Part of my 11 years in the United States Army was spent serving in a Psychological Operations unit. The primary job of such a unit is quite simple -- use basic principles of human psychology against our enemies in order to lower or eliminate their will to fight. In other words, to destroy their morale.
How do you destroy the enemy's morale and will to fight? It's simple, really.
First, you call into question their mission. Make them question why they are fighting. Make them question whether they are doing the right thing. Soldiers unsure of their mission question their orders and hesitate to act when quick action is most necessary. In combat, you're either quick or you're dead.
Second, call into question their leadership. Make them question their commander's skill and honesty. Make them question the motives of the political figures that made the decision to go to war. Soldiers unsure of their leadership may refuse to follow their orders or take direct action against their leadership. In combat, failure to immediately follow orders usually gets soldiers killed.
Third, make them homesick. Point out how miserable they are; remind them how long they have been away from home; how much their loved ones miss them; accentuate the bad and ignore the good; tell them there is no foreseeable end in site (no, you won't be home by Christmas). Homesick and depressed soldiers are not effective soldiers. Ineffective soldiers often become dead soldiers.
Fourth, make it all about them. Point out that the war is not in their personal best interest. "Hey, you can lose an eye (or worse), doing that." This last step, converting the soldier back into the psychological equivalent of a civilian, is the most deadly. Soldiers who start thinking only of themselves stop acting as members of a team. A soldier concerned only with his own safety stops watching his buddy’s back. Unit cohesiveness breaks down. Desertions and insubordination becomes rampant. Casualties mount higher.
Conversely, the same propaganda that can destroy enemy morale can boost the morale of friendly forces, and vice-versa.
The other day, while taking a break by the Al-Hamra Hotel pool, fringed with the usual cast of tattooed defence contractors, I was accosted by an American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials.
She had been disturbed by my argument that Iraqis were better off than they had been under Saddam and I was now — there was no choice about this — going to have to justify my bizarre and dangerous views. I’ll spare you most of the details because you know the script — no WMD, no ‘imminent threat’ (though the point was to deal with Saddam before such a threat could emerge), a diversion from the hunt for bin Laden, enraging the Arab world. Etcetera.
But then she came to the point. Not only had she ‘known’ the Iraq war would fail but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the ‘evil’ George W. Bush would no longer be running her country. Her editors back on the East Coast were giggling, she said, over what a disaster Iraq had turned out to be. ‘Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.’ Startled by her candour, I asked whether thousands more dead Iraqis would be a good thing.
She nodded and mumbled something about Bush needing to go. By this logic, I ventured, another September 11 on, say, September 11 would be perfect for pushing up John Kerry’s poll numbers. ‘Well, that’s different — that would be Americans,’ she said, haltingly. ‘I guess I’m a bit of an isolationist.’ That’s one way of putting it.
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