product" within the military arena used to influence the behavior of a foreign Target Audience.

What is a PSYACT/PSYOP Product?

A PSYACT, or Psychological Action, can be anything from passing out handbills to strategic positioning of forces(ie placing marines/naval assets off the coast of Iraq during the Gulf War). Although it can be noted that any perticular action could be,(and usually is), construed as a PSYACT, those with maximum effect are carefully planned and require serious resources. Please note that the act of passing out handbills is the PSYACT, not the handbills themselves.

A "product" in this case refers to items produced for the purpose of conveying a PSYOP message in order to influence a Target Audience. Products can consist of anything from newspapers to posters, magazines, radio/television programs, face-to-face interaction(this falls into a gray space between a product and a PSYACT, any novelty items (say no to drugs!) and most often, handbills or leaflets(the only difference between a handbill and a leaflet is that one is distributed by hand, and one falls from the sky, respectively). The importance of loudspeakers should also be noted as a viable and time-honored means of conveying(disseminating) messages/products.

PSYOP products generally fall into three catagories: Audio, Visual & Audio/Visual

Audio: Basically encompasses all radio products and loudspeaker messages, such as advertisements, programs, radio documentaries, etc etc. Loudspeaker messages are typically carried to the desired location of dissemination and broadcast from there. They include themes such as: "This way to the refugee camp"(informational), "Surrender or die"(Surrender Appeals), "Please leave the battlefield unless you want to die"(Reduction of civilian interference). The possibilities are endless. While these methods of dissemination are effective for communicating short, frank messages, it is difficult to convey long, complex instructions or ideas through audio-only products.

Visual: Describes any of number of "eye only" products such as: posters, handbills, leaflets, grafitti, books, brochures, so on and so forth. While these products can be used to communicate complex messages, literacy is often a major barrier that prevents maximum effectiveness.

Audio/Visual: This rather wide catagory applies both to television products and any face-to-face communications. Television has proved to be an extremely effective media for conveying a message, as it is easy to add in lots of "eye candy"(to keep the Target Audience interested) while allowing an effective message to be conveyed. The hard part is balancing it so as to allow the Target Audience to actually retain the content of the message. While it is an effective means of communication, it is very time and resource intensive. Face-to-face communications covers any number of messages which are conveyed in persona to a Target Audience. This is the most desirable method of dissemination, as it allows instant feedback from the Target Audience (the first time someone spits in your face, you know you done bad).

Is PSYOP a new thing?(aka, the History of PSYOP)

Short answer: Yes. Long Answer: No. Yes in the sense that military PSYOP is considered still somewhat experimental, as it is always changing with the Target Audience's ongoing change in tastes/evolution. No in the sense that PSYOP, most notably PSYACTS, have been going on since the dawn of mankind. Alexander the Great, once, when retreating in the face of superior numbers, left huge suits of armor on the battlefield in an attempt to convince his foes that he employed the service of giants. Genghis Khan often times employed rumors and simultaneous attacks on remote villages to convince the world that his rag-tag band of raiders were in fact a massive horde. The examples are endless.

The first major step forward in the history of PSYOP was the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg. This not only facilitated a sharp increase in literacy(although mainly amongst royalty), it also introduced the ability to distribute printed propaganda(please note that the term propaganda is a dirty word in PSYOP, as it's intonations are infamous, mostly from the Nazis and their exquisite use of it).

Onward to the Industrial Revolution, which saw the rise of the democracy and the idea of leadership figures(ie presidents, governors, etc) as actual figureheads instead of intangible and possibly fictional characters(ie royalty). Note the impact of President Abraham Lincoln's The Emmancipation Proclamation statement on the USA at the time and you'll understand the impact of figureheads(also referred to as "centers of gravity"). Also, the industrial revolution greatly increased the widespread education and more importantly, the literacy, of most of the civilized world. This development was integral to the future effectiveness of propaganda and PSYOP as a whole.

Fast forward to World War I, and one will see printed propaganda as key to the allied victory over the Germans. Ottoman, after his surrender in 1918, remarked that he was fascinated by the effectiveness of allied propaganda in demoralizing his army, and his people. This was a lesson that Hitler later recognized and siezed to his benefit. When World War II hit, the Nazi's already had an awesome(as in it inspired awe) propaganda machine in place, both foreign and domestically. It should be noted though, that it's most effective propaganda was that which the Nazi's employed against the German populace, in order to encourage them to work hard, produce, turn in jews, etc etc. They also had a few good ones against the allies, although not many; The key in this situation was the the idiom "Know your audience". While the allies had done careful analysis of the Germans during World War I, the Nazis did not know much about the allies, most notably the Americans, who proved pivotal in turning the tide of the war. As earlier mentioned though, they did have a few effective products, such as the infamous "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" handbill, which depicted a busty blonde frauline on one side, while the other depicted the same female scorning an old, crippled man with the inscription, "But no woman loves a cripple!". This exploited the classical fear of mutilation amongst troops, but it's effects weren't long-lasting. At this point the Nazis made a major mistake in the unspoken rules of PSYOP: Never insult the Target Audience. This was exemplified by many pieces of Nazi propaganda which depicted GI Joe's wife at home in the States, being seduced by those evil, lecharous, wealthy jews. Once again, poor Target Audience analysis. At the same time, over in the pacific, the Americans were fighting the Japanese, and for the first time, audio products became viable, as shown with the "Tokyo Rose". While spending many months out to sea, american GI's passed the time listening to the radio, the most popular of which was a radio program called "Tokyo Rose". The voice of Tokyo Rose was a sensuous Japanese female with very crisp English. It would mix in things like the latest, most popular music, along with baseball scores and the occasional PSYOP message("Your wives are at home, sleeping around" although not with jews this time, perhaps the Japanese knew better?). But as history reflects, both instances of effective PSYOP were not enough to stop the American war machine. Some postulate that this is the result of an American "tolerance" to PSYOP, credited to the massive bombardment of domestic advertising in America. The "Tokyo Rose" theme was later repeated in Vietnam, under the name of "Hanoi Hannah", and once again the same factors came into play, unfaithful wives and all.

Also, prior to Vietnam, during World War Two, in fact, the loudspeaker became a viable means of communication, although a portable apparatus did not arise until the Korean War. Most infamous amongst messages during the Korean War was that of the "Wandering Soul", a haunting and eery sound which not only greatly demoralized and spooked out North Korean troops, but also really freaked out the South Koreans too. The "Wandering Soul" was an excellent example of exploiting indiginous taboos and superstitions in order to create an effective product.

Many generations, and many conflicts later, we have PSYOP distilled into a science of sorts, with several "formulas" for pumping out effective products, although the process relies heavily on individual ingenuity and products by GFI (good fuckin' idea!).


All in all, PSYOP is not a means of fighting wars in itself, but serves as a "combat multiplier", in that it can greatly increase the effectiveness of conventional military operations if utilized properly, and early on in a conflict. PSYOP is typically considered part of "Special Operations", and in the United States, they are the second most frequently deployed group of soldiers, second only to Special Forces.

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