SUPERSTITION PSYOP

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SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.) \

Note: “MILITARY HISTORY NOW” sampled this article for a story called “The Strange case of Ghost Tape No. 10.”

The subject of superstition is an interesting one. There are literally hundreds of definitions. For instance, we might say:

Superstition is a set of behaviors that are related to magical thinking, whereby the practitioner believes that the future, or the outcome of certain events, can be influenced by certain specified behaviors. Superstition is a belief, or system of beliefs, by which almost religious veneration is attached to things mostly secular; a parody of religious faith in which there is belief in an occult or magic connection. Another way to put it is that superstition is an irrational or nonscientific belief in the existence of certain powers operant in the world, with positive or ill effects.

When we attempt to define psychological operations (PSYOP) we find definitions such as:

Psychological Operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to specific foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator's objectives.

What do they have in common? FM 7-98 (Operations in a Low Intensity Conflict) explains:

Psychological Operations. The agent is an effective psychological weapon when used against personnel in countries where superstition and a fear of the unknown are common. The reason for its use in populated areas should be explained in PSYOP follow-up--for example, to protect the population from severe harm if conventional firepower were used.

PSYOP usually attempts to influence audiences and influence their emotions using truth and logic while superstition influences through magic or irrational beliefs. It is very easy to see how tempting superstition is to the propagandist. It is a way to quickly influence a target audience using emotional symbols and words that make no sense to the knowledgeable, but are powerful emotional motivators to the “true believer.” We have read of witch doctors in Africa convincing insurgent warriors that amulets and prayers will turn government bullets into harmless water. We wonder how these adults can be so susceptible to obvious lies, but that is the power of superstition. In general, the government is not in favor of the use of superstition by PSYOP forces, yet we find it used again and again. It is just too tempting, too easy.

An undated WWII Office of Strategic Service Moral Operations report entitled “Superstitions and Black Magic” states in part in regard to Italy:

Exploit local superstitions in Italy to arouse apprehensions about the future and to create defeatism and demoralization. Artificially produce omens predicting Nazi defeat, interpret various events as omens, and spread rumors about omens having taken place. Stir up old superstitions about strangers appearing in the land (Germans). Disseminate rumors that a sibyl or astrologer has predicted the streets of Italy will run in blood in three months' time if the strangers (Germans) stay in the land…Suggest that Italian peasants are burning Hitler and Mussolini in effigy, or are sticking fires into little clay or cloth figures of Hitler or Mussolini.

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Jasper Maskelyne

The Jean M. Hungerford U.S. Air Force Project Rand Research Memorandum dated 14 April 1950 and entitled The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare, mentions an alleged British campaign that used a monster to frighten Italian peasants in August 1945. The monster was created by British Army officer Jasper Maskelyne. He was a magician who is remembered for the accounts of his work for British military intelligence during the Second World War creating large-scale ruses, deception, and camouflage. The problem with the story is that it did not “ring true,” I did not believe it, and when I did some further research I found numerous articles that implied that Maskelyne was a tireless self-promoter and his book Magic: Top Secret was a ghost-written fictional account of his life. He did exist and apparently did some important work for the British, but one individual says that his exploits are about 40% accurate. We will mention this alleged propaganda campaign, but the reader should be aware that there is an excellent possibility that it never occurred.

Our men…were able to use illusions of an amusing nature in the Italian mountains…In one area, in particular, they used a device which was little more than a gigantic scarecrow, about twelve feet high and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs. This thing scared several Italian Sicilian villages appearing in the dawn thumping its deafening way down their streets with great electric blue sparks jumping from it, and the inhabitants, who were mostly illiterate peasants, simply took to their heels to the next village, swearing that the devil was marching ahead of the invading British.

Like all tales spread by uneducated folk (and helped, no doubt, by our agents), this story assumed almost unmanageable proportions. Villages on the route of our advance began to refuse sullenly to help the retreating Germans, and to take sabotage against them…What began as a joke was soon a sharp weapon in our hands which punished the Germans severely

During the Vietnam War, the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) regularly sent out PSYOP Policy to be used by the troops in the field. Policy Number 36 dated 10 May 1967 states that the following guidance is to be followed by all U.S. elements in Vietnam:

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THE USE OF SUPERSTITIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS IN VIETNAM

PROBLEM:

a. To devise guidelines for the exploitation of enemy vulnerabilities provided by superstitions and deeply-held traditional beliefs.

b. To be aware of and accommodate those superstitions of friendly forces and populations that may have a bearing on military operations.

DISCUSSION:

A strong superstition or a deeply-held belief shared by a substantial number of the enemy target audience can be used as a psychological weapon because it permits with some degree of probability the prediction of individual or group behavior under a given set of conditions. To use an enemy superstition as a starting point for psychological operations, however, one must be sure of the conditions and control the stimuli that trigger the desired behavior.

The first step in the manipulation of a superstition as an enemy vulnerability is its exact identification and detailed definition of its spread and intensity among the target audience. The second step is to insure friendly control of the stimuli and the capability to create a situation that will trigger the desired superstitious behavior. Both conditions must be met or the PSYOP effort will not yield the desired results; it might even backfire.

As an illustration, one can cite the recent notion spread among combat troops in the First Corps area that VC and NVN troops were deathly afraid of the "Ace of Spades" as an omen of death. In consequence soldiers, turned psy-warriors with the assistance of playing card manufacturers, began leaving the ominous card in battle areas and on patrols into enemy-held territory. The notion was based on isolated instances of behavior among Montagnard tribesmen familiar from French days with the Western deck of cards. A subsequent survey determined that the ace of spades does not trigger substantial fear reactions among most Vietnamese because the various local playing cards have their own set of symbols, generally of Chinese derivation.

Here then was an incorrect identification of a superstition coupled with a friendly capability to exploit the presumed condition. It did not work.

For a correct identification of a superstition coupled with an inability to exploit same, one could postulate the case of an enemy dictator or ruling group with deeply-held beliefs in astrological predictions of the future. Unless the favored soothsayer can be motivated to say the desired things - an unlikely possibility - the accurate knowledge of this enemy weakness could not be turned to friendly advantage.

In a minor key, PSYOP use of the venerated figure of Tran Hung Dao, victor in 1285 over the Golden Horde led by Kublai Khan's Chinese vassal, satisfies both requirements. We know the supernatural qualities with which the heroic figure of Tran Hung Dao is endowed in the popular mind, and the GVN has the capability of invoking him in patriotic appeals aimed against the invaders (see JUSPAO Poster # 1271) which are among the most popular produced in the PSYOP field to date.

On the accommodation of friendly superstitions it is instructive to quote from the First Corps after-action report: ... "As we started on the patrol we heard a lot of noise as the men walked. The advisor, who was brand new, stopped them and found hanging around their necks, dangling from their belt or in their pockets objects of stone, wood and metal. The noise would have surely revealed our position, so the advisor collected all the amulets and sent them back to the camp area. This proved to be a bad mistake. Before we had penetrated deeply into the forest we had lost half the men. The other half would have been better off lost, because they believed it was their time to die. They had been deprived of the protection of the good spirits. Needless to say, we came back without accomplishing our mission..."

An experienced advisor would have balanced the noise factor against the morale effect of depriving the soldiers of their magical protection. A compromise could possibly have been found in wrapping the amulets in some sound absorbing material.

In summary, the manipulation of superstitions is a delicate affair. Tampering with deeply-held beliefs, seeking to turn them to your advantage means in effect playing God and it should only be attempted if one can get away with it and the game is indeed worth the candle. Failure can lead to ridicule, charges of clumsiness and callousness that can blacken the reputation of psychological operations in general. It is a weapon to be employed selectively and with utmost skill and deftness. There can be no excuse for failure.

 

GUIDANCE:

1. To exploit enemy superstitions, PSYOP personnel must be certain that:

a. The superstition or belief is real and powerful.

b. They have the capability of manipulating it to achieve results favorable to the friendly forces.

2. As a corollary, the PSYOP effort must insure that the audience against which a superstition campaign is launched is sufficiently homogeneous in their beliefs to be susceptible to this kind of manipulation. Superstitions vary widely; for example, among city and country people and the inhabitants of different regions of the same country, both in kind and in degree of intensity.

3. Would-be superstition manipulators must be prepared to face a credibility test if their efforts are traced to the source. Additionally, the triggering device of the superstition response must seem entirely credible to the target audience. As an example, many Vietnamese, particularly in rural areas, are provoked into a fear response if startled at night by the hoot of an owl or the call of a crow. These are considered death omens. The response will not occur, however, if the sound can be detected in any way as originating from an artificial source, such as a loudspeaker.

4. A PSYOP operator's desire to take advantage of manipulating enemy superstitions surreptitiously must be balanced against the counterproductive effects of possible failure and exposure of the attempt by the mass media. The U.S. image and the effectiveness of future PSYOP might lose more than the commander might hope to gain by successful execution of the plan.

5. In summary, enemy superstition manipulation should not be lightly employed by field PSYOP personnel. Proposals to make appeals based on superstitions or otherwise manipulate target audience beliefs will be forwarded in each case to JUSPAO and/or MACPD through the respective channels of their originators. They will be carefully analyzed there in the light of the considerations spelled out in this guidance. No PSYOP campaign in the area of superstition manipulation will be undertaken without JUSPAO/MACPD approval.

6. Where the superstitions of friendly forces and populations are concerned, PSYOP personnel will assist commanders as required or called upon in devising indoctrination materials familiarizing troops with these beliefs and counseling respect for and sensitivity to local beliefs and traditions.

It is clear that superstition as a PSYOP theme can be extremely valuable or a total waste of time. For example, as the policy guidance above states and we will later show, Americans in Vietnam used the Ace of Spades as a death card thinking that it terrified the enemy and yet it had no effect on them at all. The article will discuss and illustrate several of the better known campaigns that used superstition as a PSYOP theme.

