Psychological operations (PSYOPS) are an important part of war that is often neglected. The use of captured prisoners for tactical PSYOPS is depicted in the great movie "Halls of Montezuma" about US Marines during World War II. It shows that a good interrogator is non-threatening and friendly. People like to talk, they like to brag, they like to tell stories; prisoners are no different.  The interrogator's goal is get the prisoner chatting and discussing issues so that he mentions things of value. Treating captured prisoners well is important. Since they expected to be shot, beaten, or tortured, they become very happy and thankful if treated well. They may provide great intelligence and help encourage others from their unit to surrender.  Once demoralized soldiers hear a familiar voice using a bullhorn to tell them all will be okay if they give up, many will do so. This is another reason infantrymen need Combat Bullhorns.  

     There are creative ways to entice prisoners to talk. If they are allowed to call their family or whoever they want, they will chat excitedly and leak valuable information. A Marine Corps unit in Vietnam found a way to get hard-core Vietnamese men to talk. Many had never seen a movie, or naked women.  They set up a projector in a private cell and showed the prisoner how to play a pornographic movie, then left him alone.  An hour later, they took the projector away and told the prisoner that he can watch another movie if he provided some information. It was an offer that many horny young men could not refuse.

     The value of PSYOPS is difficult to measure. Most military officers are inept at this task as it requires a deep understanding of the targeted enemy. The US military has a considerable technical capability, even its own PSYOPS aircraft; the EC-130E(right). These Commando Solo aircraft can conduct psychological broadcast missions in the standard AM, FM, HF, TV and military communications bands.  

     However, in an age of the Internet, international radio and television, listeners trust regular sources more than the new enemy broadcasts.  One mistake the US military always makes is hiring New York advertising firms to run their PSYOPS. This is fine if Americans are the target, but foreign cultures are so different that it is far better to hire advertising experts from that region. The New York firms know this too, so they become middlemen and make a huge profit. The website Psywarrior provides insight about PSYOPS conducted by the US military.

     One effective PSYOPS method is the use of celebrity endorsements. Many American film and music stars are extremely popular in foreign nations. Some are willing to help their military by recording a message or making a visit. Actor Kirk Douglas wrote he was surprised that he was so popular in many backward nations, whose leaders would ask to meet with him even though they refused to meet with US diplomats. He offered to use his popularity to help the US State Department deal with certain international issues, but his offers were ignored.

     Television is the most effective PSYOPS medium. However, it should not be used just to put out news reports.  Most totalitarian nations allow just a few stale broadcasts. Those citizens will be thankful if a foreigner floods their airwaves with dozens of new shows. This instantly and cheaply improves their lives, whereas building new roads, schools, power plants, and hospitals take years and cost billions of dollars. Television may not improve their lives much, but it provides a healthy distraction from the problems outside their front door, just like in the United States.

Understanding the Press

     Military officers need to understand the press to push their message. This is very difficult because most people never understand that they have been subject to PSYOPS since birth and much of what they think they know about the world is false. Almost all military men are from working class backgrounds and have been taught what the "powers that be" want working class people to think. For example, seemingly intelligent Americans state that the American media is "left-wing" as though CBS and CNN are run by hippies living in a flophouse. The American media is owned and controlled by billionaires who have many other corporate interests--they are all "right-wing."  This should be obvious, yet these billionaires hire television commentators to complain the media is "left-wing" whenever news appears that the billionaires disapprove.

     This problem has become worse as the American news media no longer attempts to report facts that disturb viewers in order to boost their ratings. Walter Cronkite often noted that there are no anchormen anymore, just news readers. Those attractive faces on television do not write or even edit news stories like he did. They read teleprompter news written by people who are now part of network entertainment divisions. News is designed to make Americans happy, not to inform them of things they may find unpleasant. As a result, most Americans have little understanding of the world.  

     The Internet offers good sources of international news. A popular site with great links to international news sources is It obviously has an agenda, although its editor asserts he is a right-wing libertarian.  In the United States, terms such as right-wing or left-wing, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, have been twisted so much they are meaningless, but are used to keep the working class confused and in order. Other good sources are The Unz Review and, which provide interesting articles not permitted in American corporate newsrooms. Career military men may find these websites painful to read after decades of corporate and military PSYOPS, but deprogramming oneself is not easy. For world news, the British-based Economist magazine is outstanding, except for their occasional gibberish about the need for open borders. That magazine is owned by a trust that allows writers much greater freedom.

