Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Crisis Management, Perception Management and PSYWAR: Viet Cong Style

"The Chinese Revolution was imported to and imposed upon an unwilling Tibet by means of structural violence and psychological warfare." (Norbu, 2001, p. 109) According to Norbu the ill-advised advance of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution into Tibet may have been more about cultural genocide than about nationalizing communism. It attempted imposing Han values, heroes, and heritage onto a people having not only a separate ethnological heritage, but an entirely separate religious culture. Even now as the Chinese government appears to support greater openness, Tibet seems held by the same old communist party rules. In the late 1970s Maoist leftism seemed more enforced in Tibet, and into the present oppression bears more the earmarks of a class struggle than an ideological revolution.

In Tibet China finds itself facing the age-old problem of psychologically manipulating a captive people's deepest held religious beliefs -- a psychological bulwark that through history has proven immune to even the threat of death. In its most extreme this involves supplanting symbols of power of the captive peoples with those of the conquerors (Meinig, 1993). The United States did it for its indigenous people by wiping out the Bison and claiming the Black Hills -- eventually defacing the latter with images of U.S. Presidents on Mt. Rushmore. More anciently, Constantine IV attempted to secure control over Christianity by initiating iconoclasm -- though not eliminating images, just replacing them with his own (Schnborn, 1994).

Native Americans forced by repressive laws and mandated boarding schools to openly abandon their religious practices, retreated into the privacy of sweat lodges (where they previously just cleaned themselves) to preserve their cultural heritage. Hitler's "Final Solution" succeeded in killing six million Jews, but dissuaded none of them from Judaism. Germany in the 1870s and Mexico in the 1920s suppressed Catholics -- and Mexico quite bloodily -- in the end only hurting their own credibility as members of the family of nations. With the living symbol of the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, even in exile, Tibet has something to cling to -- a symbol of belief and power that the Chinese cannot supplant with one of their own. In Tibet China has for decades involved itself in the futile pursuit of that most resistant psychological victory, and is still losing. Religion remains a more powerful psychological force than any contrived for combat.

Cold War Russia
While psychological warfare had been a tool to support more direct military operations in World War II, during the Cold War psychological warfare became an end in itself. As Russia considered anything related to its psychological operations classified until the mid-1990s, it remains difficult to find too many details about its programs. That does not keep analysts and researchers from reverse-engineering Soviet psychological strategies based on knowledge of their efforts, and on recognized psychology in general. While the U.S.S.R. engaged heavily in the same leaflet and propaganda operations that formed the basis for early 20th Century Psychological Operations, they did not limit their psychological aggression to such tangible measures. Indoctrinating the concept of Reflexive Control into Soviet Psychological Operations, they allowed field commanders to consider psychology a general weapon.

Reflexive Control is a "branch of the theory of control related to influencing the decisions of others. In a military context, it can be viewed as a means for providing a military commander with the ability to indirectly maintain control over his opponent commander's decision process." (Reid, 1987, p. 294) Put simply, it means controlling the information an enemy receives, to manipulate decisions more favorably for one's own side. The World War II British "Man Who Never Was" operation might qualify, but Russian doctrine breaks this down to a field commander level. Reflexive control actualizes the idea of war's objective as manipulation of the will.

The U.S.S.R. mastered censorship as a means of controlling information received by its own citizens. It could not allow the perception -- however brief -- that any fault in the state existed. Images of past leaders turned dissidents disappeared from group photos in the public record, with only tattle-tale shoes or shadows to show they had been there. Cosmonaut deaths in space went unpublicized, with honors only rewarded posthumously under approaching Perestroika.

History of Psychological Warfare
USSR Active Measures The Soviet Union's employed psychological tactics and strategies as a part of "Active Measures" (' M'). These coordinated tactics from disinformation to assassination. While most warfare seeks to identify and exploit enemy weaknesses, active measures proactively sought to create new weaknesses altogether. A foe aware of a weakness can take efforts to reinforce it, but manipulating perception could create weaknesses of which the enemy was unaware. The USSR employed active measures liberally and proactively as early as the 1920s, laying the foundation for the future covert battlefield for the Cold War.

Among early successes, they fabricated a dissident organization just to lure an exiled anti-Soviet and England's Lt. Sidney George Reilly (the presumptive model for Ian Fleming's James Bond) back into Russia. The plan succeeded and resulted in their execution. "Active Measures" was a formal program, not just a random confluence of covert approaches. Appropriate KGB operatives received formal active measures training. Its psychological effectiveness involved careful mixture of limited truth to establish credibility with outright deception to manipulate choice.

Viet Cong
The United States was waist deep in the Vietnam quagmire before recognizing what the psychological toll would be. The Domino Theory held little weight for many draftees, which left them with no sense of imminent threat to U.S. security. They fought because they had to against a force defending its homeland, creating an exploitable psychological weakness. Ho Chi Minh knew his enemy intimately, having been educated first by the French, then trained militarily by Americans to fight Japanese in World War II -- and subsequently betrayed by the Americans when post-World War II Vietnam was returned to the French. He knew about Western media, and he knew central differences between Western values and his people's own. Americans were primarily accountants, and valued individual lives over all else. Hence, while the Vietnamese individual willingly subordinated fully to the common goal, Americans would risk the lives of dozens of men to save just one.

The attitude just exemplifies observations informing North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strategies. The leaders knew that the one with the greatest will would hold out the longest, and that domestic unrest over America's long deployment would work in North Vietnamese favor. Meanwhile, erroneous American assumptions about Vietnamese capabilities made their own strategies self-defeating. The Viet Cong achieved great victories by small means from knowing their enemies. The Viet Cong demonstrated an uncanny ability to come out of nowhere just before American helicopters arrived. The nearly 200 miles of tunnels found in the Cu Chi province explained this, but Americans still made wrong conclusions about them. They thought the tunnels a local phenomenon, improvised, but it later became clear they were part of a long-term strategy handed down straight from Hanoi -- with manuals and everything.

They described how to conceal entrances, and how to extract the dirt just a few spoonfuls at a time, and smuggle it right under the noses of patrols under a serving of rice. Simple designs within tunnels created water traps to prevent gas from reaching living quarters. Cone shaped rooms magnified the rotor sounds from approaching aircraft. Americans lacked such patience, at least in Vietnamese eyes. No wonder that the propaganda planes which flew around known VC strongholds blaring out demotivational messages proved more effective as decoys to set up attacks.

The Viet Cong could sit safely in their tunnels hear the messages and know that Americans had no idea what was really going on with them. When the blaring loudspeakers warned of severe consequences for shooting at the loudspeaker plane, it was like throwing down a gauntlet. VC scrambled from shelter and began shooting. Then another plane following moved in and shot the area up with a mini-gun, shooting so fast that the trace rounds looked like a solid line of red coming from the guns. This created a sort of shock and awe effect. Americans even misinterpreted a shift in strategies from use of Viet Cong to more use of NVA regulars as a psychological tactic to throw America off base. Only after the dust of the war settled years later was it clear that the strategy changed not long after the Tet offensive because Americans had almost killed off the Viet Cong. Some VC battalions had but two soldiers left, but Americans missed that material victory while the war went on.

James Scott is the CEO of Princeton Corporate Solutions, a corporate globalization and political strategies firm, PCS offers a unique blend of think tank, corporate and governmental communication strategies to expedite the facilitation of long lasting relationship building in these necessary sectors.

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