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General “Black Jack” John Pershing

There have been many anecdotes about Western occupying forces using pig carcasses or blood to intimidate Muslim of Hindu inhabitants. One of the first I heard was the claim that American general “Black Jack” John Pershing buried Muslims with pig's blood and entrails during his Philippine campaigns in Jolo province in 1913.

The insurgents were allegedly forced to dig their own graves, then tied to wooden posts. American soldiers then slaughtered pigs in front of the insurgents, rubbing their bullets in the blood and fat. Those about to be executed were terrorized. Being contaminated by pig blood and unclean, they could not enter Paradise. All but one insurgent was shot, their bodies dumped into the grave, and the hog guts dumped atop the bodies. The lone survivor was allowed to escape back to his camp and tell his comrades what happened to the others. This allegedly brought a stop to terrorism in the Philippines for the next 50 years. Other variations say that he had six of twelve insurgents shot, or he threatened them with “Any who attack us and are killed will be buried in pig-skins.”

Their story could be anecdotal because in a 1938 book entitled, Jungle Patrol, the author states that it was a Colonel Alexander Rodgers of the 6th Cavalry that buried “dead juramentados in a common grave with the carcasses of slaughtered pigs” or beheaded them and buried their head inside a pig carcass. The Juramentados had taken an oath to wage a personal jihad or holy war against Christians.

There were similar legends of the British in India using pig’s blood or urine to contaminate high-caste Indian nationalists, and even an alleged story of Jewish Settlers at Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip defiling the body of a dead Palestinian suicide bomber with “pigskin and lard.”

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Edward Lansdale

One of the prime American proponents of Superstition was General Edward Lansdale. In fact, he is the poster boy for such campaigns. It is impossible to discuss this subject without his name immediately being brought up. In the most famous operation, which may or may not be true, it is alleged that he was told of an area known to be harboring Hukbalahap guerrillas. A combat psychological warfare squad was brought in and, under Lansdale's direction, planted stories among town residents of an asuang or vampire living on the hill where the Huks were based. A famous local soothsayer, they said, had predicted that men with evil in their hearts would become its victim. After letting the story sink in, Lansdale's ambushers waited for a Huk patrol to pass along the trail, quietly snatched the last insurgent, punctured his neck with two holes, hung the body by the ankles to drain it of blood, then put the corpse back on the trail. When the guerrillas returned to look for their missing comrade they found the bloodless corpse, obviously killed by an Asuang (vampire). The entire Huk unit packed up and left the area in great haste.

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The 1973 Philippine Movie: Son of the Vampire

Another Lansdale PSYOP tactic was what he called the “eye of God,” where government troops identified villages known to be sympathetic to the Huks. At night the PSYOP teams would creep into town and paint an eye on walls facing the houses of suspected sympathizers. The notion of an all-seeing malevolent eye was supposed to have been “sharply sobering.”

In another case when Lansdale wanted all the Catholics in North Vietnam to move south he broadcast over and over to the Catholics, “'The Blessed Virgin Mary is going south.”

Later, he decided to publish falsified prophecies from Vietnamese soothsayers. This had been done by both the Allies and Axis in WWII along with modified predictions of Nostradamus, each side showing clearly that there side would win the war. Lansdale published an almanac with the predictions of the Vietnamese astrologers and mediums in 1955 that forecast disaster and doom for the Communists and the people that remained in the north under their control. The almanac became a best seller in Haiphong and a second printing was produced. ''The Blessed Virgin Mary is going south,'' broadcast repeatedly to the North's many Catholics.

In 1967 he wrote to Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker:

It is suggested that the U. S. Mission compile a list of the personal soothsayers and astrologers who service leading Vietnamese personalities, particularly those who will be candidates in the forthcoming Presidential campaign. These soothsayers have a decided influence on the activities of many of the Vietnamese leaders, and their guidance may not always coincide with U. S. objectives.

Lansdale was involved in a variety of strange psychological operations. He instigated Operation Mongoose, a plan to overthrow Fidel Castro by convincing the Catholic Cuban population that Castro was the anti-Christ. After broadcasting that message day and night to the Cubans and properly preparing them to overthrow the demon, the CIA would spark an uprising by staging the return of Jesus from the heavens by firing barrage after barrage of phosphorous shells into the night skies over Havana. His colleagues called it “elimination by illumination.” (It never got off the drawing board.)

World War Two

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British fake copy of Der Zenit

Astrology might be defined as the study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs. This strange pseudo-science is believed by millions of people and it has survived for thousands of years. The ancient Chaldeans and Assyrians studied the planets 3,000 years ago. The Babylonians, and later the Greeks worked out most of the fundamental elements of modern astrology.

Critic Ivan Kelly wrote that:

Astrology has no relevance to understanding ourselves, or our place in the cosmos. Modern advocates of astrology cannot account for the underlying basis of astrological associations with terrestrial affairs, have no plausible explanation for its claims, and have not contributed anything of cognitive value to any field of the social sciences.

Despite the fact that Astrology has no scientific background, during WWII both the Allies and the Axis powers used astrologists to prepare fake charts showing that their side was assured victory and their enemy faced nothing but tragedy and defeat. Ellic Howe discussed some of the British campaigns in his book The Black Game, Michael Joseph, London, 1982. For those who want to study this phase of psychological warfare in greater depth, I recommend Ellic Howe’s book Astrology and Psychological Warfare During World War II, Rider & Company, London, 1972. I knew Ellic Howe quite well. In 1945 the British Government confiscated and burnt all of his forged materials under the Official Secrets Act. When he was writing The Black Game he visited me to borrow reference articles and photograph items in my collection.

Howe mentions various issue of Der Zenit, a bogus astrological magazine of which half a dozen issues were produced during 1942 and 1943. The texts were written by Louis de Wohl with help from the British intelligence experts. De Wohl is an interesting character who liked to dress as a British Army Captain and apparently convinced the English that they needed his input to determine what advice Hitler was getting from his astrologer:

If I make the same calculations as Hitler’s astrologer, I will know what kind of advice Hitler is getting from a man whose judgment he respects. It is only logical that this information will be extremely useful to the British.

De Wohl was of Hungarian descent and partly Jewish. He had been raised in Germany and had many powerful friends in Berlin. He claimed to have been approached by the Germans in 1935 to work for them. With the rise to power of the Nazis, de Wohl fled to Great Britain. He claimed to have worked for the British “Psychological Research Bureau” in September 1940. There was no such organization. The Special Operations Executive was apparently paying him to work on astrological propaganda in his hotel room, and de Wohl decided that it was an official office. He became an Army captain the same way. Howe says:

Leonard Ingrams and his friends at SOE put de Wohl through an elaborate fake commissioning ceremony as he was anxious to be an officer.

A second version of the same story involves the War office:

Brigadier N. thought up a face-saving operation. Hence the “ceremony” and the manufacture of some kind of official-looking paper stating that de Wohl had sworn allegiance to His Majesty and had verbal permission to wear the uniform in London.

The early issues of Der Zenit were aimed at convincing U-boat crews that they should not sail against England. In one issue the author explained the loss of German submarine U-335 due to captain sailing on an unlucky date. Of course, according to the magazine, hardly any dates were good. It was best to just stay in port.

The British also sent Wohl to the United States where he lectured and made astrological predictions of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

We know from British wartime records that 500 copies of the Zenit IV booklet were printed January 1943 coded H315. Zenit V was coded H330 and also printed in January 1943. Rod Oakland’s Catalogue of British “Black” Propaganda to Germany 1941-1945 states that the astrological magazine Der Zenit was printed from June 1942 to about March 1943.

Howe adds:

There were two octavo issues, dated January and march 1943, and a miniature “Armed Forces Air Mail” edition, printed on very thin paper, dated April 1943. The miniature one is by far the most interesting of the three, probably because the de Wohl-Delmer partnership was now getting into stride.

The British also put the black radio station Astrologie und Okkultimus on the air to Germany. This station had an actress named Margit Maas pretending to be a medium who could speak to German war dead. She gave anti-war and defeatist messages from the dead to their bereaved families.

Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels used an astrologer named Karl Ernst Krafft. He was assigned the duty of casting horoscopes of allied leaders and generals that could be slightly changed by the Germans to predict their defeat and downfall. Although raised in Switzerland, Kraft seemed to have completely followed the Nazi propaganda line. He wrote a letter to a friend in Switzerland in 1939 in which he complained about international freemasonry and Jewry, and warned that Switzerland might be invaded if they did not become friendlier to Germany. He advised his friend to read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious Russian anti-Semitic forgery.

Kraft started work for the Nazis in October 1939 writing astrological predictions about the Polish campaign and what might be expected to happen as a result, the possibility of a war in the west and various other questions. He predicted an attack on Hitler’s life in the period 7-10 November and this brought him to some prominence within the Nazi Party.

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Nostradamus

Perhaps even more exotic for psychological operations are the various prophecies of Nostradamus. The French physician and astrologer Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566) published a collection of prophecies which are open to various interpretations. Since his writing consisted of coded rhymed quatrains (4-line poems), no one can state exactly what they mean. As a result, both the Allies and the Axis prepared interpretations of the prophecies where it was predicted that they would win the war. During the “Phony War” period in 1939 the Germans dropped fake prophesies of Nostradamus over French troops.

Walter Schellenberg, Hitler’s Chief of counter-intelligence said in his memoirs that about May 1940 he was instructed to prepare propaganda leaflets and radio broadcasts against France. He then prepared and dropped leaflets with threatening quatrains from the prophecies of Nostradamus over France.

The minutes of a Josef Goebbels’ conference show that the by March 1940 the Germans had printed 83,000 booklets with the fake Nostradamus prophecies, 20,000 in French, 5,000 in Dutch, 10,000 in Italian, 10,000 in Serbian, 25,000 in Croatian, 5,000 in Rumanian, 5,000 in Swedish and 3,000 in English for the United States.

Hull adds:

The propaganda sting is to be found in the commentaries to the German translations of fifty bogus Nostradamus quatrains that were composed in appropriately archaic French.

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A fake de Wohl Quatrain

The fake quatrain above claims that Hitler, who has won more victories in his war than he was entitled to, would be killed by six men who would murder him in the night. The German leader dies, naked and without his armor.

Goebbels mentions the propaganda campaign several times in his diary entries of March, April and May 1942:

The enemy is now making use of horoscopes in the form of handbills dropped from plane, in which a terrible future is prophesized for the German people. But we know something about this ourselves! I am having counter-horoscopes worked up which we are going to distribute, especially in the occupied areas.

In the United States astrologists are at work to prophecy an early end to the Fuehrer. We know that type of work as we have often done it ourselves. We shall take up our astrological propaganda again as soon as possible. I expect quite a little of it, especially in the United States and England.

Berndt has drawn up a plan demonstrating how we could enlist the aid of the occult in our propaganda. We are really getting somewhere. The Americans and English fall easily for that type of thing. We are therefore pressing into our service all the experts we can find on the occult prophecies; etc. Nostradamus must once again submit to being quoted.

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Nostradamus Predicts

The Germans prepared an 11 x 12 centimeter all-text aerial propaganda leaflet entitled “Nostradamus Predicts.” We have no information on dissemination. The text is:

NOSTRADAMUS predicts:

Nostradamus, the greatest of all the prophets
in his tenth Centuria with gravity predicts:

The great Empire will be England
The ruler of the seas of more than three hundred years.
Great forces by sea and land will pass
The Portuguese will not be satisfied.

But the king of islands shall be expelled,
And one put in his place who has no sign of kingship.

A coward without faith, without laws will bleed the earth.
His time approaches, I sigh.

Twenty months he will hold rule
The old man disappointed in his main hope,
The cruel tyrant will then perish one evening.

I therefore predict for this despicable land,
Between 1940 and 1950, the end of the pirates of England.

Only the 1st quatrain is from Nostradamus. The rest is German propaganda telling of the coming of Hitler and the defeat of England. The original first quatrain can be translated to say that England will be destroyed by large forces coming to overwhelm her by sea and land. The three hundred years dominion of the sea can be used to date the end of the empire. The Spanish Armada of Philip II was destroyed in 1588 and England could be said to have ruled the seas for about 350 years, or as the quatrain says, “The ruler of the seas of more than three hundred years.” It also implies that when England falls, Portugal will also fall to Spain (another fascist nation).

Some of the background of this operation is mentioned in Stanley Newcourt-Nowodworski’s book Black Propaganda, Sutton Publishing, UK, 2005. The author mentions Josef Goebbels’ Ministry for National Enlightenment and Propaganda, abbreviated to Promi. He says:

Promi concocted chain letters, offering celestial proof that Germany would win the war. They resurrected the prophecies of the sixteenth-century astrologer Nostradamus (incidentally, a Jew) presenting them in a way that implied Germany would be victorious. It is interesting to note that at the same time identical prophecies became very popular in occupied Poland, but in the Polish version they left no doubt it was Hitler who should be beaten and then, I quote from memory, “Four victorious kings will water their mounts in the Vistula.” British black propaganda also dabbled in astrology.

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The Parlor Prophet 

The Germans also produced a 21-page propaganda booklet for occupied Belgium with their own interpretations of the prophecies of Nostradamus. The booklet was Published by Imprimeries Steenlandt Brussels in 1941. Not much is known about Steenlandt, but they seem to have been in business only during WWII printing Nazi propaganda books and booklets. It is possible that they were a German-front printing house that closed up shop immediately after the German defeat.

The booklet introduced Nostradamus and pointed out that he had predicted many important events from both the past and the future. It was comprised of five chapters, each one quoting Nostradamus to prove his ability to forecast the future. Cleverly, the first three chapters were interpretations of events that had already taken place, allowing the author to build up trust in the prophetic power of Nostradamus. The fourth chapter was entirely propaganda, stating that the great prophet Nostradamus clearly saw the future destruction of the British Empire.

Chapter one Discusses the victories and ultimate defeat of Emperor Napoleon. 

Chapter two Discusses French policy and the League of Nations in Geneva.

Chapter three discusses the rise of Chancellor Adolf Hitler and the Triumph of the National Socialist concept in Germany and fascism in Italy.

Chapter four predicts the destruction and annihilation of the British Empire.

Chapter five predicts the advent of “Greater Germany” and the collaboration between German and the countries occupied by the Germans.

The Germans prepared a similar 16-page booklet entitled The Seer of Salon. Howe says:

A German friend of his was surprised to find that a copy had been slipped into his overcoat pocket when he collected his garment from the cloakroom of a cinema in Tehran, Iran, sometime in 1940-1941. Internal evidence indicates that the background material for this pamphlet was supplied by Kraft.

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Nostradamus' Phrophecies

The British prepared a 124-page book with various anti-German interpretations of the prophecies. These books were circulated in Europe in 1943. There is at least one reference that implies they were also disseminated in the Middle East. One of the more interesting quatrains implied that the individual named “Hister” was in fact “Hitler,” and prophesized a bleak ending for the Fuehrer.

Beasts ferocious from hunger will swim across rivers:
The greater part of the region will be against the Hister
The great one will cause it to be dragged in an iron cage,
When the German child will observe nothing.

Howe says about the book:

We decided to give it a miniature deluxe format. The booklet was printed on the thinnest available Bible paper and its 124 pages weighed less than an ounce.

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Prophet Sven Green

The Germans were not above using every collaborating prophet they could find in their propaganda. During WWII they fired Propaganda leaflets to Southeast England inside the V-1 missile. One of the leaflets was called The Other Side and is a 4-page pamphlet; six different numbered issues exist. I depict the article from issue number two above. In it, Swedish prophet Sven Green predicts that the Allies will meet terrible defeats at the hands of the German secret weapons. Russia will fall, Germany will rule Europe and it will be a time of great prosperity for all.

The Rumor Campaign

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Besides leaflets and booklets, in an attempt to raise the morale of occupied Europe and lower the morale of the German military, civilians and their allies, the secret British Underground Propaganda Committee produced well over eight thousand rumors, (they called them “Sibs” from the Latin sibalare – to hiss). Researcher Lee Richards mentions the whisper campaign and many of these rumors in his book Whispers of War, Psywar.org, 2010. In regard to British propaganda rumors about religion and the occult he lists dozens of moral-destroying rumors. I have selected a few of the more interesting ones:

15 August 1941 – People in Cologne attribute the town’s misfortunes to the fact that the Stefan Lochner Madonna has been appropriated by Goering.

7 March 1944 – A woman in Stuttgart removed all the pictures of Hitler in her house and burned them. She replaced them with a picture of Jesus Christ. That night the bombers came and destroyed every house on the block, except the house of this woman, which was left miraculously standing.

1 September 1944 – Arrests of Catholic priests have followed the pronouncement that the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of oaths to the Fuehrer because Hitler is considered an anti-Christ.

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An Old Prophecy for our Time

It was not just the British and the Germans producing prophetic leaflets. The Americans jumped into the “psychic” battle too. The Above leaflet is a black American Office of Strategic Services leaflet prepared in Berne, Switzerland for use against the Germans. Note that it bears a “171,” hand-stamp at the top. This is the way that propaganda documents were filed by the OSS in Berne. A German who looked at the leaflet stated:

Wow, talk about Armageddon!  I just read it through once for the first time. This is an amazing leaflet.  If it was designed to scare the "Scheisse" out of the Germans and I am sure it did so.

The text reads in part:

An Ancient Prophecy for our Time!

An almost complete manuscript from the 13th century was discovered in the ruins of the great medieval monastery Paulinzella (Thuringia) during excavations shortly before the war. It originates from the learned monk Alfred of Wirdingen. An excerpt reads:

“…times will come when the nights will be light like the days and the days dark like the nights. There will be arms of steel and legs of iron; they will move faster that the fastest greyhound…And Germany will believe it is to become the mightiest empire on earth. But it will exist no longer than a thousand years can be divided by hundred years because it will make war to all peoples of the world…Giant birds will come from the air, atrocious winged dragons, they will spit flint stones over the men and their cities. They will emerge in such swarms that the sun will darken and the men will die…all land between the Rhine, the Vistula and the Danube will become a devastated area, a landscape like on the moon, in which all creeks will overflow from blood and tears…The men will get desperate and want to escape. They cannot, because they will be held tight by the glowing iron claws of a man who is united with the devil…but finally, when the bloody creeks swell up so high that all animals and men are in danger of drowning --- then the people will stand up and will kill the Devil’s mate and his companions…and the bloody creeks will sink down at once, the famine will end, and the birds of death will disappear from the air…The men will be crazy from joy: they will dance on the open roads and will fling their arms around the necks of each other like friends and brothers …”

Many other things are included in this manuscript, which seem to almost literally match our days. That is why the government did everything to prevent this manuscript from getting known by the people. It was buried in a secret state archive. When the archive was destroyed during an air raid a while back, the manuscript fell into the hands of a soldier from the Eastern Front that was on leave. This is how it became known among the people. It is already well known along the Rhine and in southern Germany, because everyone who reads it needs to copy it in his own interest as many times as he can and forward it to his acquaintances and friends, for at the end of this strange prophecy it reads:

“Whoever learns of my manuscript is obliged to copy it at least three times and forward it to others. Those who do so will be saved. Those who do not, and all who denounce it will be eaten up by the fire birds…” It is clear how often the last prophecy has become true. A large number of men and women in Cologne, Aachen, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, and recently Bremen and Stettin, who had received and copied this prophesy, were mysteriously saved from their completely destroyed homes after air raids, while others who did not do so were killed by stray bombs or direct hits.

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Map dowsing

The Germans were involved in at least one other very interesting form of occult warfare. The German Navy was losing submarines at an alarming rate. They did not know that Great Britain had broken their code and knew (in general terms) the position of their submarines all through the war. It thus became clear to the Germans that the British were using some other technique. Could it be “dowsing,” that technique used by some to find underground water? Could the insidious British be using occultists to locate the submarines by means of a pendulum held over a map? As strange as it sounds, the Germans decided to investigate. The German Navy formed a “Pendulum Institute” that was to establish the nature of the required pendulum techniques. Howe says:

Daily for hours on end the pendulums swung over the maps of the Atlantic Ocean and other seas, but apparently to no good purpose.

Hull says that the occultists were called in again after the arrest of Hitler’s old friend, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. They were unable to locate Il Duce but one of the occultists pointed out a small island that turned out to be a location that Mussolini was temporarily held on the way to his mountain-top prison. That was probably enough to keep the Germans enthused.

During World War two the American Office of War Information (OWI) propagandists on Saipan, in conjunction with the U.S. Navy targeted the Japanese troops and homeland. Several of the propaganda leaflets dropped on the enemy featured creatures from Japanese mythology in an attempt to use superstition to lower their morale.

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Leaflet 2089

In the case of OWI leaflet 2089 the American propagandists produced a leaflet that featured an ancient old vampire legend as the theme. It depicts a vampire cat drinking the blood of a Japanese maiden, drawn in the style of an old Japanese line woodcut. The text is:

A long time ago there was a beautiful girl named Otoyo who served the Lord Hizen. Of all the ladies of the palace, she was his favorite. One day, the lord and Otoyo went into the gardens and enjoyed the flowers until sunset. They were not aware of a huge cat following them. Otoyo returned to her room and went to sleep. At midnight, she was aroused by the huge cat. Terrified, she screamed. The cat jumped on her, bit her soft neck and killed her. The cat buried the dead body of Otoyo and took her form to bewitch the lord. The lord weakened daily; his complexion became pale; and all the medicine he took did not help.

Finally, Ito Soda, a loyal and brave retainer was able to reveal the true form of the cat. The cat ran away into the mountains. The people hunted it down and killed the cat.

What is the meaning of this story? The cat compares with the Gumbatsu, who are sucking the life-blood of the nation. The Gumbatsu is needlessly sacrificing the lives of thousands of young men who are isolated far from home. Also, are they not neglecting to provide the clothing, food, and medicine needed by the people? Are they not causing the ruin of the nation? Beautiful Otoyo who was killed by the cat represents the constitutional system destroyed by the Gumbatsu. Disobeying the orders of Emperor Meiji, the military interfered with politics. Rather than protecting the Empire, they have led the Empire to the brink of disaster. Finally, the cat was forced to reveal her true form by loyal retainers. It was chased into the mountains and killed. Does this mean that loyal Japanese will destroy the Gumbatsu who have fooled the people and the Emperor and thus bring back peace and prosperity to the nation?

The Gumbatsu is the military-industrial complex, made up of high-ranking officers, some politicians, and the wealthy factory owners.

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Leaflet 2092

Another mythological creature is depicted on leaflet 2092. This leaflet depicts an angry Buddhist devil with the text:

Your Military Leaders are Responsible for the provoking of This War.

Seek the peace

The back of the leaflet is a list of alleged crimes committed by Japanese military leaders:

The crimes committed by your military leaders are:

1. They have dragged the nation into a war they cannot win.

2. They have conducted this war poorly, sacrificing millions of Japanese lives.

3. They have contrived the sinking of practically every ship built with the sweat and blood of the Japanese people.

4. They are responsible for the starving of hundreds of thousands of garrison unit personnel left behind on the islands of the Pacific.

5. They have provoked war and ruined the life of the people.

 

Men of Japan!

1. Your military leaders are turning your native land into ruins.
2. Is the continued sacrifice of countless lives all right with you?
3. Clean up your government!
4. Rebuild your nation!
5. Save what is left of Japan!
6. Seek peace!

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Leaflet 518

The United States used good Japanese Gods in its propaganda just as it did evil demons. Leaflet 518 depicts the Goddess of Mercy. The United States points out its past generosity to the Japanese and reminds them how it helped the people in time of need. This is a Navy O.W.I. leaflet printed in Saipan. Some of the text on the back is: 

America treats those who come over to us well.

America’s humane feelings are well known in Japan

At the time of the Great Earthquake in 1923 America supplied millions of dollars and large quantities of medical supplies and food to Japan. It is well known that America has gladly given medical services and food to all nations in time of need.

The American spirit is one of humaneness.

Those who are with us are given the best of food, clothing and shelter.

This leaflet also appears with the code 518A in a smaller 5 x 8-inch version on a cream-colored paper.

We know that this is an Office of War Information leaflet designed in Honolulu by American artist Frances Blakemore. This information is found in An American Artist in Tokyo, Michiyo Morioka, the Blakemore Foundation, Seattle, WA. Morioka describes the artistic aspects of the leaflet and says:

To enhance the message, Frances chose the Bodhisattva of Mercy, a Buddhist deity who showers compassion upon all sentient beings. Beautifully rendered, with careful attention to iconographicaldetails such as the headdress, hand gesture, jewelry, drapery, and lotus pedestal, the deity stands as a supreme symbol of the theme conveyed in the text.

The U.S. Army also printed a leaflet for Japanese troops in the Philippines in 1945 coded 125-J-1 showing the Goddess of Mercy with the title:

Peace with Honor

The classified “secret” U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Branch Special Military Plan for Psychological Warfare in Japan had some very strange theories about what motivated the Japanese and their psyche. The document says about superstition:

Play upon superstitions.

Superstition is an integral part of the fabric of every minute of existence of the Japanese. Superstitions are too many to enumerate here, but principal ones are:

1. Complete integration of date and time factor with good or evil fortune universally believed in by the Japanese. 1945, the Year of the Cock, is a year of bad omen and should be constantly harped on as the year of doom for Japan. It may be expected that they will make strenuous efforts to bring the war to some sort of conclusion before January 1945 because of this belief.

2. Hakku Ichiu, (the Eight Corners of the World under One Roof). The belief that the world is to be ruled by the Emperor under one beneficent government should be reversed to show that Japan is now being attacked from all eight corners of the world. This will have a terrific morale effect.

3. Women in traditional men‘s jobs, showing feminization of the men and reversal of women’s position. Highly insulting to the oriental mind.

Action recommended:

Carrying out foregoing with exact sense of timing, opportunism and correlation with military operations, including deception as and when necessary.

[Authors Note] Office of War Information leaflet 2008 follows exactly the concept espoused in paragraph 2. This leaflet is designed to convince the Japanese that they cannot win the war and to lower morale and encourage surrender. It reverses the Japanese phrase hakko ichiu (“A world ruled by Japan”) and shows instead that Japan is being attacked from the eight corners of the world. Some of the text is:

The war in Europe is virtually won. The Allied forces from eight corner of the world will be directed toward Japan’s military clique. From Alaska; from America, From the Central Pacific; from the South Pacific; from Australia; from India; from Europe and from the North Atlantic.

The American Office of Strategic Services was also busy using superstition against the Japanese. A black radio station called Hermit was beamed at Nanking and used astrology, phrenology, fortune-telling and other such devices to analyze the puppet rulers installed by the Japanese and to predict the downfall of the Co-Prosperity Sphere.

As long as we are talking about the Japanese and the pacific I feel I must add this story. Americans commanders were sometimes known to be superstitious. For instance, Admiral Halsey had a number of superstitions and was known to carry many talismans and good luck charms . He worried about the number thirteen and was apparently aghast at discovering on one occasion that he was to head Task Force 13 and was leaving port of Friday the 13th. According to his memoirs; Admiral Halsey’s Stories, he sent several officers to Pacific Headquarters to complain that he was being sent on a mission doomed to failure. Knowing the general superstition of sailors and wanting to keep their task force commander happy, headquarters changed the designation to Task Force 16 and the date of sortie to the fourteenth. I don’t know if this story is true, but I must admit that I love it.

The text on the back explained President Truman's demand for unconditional surrender. The leaflet explained that the United States did not want to hurt the Japanese people, but just those leaders who led them to war and were guilty of committing war crimes.

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The Kiri Leaf Leaflets

The United States prepared and dropped a very realistic looking "kiri" tree leaflet on the Japanese in 1943 and 1944. The early fall of the kiri tree leaves is considered a bad omen in Japan. The Americans hoped that by showering the enemy with such leaves they would lower their morale and give them the feeling that defeat was eminent.

The leaflets were dropped on the Japanese in several locations. A New Delhi newspaper commented:

Planes shower 'Leaf of Death' on Jap Troops. The 'leaf of death' is falling in North Burma, dropped by Allied planes. This is a reproduction of the kiri leaf, which appears in a famous Japanese drama as a symbol of death (Note: "The Kiri Leaves Fall" is the name of a famous Japanese play by Tsubouchi Shoyo. At the end of the play, kiri leaves fall, symbolizing the end of hopes of the main characters that had tried to seize power). With the 'leaf of death', the Allied planes are dropping imitations of Japanese newspapers reporting the fall of Japanese strongholds and the expulsion of the Japs from 1,000 square miles of Burmese territory. These 'leaves' are falling as the British open their attack on the Japs on the Imphal-Tiddim road, along which the main enemy effort against India is directed.

The kiri leaflet was also dropped on Japanese troops in the Aleutian Islands. In June 1942, Japanese forces occupied the islands of Attu, Agattu, and Kiska. Attu was recaptured by the U.S. Army Seventh Infantry Division in May 1943. The battle to reclaim Attu lasted three weeks. 60,000 of the kiri leaflets were dropped over Attu and Kiska before troops landed on Attu in May 1943.

The color of the leaflet is an autumn brown and the text is in a black or a white tablet surrounded by a green border in the center of the leaf. Text on the front of the leaflet is:

The kiri leaf falls. Its fall is the ill omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf come sadness and bad luck.

Text on the back of the leaflet is:

Before fall comes again the raining bombs of America, just like the kiri leave fluttering to the ground, will bring sad fate and misfortune.

The data sheet for the leaflet’s distribution in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations verifies all of what we have said and even goes into greater detail in some areas:

U. S. Office of War Information
Psychological Warfare Team
Attached to
U. S. Army Forces C.B.I.
APO 689

March 9 1944

Leaflet: Kiri Leaf
Language: Japanese
(Prepared in New York. Distributed by PWT, APO 689)

English Translation

Among the Japanese it is regarded as misfortune when the leaves of the kiri (the Paulownia Imperialis) tree fell prematurely.

This leaflet makes use of that superstition.

Form and color of the leaf have been checked by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

"The Kiri Leaf Falls" Is a famous play in Japan. At the end of the play a leaf does fall, a symbol of the end of the hopes of the characters who tried to seize power for themselves.

This leaflet plays on the superstitiousness of the Japanese.

Translation:

In Large Letters:

THE KIRI LEAF FALLS

Its fall is the ill omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf comes sadness and bad luck.

On reverse side:

Before spring comes again the raining bombs of America**, just like kiri leaves fluttering to the ground* will bring bad fate and misfortune.

Explanation:

** Furu Americano bakudan…a pun on "falling rain" (furu ame) and America, and is a line quoted from a well known Japanese poem.

* Flutter to the ground…a direct quote from the play.

Kiri hitoha, The Kiri Leaf Falls, is the title of a play by Tsubouchi foremost Japanese playwright of the Meiji era. It depicts the downfall of the house of Toyotomi immediately before the establishment of the Tokugawa regime of 1603.

The line under the big letters are connected with those characters and can be read as separate sentences or as a whole.

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Fall of Berlin, US Leaflet 28-J-1

The Japanese superstitious belief in the bad omen of the kiri leaf was used again in leaflet 28-J-1. The front of the leaflet depicts a large leaf marked "Berlin" falling from a Kiri tree. The leaf on the ground is marked "Rome" and a remaining leaf on the tree is marked "Tokyo".  The message of this leaflet was that Berlin has fallen and the German Army was all but defeated with Japan being next. Translation of the Japanese text on the back is:

The great German army which once overran the entire continent of Europe, has been pushed back by Allied forces until their capital city, Berlin, has now fallen. The European war is in its last days.

What is going to happen to Japan now left behind in isolation?

Even now, after the fall of Berlin, your military leaders continue to force the people to greater sacrifices and privations by saying that they must fight to the very last, even at the expense of scorching their beloved homeland.

Do you think your military leaders are following the wisest road?

A 22 March 1944 Office of Strategic Services letter entitled “Evil Omens,” suggests another plan to demoralize the Japanese public. It recommends that the OSS start a rumor campaign that the Sacred Horse of Japan had fallen sick. In addition, other rumors might say that “strange phenomenons had taken place in regards to the color of the rice, which are evil auguries and indicate that the Gods are angry.”

The letter points out that in the past the Japanese government had used such superstitions to encourage their people to fight on. Earlier pro-Japanese patriotic symbols were such things as strange fungi in the shape of a toad, snake or slug. Similar fungi had been seen during the Russo-Japanese war and after the Japanese victory were considered a happy and good omen.

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The Fox as an Evil Spirit

There were many other American psychological campaigns that were intended to use their own superstitions against the Japanese. One is mentioned by Robert J. Kodosky in Psychological Operations American Style – The Joint United States Public Affairs Office, Vietnam and Beyond, Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2007. Kodosky says that the OSS believed that Shintoists in Japan saw the fox, when illuminated, as a harbinger of bad times. The plan was to first drop leaflets telling of the impending doom to follow. Agents would be issued reed whistles that sounded like foxes. Chemicals would be prepared that had a “fox odor.” Other agents would pretend to be possessed by the fox spirit. Finally, the actual glowing foxes would be loosed over Japan.   

We see mention of this operation in a 9 March 1943 letter entitled “Fox Pamphlets,” where the OSS has obtained recordings to find out what sounds a fox makes. A 19 March letter says:

Legend and belief disclose several manifestations in which the fox appears as an evil spirit…At the Shrine of the Fox soothsayers distribute prophecies allegedly emanating from the Fox spirit. We have prepared samples of such prophecies foreboding ill….

By 30 April the fox odors had been simulated by a pair of New York chemists. The fox sounds were being reproduced by a rubber whistle. A model of a fox with a glowing skull for a head that had a mouth that could open and close had been made and was ready for testing. The propaganda pamphlet text was written and the OSS was attempting to obtain the Japanese paper. By 12 May the OSS was looking into images of a fox that could be attached to a balloon and floated over Japan at night.

The Smithsonian Institute added in October 1943 that one of the most important Shinto Gods was Inari, God of rice, good crops, fertility and prosperity. His messengers were foxes:

By popular tradition, foxes have the power of bewitching the unwary by transforming themselves into beautiful women.

A January 1944 letter suggests that the American start a rumor that there was a tremendous rise in the number of people bewitched and changed into foxes. That would suggest evil things to come and the anger of the Gods. A February 1944 letter states that all of the “Fortune Teller” leaflets are ready for dissemination and the writer says that they would be excellent with or without the fox and Inari comments.

The OSS first experimented with fox-shaped balloons covered with luminous paint and later painted live foxes with a radiant chemical so they would glow in the dark. Thirty Glowing foxes were let loose in New York City’s Central Park as an experiment. Sightseers were terrified. The Sunday Tribune of 21 March 1948 said, “Horrified citizens, shocked by the sudden sight of the leaping ghostlike animals, fled from the dark recesses of the park with the ‘screaming jeemies’.” The war came to an end before “Operation Fantasia” could be put into operation. We don’t know if the foxes would have terrified the Japanese, but apparently they scared the hell out of New Yorkers.

Korea

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What does a Ghost look like?

Sometimes when we try to use fear and superstition against an enemy it is good to know if he will even recognize the image that we have selected. For instance, the Chinese apparently do not see “ghosts” the same way that Americans do. We found this out when we evaluated Korean War leaflet 7115, printed by the 1st Radio Broadcast and Leaflet Group in December 1951. This leaflet depicted a Chinese family of eight individuals sitting around a food-laden table that was not unlike an American Thanksgiving dinner. The bones show through one of the diners, and an American viewer would immediately know that there was a ghost at the dinner table. The text is on the front is:

Your place will be empty

The text on the back is:

Because Communists officials continue to stall at the Armistice talks – YOURS WILL BE THE EMPTY PLACE AT YOUR FAMILY’S NEW YEAR REUNION. Because Communist leaders compel you to continue this hopeless war – IN THE HEARTS OF YOUR FAMILY THERE IS GREAT EMPTINESS.

When Communist Chinese prisoners of war were interviewed they said that the leaflet was confusing. Who was the person with the bones showing through? This was not a traditional way to show a ghost in China.

The American propagandists knew exactly what they wanted to show and say in this leaflet, but the illustration completely confused and baffled the target audience.

We should also mention that the Communist Chinese were working very hard to end superstition among their population. For instance, in Gino Nebiolo’s book The People’s Comic Book, Anchor Press Edition, 1973 we find:

In Shanghai…There are puppet shows, feature and documentary films, and an exhibition hall (with free admission to children) dedicated to the combat against superstition. Here an explanation is given to the origin of dreams, to prove that they have no influence over reality; priests, witches, astrologers, diviners and taboos are mocked; the cosmos is described and a display of the human embryo at various stages, accompanied by recordings, reveals the mysteries of birth, conception and pregnancy.

So, even as the West attempts to use superstition and spirits against the Chinese, their government works to make the propaganda symbols and messages meaningless.

Africa

Magic spells and amulets have often been used in the wars of Africa. For centuries, a belief in magic has pervaded the continent of Africa, despite the tragic consequences of magical thinking. Warfare has been waged by soldiers trusting the supernatural protection bestowed on them by sorcerers and self-appointed prophets. In Zaire, dead corpses were identified as warriors who had their ears to the ground listening to the talk of the enemy. These dead tribesmen would return to their comrades with secrets from their enemy. They were protected by “Allah Water.” This water, sometimes called “Yakan Water,” was laced with a hallucinogen from the daffodil species which gave many African warriors feelings of elation, excitement, invincibility, and false courage.

In Uganda, an army of six thousand, called the Holy Spirit Movement smeared themselves with an ointment to grant them protection from bullets. The poorly armed warriors attacked well-armed militia and were killed by the thousands. The holy warriors believed that their rocks and sticks, when thrown at the enemy, would explode like grenades.

During the insurgency in Rhodesia, both sides used magic to further their causes. The Rhodesian Selous Scouts placed false spoor of hyena and lion, while the sounds of a laughing hyena and roaring lion were broadcast by loudspeaker. Both animals are highly esteemed in spiritual matters and purported to have magical charms. Leaflets were subsequently distributed stating that the spirits were offended at the insurgent presence. At the same time, African spirit mediums were moving across the north-eastern border with the insurgents. The government retaliated with leaflets purporting to come from local spirit mediums advising the local population against aid to insurgents. The text of one such leaflet is:

Mhondoro, your tribal spirit, has sent a message to say that your ancestral spirits are very dissatisfied with you. Besides, Chiwawa (an important spirit) has abandoned the man whom he used as his medium because this man has helped the terrorists.

As a result of this, there has been no rain, your crops have died and there could be great famine. It is only the Government which can help you, but you have to realize your obligation to help the Government also.

The Rhodesian 1st Psychological Operations Unit used a girl claiming to be possessed by the “head” of Nehanda (the high God of the Shona tribe) together with a medium claiming to be possessed by the spirit of Chaminuka (known as “the Prophet of Zimbabwe).

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Kikuyu Witch Doctor, Kenya, East Africa

The Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya were forced to take a “blood oath.” To the Kikuyu, the oath was magical and had the power to kill. When two Kikuyus had a dispute they were brought before a witch doctor who had them both take an oath that they were telling the truth. It was understood that if you lied while repeating the oath you would die.

The colonial secretary, Oliver Lyttelton, wrote in part:

The Mau Mau oath is the most bestial, filthy and nauseating incantation which perverted minds can ever have brewed. I have never felt the forces of evil to be so near and as strong as in Mau Mau. As I wrote memoranda or instruction, I would suddenly see a shadow fall across the page – the horned shadow of the Devil himself.

Other writers have stated that there were at least seven stages of oath-taking, which might take several days or weeks to complete and which could include the drinking of blood, eating portions of human flesh, cohabiting with animals, and ingesting bits of brains from disinterred corpses. After the seventh stage of the oath-taking had been reached, the members had to repeat the cycle and reinforce their vows by beginning again.

There may be some truth to the use of sex and perversion in the oath. Some experts believe it was a form of psychological warfare used by the leaders to assure that the soldiers could not fall under the control of their village elders and chiefs. Sexual perversion is taboo in all contexts so far as the Kikuyu tribe is concerned. By forcing the members of the Mau Mau to perform such sexual activities, they were filled with guilt and self-loathing and ashamed to return to their village. It tied the fighters to the insurgency forever.

The British realized that once the Mau Mau oath was taken, the terrorist would not willingly leave the group. Therefore, they used their own witch doctors to invent a counter-oath that would free the individual from membership in the group. The British oath when properly administered would protect the terrorist from the death decreed by his breaking the Mau Mau oath.

Magic was used to turn German bullets into water during the 1905 Maji-Maji rebellion in Tanganyika. The natives turned to magic to drive out the German colonizers. A spirit medium named Kinjikitile Ngwale claimed to be possessed by a snake spirit called Hongo. Ngwale began calling himself Bokero and developed a belief that the people of German East Africa had been called upon to eliminate the Germans. He gave his followers war medicine that would turn German bullets into water. This medicine was actually water mixed with castor oil and millet seeds. As might be expected, it did not work as promised.

The United States also looked carefully at the use of magic in Africa. In 1964, the United States Army commissioned an unusual classified paper titled Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Other Psychological Phenomena, and Their Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo. Authored by James R. Price and Paul Jureidini, the report is a treatise on paranormal combat, discussing “counter-magic” tactics to suppress rebels who are backed by witch doctors, charms, and magic potions.

After Blaming the Belgians for leaving the Congo unprepared for independence, the authors state that western civilization is to blame for many of the current witchcraft problems. For instance, they point out that in the old days the witches could be tested by the best method of tribal witch control, “the poison ordeal.” In addition, because execution is often prohibited in the western-style governments, the convicted witches and sorcerers are simply jailed for a few years and then released. As a result, the common African feels more in jeopardy from witches than ever before. We should point out that sorcery and witchcraft are quite different. Anyone can be taught to be a sorcerer and use charms and spells. Witches are born with the power to harm. The sorcerer needs charms and medicines, the witches can kill with a thought.

The authors warn the American military that charms and curses differ from tribe to tribe so one man’s charm might be another man’s poison. As a result American magical operations would be tactical (limited) rather than strategic (nation-wide). The military must be able to recognize tribes by various markings and body scarification, but with 200 tribes in the Congo that could be difficult. It would also be difficult to tell what magic works since most of the tribes magical beliefs are secret. There is also a danger that changing the beliefs of some of the tribes might be helpful in the short-term, but cause long-term political problems. The authors warn that if a movement can be brought down by magic, then legitimate governments could be brought down the same way in the future. The authors conclude that what are needed are competent officers, disciplined elite troops, modern weapons and marksmanship. This will defeat any insurgency that relies on magical amulets. The authors do not fall into the trap of playing the magical game by the insurgent’s rules. They say:

Unit morale and the confidence engendered by good training, knowledge of weaponry, and above all, dynamic and competent leadership, can go far to counteract superstitious fears.

Vietnam

There were a number of American PSYOP campaigns using the perceived superstitions of the Vietnamese people. Probably the most effective official campaign was the various forms of “Wandering Soul” leaflets and broadcasts that played on the need of the Vietnamese to be buried close to his ancestral home. Another unofficial campaign, the use of the infamous “death card,” was less effective, mainly because the symbol had no meaning to the average Vietnamese.

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Is this a grave?

The leaflet asks, “Is this a grave?” Text on the back is:

Unfortunately, it is not. But it is the final resting place, many, many kilometers from the graves of his ancestors. His body cannot be identified, his grave cannot be marked, and his soul will never find rest...

One of the more interesting superstitions of Vietnam is the belief in the wandering soul. It is the Vietnamese belief that the dead must be buried in their homeland, or their soul will wander aimlessly in pain and suffering. Vietnamese feel that if a person is improperly buried, then their soul wanders constantly. They can sometimes be contacted on the anniversary of their death and near where they died. Vietnamese honor these dead souls on a holiday when they return to the site where they passed away.

Ann Crawford says in Customs and Culture of Vietnam, Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, Vt., 1966:

Wandering Souls' Day is the second largest festival of the year. (Tet is the first.) Though it falls on the 15th day of the seventh month, it may be celebrated at any convenient time during the latter half of the month. It is not just a Buddhist holiday but also celebrated by all Vietnamese who believe in the existence of God, good and evil. They believe that sinful souls can be absolved of their punishment and delivered from hell through prayers said by the living on the first and 15th of every month. Wandering Soul's Day, however, is believed to be the best time for priests and relatives to secure general amnesty for all souls. On this day, the gates of hell are said to open at sunset and the souls fly out unclothed and hungry. Thus plenty of food is left at family altars.

During the American involvement in Vietnam, an attempt was made to use this belief against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Since it was clear that they would die far from home, their bodies probably never found or never properly buried, it was certain that they would become a wandering soul after death.

The operation was code-named "Wandering Soul." Engineers spent weeks recording eerie sounds. They were similar to the sounds employed during a scary radio show or movie. Very creepy and designed to send shivers down the back. These cries and wails were intended to represent souls of the enemy dead who had failed to find the peace of a proper burial. The wailing soul cannot be put to rest until this proper burial takes place. The purpose of these sounds was to panic and disrupt the enemy and cause him to flee his position. Helicopters were used to broadcast Vietnamese voices pretending to be from beyond the grave. They called on their descendants in the Vietcong to defect, to cease fighting. This campaign played the sounds and messages all night in order to spook the superstitious enemy. Despite eventually realizing that they were hearing a recording beamed from a helicopter, the enemy gunners could not help but fear that their souls would someday end up moaning and wailing in a similar fashion after death.

Both the 6th PSYOP Battalion of the United States Army and some units of the United States Navy broadcast the messages.

In general, the messages were as follows:

Girl's voice:

Daddy, daddy, come home with me, come home. Daddy! Daddy!

Man's voice:

Ha! (his daughter's name). Who is that? Who is calling me? Oh, my daughter? My wife? Daddy is back home with you, my daughter! I am back home with you, my wife. But my body is gone. I am dead, my family.

I…..Tragic, how tragic.

My friends, I come back to let you know that I am dead! I am dead! It's Hell, Hell! It is a senseless death! How senseless! Senseless! But when I realized the truth, it was too late. Too late. Friends, while you are still alive, there is still a chance you will be reunited with your love ones. Do you hear what I say? Go home! Go home, my friends! Hurry! Hurry! If not, you will end up like me. Go home my friends before it is too late. Go home! Go home my friends!

Duane Yeager mentioned the operation is an article entitled “Winning Vietnamese minds was what the U.S. Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group was all about,” in Vietnam Magazine, December 1990. He says:

As with the leaflet catalog, PSYOP units also produced and maintained a library of audiotape propaganda messages for support of tactical operations. As one Viet Cong commander complained, these audio messages were hard to ignore, for the sound even penetrated through the earth to VC hidden in underground tunnels. One of the most effective such tapes was ‘The Wandering Soul,’ an eerie tape, played mostly at night, that constantly reminded NVA soldiers of the hardships they were enduring, home, and the loved ones they had left behind.

This use of propaganda and the afterlife as a theme is known in many cultures. I have heard of several similar cases. One veteran of the wars in Angola told me:

When I was in the army in South West Africa and Angola in the late 1970's, the air force used to drop leaflets which went along the lines of “You will be killed and a hyena will eat your bones.” They had a picture of a bat on them as well. Culturally upsetting to the Ovambos [a number of kindred Bantu ethnic groups] who made up most of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) ranks to have their bones eaten by a hyena as they believe if their bones are buried by the family they will become ancestors (most African cultures practice some form of ancestor worship) so to have their bones eaten by a hyena meant they would go to their version of hell. In most African cultures a hyena is a "bad" animal. Traditionally, the Ovambo people lived a life that was highly influenced by a combination of magic and religion. They believed in good and evil spirits.

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Death Awaits…

One soldier said in regard to the above card, “These were put on every dead Viet Cong to send ‘Charlie’ a message that US soldiers had been there. The top line reads: “Death awaits Viet Cong cadres.” The second line reads: “Return [to the south Vietnamese side] rather than being killed.” These seem to be the most prevalent type of death cards, one might almost say “the standard” death card. I have seen about three variations with slightly different fronts but always the same message on the back.

Research assistant Sharon Frickey worked at the CRESS (Center for Research in Social Systems) field office at Ft. Bragg in 1967-1968. The CRESS field office, an extension of the think-tank research arm of American University, responded to requests from the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare and the 4th PSYOP Group at Ft. Bragg.  One of the research questions that CRESS received in 1967 was about the possible use of the Ace of spades for psychological operations and the strength of the superstition about it among the Vietnamese. There were seven PhD area specialists and dozens of researchers studying the problem and they came to the conclusion that the Vietnamese had no cultural basis to fear the Ace of Spades as a symbol of death, and any such propaganda utilizing the symbol would be useless.

Captain Blaine Revis was assigned to Military Assistance and Advisory Group Vietnam (MAAGV) from April 1963 to May 1964, and later commanded the 29th PSYOP Detachment attached to the 1st Air Cavalry Division at Anh Khe. At that time he was asked by the division commanding general about the use of the Ace of Spades for PSYOP. The 101st Airborne Division was already using the cards that had been sent to Vietnam in bulk by the Bicycle Playing Card Company. Revis told me:

I told him that it was a bad idea and a case of transposed symbolism. We Americans look at the ace of spades as the death card, but to the Vietnamese it is more like a phallic symbol and if anything might suggest that we were involved in necrophilia.

In War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1981; Robert W. Chandler says:

But not all such approaches were effective. One major misassumption occurred about 1966 when U.S. soldiers scattered fear-appeal leaflets with the ace of spades as an omen of death. In some cases actual playing cards were left along trails in Communist-controlled territory (American troops wrote to playing card manufacturers requesting numerous aces of spades to supplement the campaign). A subsequent review and evaluation by the United States Information Agency revealed, however, that the ace of spades was not included in the Vietnamese deck of cards. Thus, except for a few Montagnard hill tribesmen, they were unfamiliar with its meaning as a death omen. Despite these finding and a JUSPAO policy directive prohibiting the aces of spades practice, American soldiers began using the technique again in 1971. This repeated error was probably symptomatic of trying to maintain continuity and high-quality psychological operations with military persons being shuffled into and out of the country on one-year tours of duty.

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Ace of Spades Deck

So why was the ace of spades so popular that some individuals or units actually ordered them from playing card manufacturers to place on the bodies of dead Viet Cong and NVA? The answer seems to be, because the American troops just loved them. Although the cards were allegedly anti-Communist PSYOP, in fact they were really pro-American PSYOP. U.S. troops got a kick out of them and loved the idea of leaving them on bodies. Like wolves, it was a way to mark their territory. It proclaimed them the biggest and “baddest” varmints in the valley of death. The cards motivated and encouraged American troops far more than they terrified the enemy. Unfortunately, the cards were meaningless to the Vietnamese. It was as if we had placed aces and eights on them. Americans know that this is the hand held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot dead in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory on 2 August 1876. The Vietnamese would have been mystified.

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Leaflet 4-19-70

The 4th PSYOP Group in Vietnam printed a number of leaflets designed to use superstition to frighten the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops. The leaflet above uses the image of an all-seeing eye that watches every move the troops make as they march south. This same use of a watching pair of eyes is found again and again in later wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The leaflet depicts a blood red pair of eyes watching the North Vietnamese troops and is designed to reinforce his fear of the unknown. The text is:

You cannot escape the eyes of the jungle

Text on the back is in part:

YOU WERE WARNED THAT YOU ARE BEING WATCHED

Cadre and troops in the NVA ranks:

We told you that you cannot escape the celestial net of the jungle. The jungle eyes see every move you make and will eventually destroy you…

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Leaflet 4-23-70

The 4th PSYOP continued with a series of Trang Trinh prophecy leaflets, all of which warned of death and disaster about to befall the troops from the North.

Leaflet 4-22-70 tells of an alleged prophecy of Trang Trinh. The leaflet depicts an incense burner and some of the following text:

According to Trang Trinh’s prophecy, “God did not entrust Ho Chi Minh with founding a nation.”

Trang Trinh foresaw it in the following prophecies: “Never were there such extraordinary things. People are suddenly the victims of accusations. To have security why not encourage people to plough and till? Alas, the destiny of the country has not yet come true.

Leaflet 4-23-70 depicts a sign of the Zodiac and the text in part:

THE FUTURE OF THE WAR HAS BEEN DECIDED

Trang Trinh (16th Century) gained supernatural power after he received a book from a great Chinese man. It interpreted the evolution of the Earth so he knew what was to take place in coming years. Trang Trinh’s prophecy states that peace will begin to return in 1970. The day of peace will appear in the stars as foretold by Trang Trinh about 1970. There is no reason for you or your comrades to die in battle. Find a way to return home to your family.

The PSYOP Group followed with another leaflet coded 4-24-70 that depicted a symbol of harmony. Some of the text is:

YOU CANNOT GO AGAINST DESTINY

…When will the road from North to South be cleared?

The whales (warships) float in a bloody sea.

When the cock crows, the tree of pearls (Ho Chi Minh) falls in the North...

This poem is one of several hundred prophecies of Trang Trinh; a North Vietnamese native well known for his talents in astrology for over 400 years…Trang Trinh also predicted many things about Vietnam, especially the beginning of the collapse of the North Vietnamese regime after Ho’s death in the year of the rooster (1969).

In almost every war we find that fortune telling is used as a form of superstition propaganda. Allen B. Clark mentions such an operations in Valor in Vietnam: Chronicles of Honor, Courage, and Sacrifice: 1963-1977, Casemate Publishers, Kindle Edition. He mentions Ron Humphries (USIA psychological operations advisor) and a woman named Kim who was used to gather information from Viet Cong members who had gone over to the Vietnamese government:

There was a Chieu Hoi center in the province where Humphrey took his teams to perform as a part of the reeducation program to indoctrinate the defectors. The center was so successful that in 1969 and through much of 1970 his province led South Vietnam in defections. Ron felt good about the part he played in helping to win the hearts and minds of the local population. The very talented Kim was a fortune-teller in the ancient Vietnamese tradition and she began a rather unusual activity at the Chieu Hoi center that proved to be invaluable in gathering intelligence for the province. She would play cards with the former VC and then pull out her fortune-telling kit; it was much like a child’s Pick-Up-Sticks game in America. Kim would shake the can and then spill the sticks into a pile. Each stick had a special marking. She would start at the top and carefully remove each stick, explaining the meaning to the defector. Soon, she would reach a solid black Death Stick, which suggested grave difficulties or even death were on the horizon for the man. Then she would note that the stick immediately below the Death Stick would cancel it out, but it required the man to provide worthwhile information to the government in order to be effective. The ploy worked! Defectors who had resisted trained government interrogators were soon telling everything they knew about VC activities in the province, all because of Kim’s trick Death Stick.

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SP-2249

200,400 copies of this leaflet were produced by the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office in November 1967 as part of the Tet (New Year’s) and the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) campaigns. It is not an attractive leaflet, both sides are full text. Still, some of the comments are interesting. The leaflet says in part:

THE TET FORTUNE-TELLER

You might be unlucky in the near future. We suggest you consult the Tet Fortune-Teller.

The “Fortune-Teller Card” has nine items that are important to you. Mark X to the right of the items that are true or you believe to be true. If you have the right number of marks you might have good luck for Tet.

1. I want to enjoy Tet with my family
2. I would like to have better food.
3. The VC will be defeated.
4. I am sorry that I joined the VC.
5. Chieu Hoi is a way to be reunited with one's family.
6. I would like to have better medical treatment.
7. ARVN and Allied Forces have better weapons than the VC.
8. I would like to be free from air and artillery attacks.
9. The people of Vietnam have selected a new government.

If you have more than 4 X's you are urged to turn the leaflet over.

The back of the card lists 11 lucky benefits you will receive if you come back to the government of Vietnam. Some of them are: Good treatment; Full citizenship in the RVN; Medical treatment in the Chieu Hoi Center and Permanent reunion with your family.

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The Shadow of Death

Before we leave Vietnam we should mention that the Australian 1st Psychological Operations Unit printed a leaflet coded ATF-074-71 and entitled “Ghosts” on 25 January 1971. The leaflet depicted a ghost standing over a Viet Cong sleeping on a grave site on the front with the names of eight of his dead comrades floating over his body, and text and a Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) symbol on the back. The leaflet is aimed at the North Vietnamese D445 Battalion. This leaflet was taped down in a file in the Australian War Memorial and that is the reason that the left side is discolored. The text on the front is:

The shadow of death continues to seek more of your brave compatriots.

The shadow of death is looking for you.

Text on the back is:

The shadow of death is searching for more members of D445. Many of your brave compatriots have been killed by the Government of Vietnam forces recently. You have been told that such missing people have been given other tasks. This is not true. These people are dead. Each day the task of getting enough food and supplies becomes more difficult. You labor hard to achieve victory but the Government of Vietnam forces destroy your effort. Chieu Hoi before the shadow of death reaches out for you.

The ghosts of Vietnam are mentioned in Vietnamese Beliefs in Spirits and Trees, Fact Sheet Number 7, United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Saigon, dated 1 December 1969:

The supernatural beings most commonly discussed among the villagers are the ma, phantoms or ghosts, and they command fear, although their degree of wickedness varies. Among the least malevolent are those, which once were living animals – ma heo (pig ghost), ma cho (dog ghost), and ma meo (cat ghost). Villagers believe they swarm over fields after sunset, often getting tangled in the legs of those who tarry too long on the paths. Ma dung is the collective term for ghosts associated with horses, oxen, and buffalo, but unlike the other animal ma, they are harmful, and strange occurrences in a village are often attributed to the ma dung. Ma Than Vong is a specific ghost, the ‘tightening- knot ghost’ which goads people into suicide by muttering ‘co co’ (neck, neck) into their ears. Ma A Phien is the opium ghost, related to addiction and eventual ‘death in the pleasures’. Yeu and quy are capricious, often wicked supernatural beings, capable of doing unguarded humans great harm. Of all these beings, however, none is so malevolent as the tinh who villagers claim use a variety of tricks to induce their intended victims to open their mouths, whereupon the tinh draw out their souls, leaving them insane. Villagers believe that the yeu and tinh inhabit great trees, often appearing as human shadows.

Operation Enduring Freedom

On 11 September 2001, terrorists of the al-Qaida (the Base) group, some trained and financed by Saudi Arabian exile-in-hiding Osama bin Laden, attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC. President Bush immediately demanded that the ruling fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement of Afghanistan turn over Mr. bin Laden for trial. They refused. The bombing of Afghanistan began on 7 October. Aerial propaganda leaflets were not dropped the first week due to high winds. The first leaflet drop took place on October 15. Although the great majority of leaflets had to do with surrender and the overwhelming might of the Coalition forces, at least one leaflet played on the perceived superstitious fear of the Afghan people. It was dropped on 8 December 2001 and featured the magical Jinn.

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Leaflet AFD56b

This leaflet shows four members of al-Qaida or the Taliban. The individual at the far left is identified as “Muttawakil,” and is believed to represent the Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil. The next figure is Osama bin Laden. The third figure is identified as “Haggani,” and would appear to be Jalaluddin Haggani, a senior Taliban commander who was quoted as saying “We are eagerly awaiting the American troops to land on our soil, where we will deal with them in our own way.” The fourth individual wears the black Taliban turban, but is otherwise unidentified. Three Afghans are seen hanging from a gallows in the background. The text on the leaflet is “The Taliban reign of fear...” At the left and right of the leaflet, we can just make out the fearful face of snarling Jinn. The Koran identifies the jinn as creatures created from a smokeless fire. They lie and practice deceit to fulfill their own desire for evil. Showing them with the Taliban implies that the leaders have been deceived and turned toward evil by the supernatural creatures.

When turned over, the back of the leaflet shows the four faces altered slightly to resemble skulls, an American bit of trickery that was practiced during WWII when Adolf Hitler’s face was changed to a skull-like countenance in an attempt to say that he represented death. In place of the gallows, an explosion is shown with debris thrown into the air. The text goes on to say “...is about to end!”

Strange and Exotic Psychological Operations

During the history of warfare there have been some extremely strange psychological operations. These have been passed down through word of mouth and may or may not be true. These stories are the kind that I would normally exclude in an academic report, but since this is a very informal look at all the areas of Superstition PSYOP, I elect to add them. These stories are anecdotes that are entertaining and none, some, or the entire story might be true.

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The Battle for Pelusium
The Reverence of the early Egyptians for Cats

In Ancient Egypt it was believed that cats captured the glow of the setting sun in their eyes and kept it safe until morning. This made it unlawful for cats to be killed except in ritual sacrifice by priests. When Cambyses II led the Persian Army against the Egyptians in the battle of Pelusium they tied cats to their shields and won a staggering victory.

In 525 B.C. the Persian and Egyptian armies were engaged in a fierce battle for the city of Pelusium. It is said that the inhabitants of Pelusium worshiped cats as gods. Their enemy knew of this belief and took advantage of it. The Persians deployed their forces to the villages and towns of the surrounding countryside, capturing as many cats as they could lay their hands upon. Once satisfied with the number of animals they'd collected, the Persian army returned to the city of Pelusium. The Egyptians immediately attacked, but were frozen in their tracks as hundreds of panic-stricken cats were released onto the battlefield. Confusion spread through the Egyptian ranks. The Persian forces then advanced, each of the Persian soldiers holding a cat. The Egyptian soldiers dared not engage the enemy or shoot their arrows, fearing that to do so might endanger the lives of the cats. The Persians quickly scattered their enemy and their city defenses as Cambyses hurled cats over the walls of the city. After the taking of the city Cambyses showed his contempt of the Egyptians by carrying a cage of cats in front of him upon his horse, and hurling them with insulting taunts and laughter, into the faces of his foes.

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Holographic Projection of God or Demons

Perhaps the most exotic of all the Superstition PSYOP campaigns is the alleged use of holographic projection to place images of Gods and Demons before an enemy to terrify them and bend them to the will of the propagandist. In fact, there is so much rumor and silliness surrounding this entire subject that it is difficult to take any of it seriously. I will discuss some of what is known but the reader must understand that the entire story could be a hoax.

The story first broke about the time of Operation Desert Storm in late 1990. Allegedly there was discussion of an Operation Blue Beam that would project a holographic image of Allah floating over Baghdad urging the Iraqi people and Army to revolt against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The scientists studied the project and stated that they probably could project large, three-dimensional objects that appeared to float in the air. But, to project such a hologram over Baghdad several hundred feet high would take a mirror more than a mile square in space, as well as huge projectors and power sources. And besides, the scientists asked, what does Allah look like? Furthermore, since such divine portrayals of any kind are strictly forbidden in Islam, the hologram would more likely infuriate the Iraqis than terrify them.

The story reappears in 1994 when allegedly a secret program was established to pursue the technology for PSYOPS applications. The holographic projector now supposedly described in a classified Air Force document as a system to project information power from space and for Special Operations deception missions. Various unverified reports claim that the Pentagon listed the holographic projections as part of its non-lethal weapons program. It is claimed that Defense Week wrote that the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School was looking to develop a PSYOPS Hologram System with a capability to project persuasive messages and three-dimensional pictures. Airborne Holographic Projector data even appears on the Internet:

Displays a three-dimensional visual image in a desired location, removed from the display generator. The projector can be used for psychological operations and strategic perception management. It is also useful for optical deception and cloaking, providing a momentary distraction when engaging an unsophisticated adversary.

Do I believe any of this? No. I don’t doubt that the U.S. Government looked into holographs for PSYOP applications, but I suspect that the expense and uncertainty of such an operation would quickly make it untenable.

Why do I suspect that the government looked into this concept? Lee Richards of Psywar.org told me of a WWII Foreign Office document entitled:

DEPARTMENT FOR PUBLICITY IN ENEMY COUNTRIES

CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE

8TH MEETING, 6TH MARCH 1940.

RUSES DE GUERRE: Projection of Messages and images by searchlights on clouds.

Mr. Shaw reported…that in regard to the suggestion of an apparatus for projecting messages and images on clouds Brigadier Penney had kindly put him in touch with the principal producers of apparatus of this kind. It had not been possible to provide a comprehensive technical report for this meeting but he could state that it was possible with a special projector to throw messages or images on to clouds, though the messages must be short and the image simple. The cloud conditions required are cumulous at 2,000 to 3,000 feet and the visibility from one to four miles according to weather conditions. With these conditions operations can start half-an-hour after sunset at a distance of half-a-mile from the front line, when the letters of images would be projected on to the clouds over the enemy lines the right way up for the enemy troops to read or see. One five foot projector costing 2,500 - 3,000 can throw up to twenty letters. It would take three months to produce a projector. Trials could be arranged. If the Committee considered that the idea was practicable its possibilities could be further investigated and information supplied to the D.M.I. France.

It was agreed that the suggestion for apparatus to project messages and images on clouds should be pursued. Trials should be arranged by Sir Campbell Stuart’s Department, and, if successful, the suggestion should be taken up through Colonel Brooks with the D.M.I. at G.H.Q. France.

There is no record of this operation ever taking place, so perhaps the cost of the projectors or the inability to project a clear picture was the downfall of the plan. 

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Searchlight message projection in Vietnam

There were experiments in Vietnam in 1968 where C-47 aircraft were used to project messages on the underside of clouds. Bill Tyner, former S3 (Operations) Air Liaison officer of the 10th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam told me:

Everyone remembers the old Batman TV show from around the mid-1960s. Someone in our Propaganda Development Center thought that the idea of a “bat signal” was a good one that could be used in psychological operations. He thought that we might be able to take a transparency and place it into a projector, turn on the intense illumination and manipulate the focusing lens, and then project an image out great distances. He envisioned using such symbols as “Chieu Hoi” (open Arms) or the flag of the Republic of Vietnam.

Once the projector and transparencies were prepared and ready I had to obtain a power source to run to run the high-wattage projector lamp. An Army 3.5 kilowatt generator set was obtained and placed in our loudspeaker (Gabby) C-47 aircraft. The commander of the 5th Special Operations Squadron was unhappy about that extra power source in his aircraft, but eventually he went along with the experiment.

The ideal clouds would be a low-hanging “mattress” blanket cloud cover, but in the Delta they were not all that common. On a less than ideal night Gabby took off and flew a mission provided by our S3 shop. We usually targeted large Viet Cong formations and I believe this was a suspected VC battalion. The illumination unit worked and the image was projected, but there was no way of determining how well it was seen without a prisoner to interview.

The next mission was over Vinh Long and our field team witnessed the projection and reported that it was blurry and not very effective. The problem was the transparency of the cloud cover. It was not dense enough, and on that particular mission the cloud cover was so low that it was extremely dangerous for the aircraft and the safety of the crew. “Angels 3” was considered the nominal altitude for safe operation and the low cloud cover would bring Gabby within 1500 feet of the Viet Cong muzzles. That was simply not going to happen.  

Still, even under those poor conditions there was an image. We had proven that the system should work under perfect conditions and had proven that messages could be projected onto low-floating clouds with the use of a projector and portable generator.

The operation itself proved a failure. After the second mission, some members of our staunch allies, the Army of Vietnam (ARVN's) were seen running off with our generator set from what had once been a locked storage shed at Binh Thuy Vietnamese Air Force Base. Without the power source all further missions were cancelled. Those spotlight missions were innovative and showed a great deal of originality and imagination, but unfortunately it would take a lot more to defeat the Viet Cong insurgency.

It seems that there were attempts at placing propaganda images in the skies over Laos too. The plan was to show Buddha and various religious images and warn the Pathet Lao that they had angered Buddha and the spirits. As far as I know this plan was never put into action.

As always, this is just a quick look at the subject. There are certainly many more cases of psychological operations featuring superstition as a theme. You are invited to write the author at Sgmbert@hotmail.com with additional suggestions.