     Most military officers do not understand the press so they hate reporters and find it difficult to use them for PSYOPS. Whenever they hear news they do not like, they blame the messenger.  They don't understand why an American reports bad things about America or the American military, even if true.  The best one can do is read thoughts from an expert, Fred Reed. He is a former US Marine who was wounded in Vietnam, then spent many years as a reporter and later a columnist, mostly covering police and military affairs. Here are two of his excellent articles:


Soldiers And Reporters

By A Well-Known Traitor

Much email comes my way, from military folk both current and retired, assuring me that the press consists of leftist commy anti-American liberal tree-hugging cowardly backstabbers who probably like the French and would date Jane Fonda. It is an old song. Having spent decades covering the armed forces, I have seen much of the Pentagon and the press. Things are a tad more complex. A few thoughts:

The military, particularly the officer corps, wants not reporting but cheerleading. The very idea of an uncontrolled press is repugnant. Thus officers try to keep reporters away from enlisted men, who are less political and tend to say things that, while true, are not policy. Thus the edgy, wary hostility in the presence of reporters. The truth of what a reporter writes doesn’t matter to them, only whether it is “positive.”

The reasons for this sensitivity are in part practical, given that wars cannot long be fought without the support of the public. There are deeper reasons. First, there is the military’s stark with-us-or-against-us outlook. Second, the intense loyalty to the group that characterizes military men. Third, an authoritarian structure to which reporters seem an uncontrolled rabble. “Uncontrolled” is the key word.

The military believes that the press should be part of the team. Its job should be not to report but to support. “Are they Americans, or aren’t they?” To see what the command thinks the press should be, read a base newspaper. It will be a cross between a PR handout and a Weekly Reader.

Reporters do not see their job as cheerleading, this being the work of PR people, whom they despise. Correspondents by nature are not team players but salaried freelances who compete with, instead of cooperating with, their colleagues. Glory hounds, they want to break the big story themselves. Instead of being loyal to any group, they are suspicious of all groups. They do not respect authority. Frequently incompetent, they are pushy, demanding, and irritating. The military is afraid of them. You hate what you fear.  In short, they are everything the military detests. If they did their jobs perfectly, which neither they nor soldiers do, the military would still loathe them.

Further, soldiers with exceptions are insular, reporters greatly less so. Consider. A kid who goes to West Point lives for four years, in formative late adolescence, with relentless military indoctrination. This is not in all respects bad. It tends to produce a personally honest, public-spirited, responsible man who makes an admirable citizen. These same men can run a carrier battle group, as difficult and impressive a thing as I have ever seen done, and they can do it only because they obey, make sacrifices, and respect the group.

The young cadet then goes to Fort Hood, say, for three years in which he is almost exclusively in the company of other soldiers. Next, three years in an armored division in Germany (the rotations may have changed) during which he is again constantly with soldiers and, since GIs don’t learn languages, unable to communicate with Germans other than bartenders. The Army is his entire existence. By the time he is thirty he is deeply imbued with a bird-politics leftwing vs. rightwing view of things. He is by no means stupid—the academies get bright students—but he is simple-minded. He believes profoundly that one is either on the team or one is with the enemy.

Reporters aren’t on the team. They report what they see, or think they see. Many do not know what they are talking about, but the military detests even more those who do. In time of war, truthfulness makes them traitors. Soldiers often use the word, and they mean it. You are with us, or you are with the enemy.

The two groups live in sharply differing mental worlds. While reporters are more insular than they should be, they are much less so than the military. They see a broader slice of the world and rub shoulders with more kinds of people. The overseas correspondents see more wars than do soldiers. The result is a certain cosmopolitanism which, whether good or bad, is much at odds with the clarity of the military’s outlook.

For example, many in Washington who actually know how the press works (the military actually doesn’t) believe that the press supports the war in Iraq, has until recently given the White House a free ride, and has been adroitly controlled by the government. I agree. If newspapers had been against the war, they would have published countless photos of gut-shot soldiers who will never get a date, paraplegics doomed to a life on a slab, and more Abu Ghraib photos (which they have.) Soldiers don’t know this. In any event, anything but unqualified support is treason.

The military usually regards journalists as cowards. (“Coward” and “traitor” are their gravest pejoratives.) This is questionable. When the 2000th US soldier died in Iraq, I checked the site of Reporters Without Borders and found that 72 reporters had been killed there (with two more missing), or 3.6 percent of the military total. I don’t know how many troops have served in Iraq. Just now it is about 160,000. To be conservative, let’s call it 130,000 on average, making 347,100 for two and two-thirds years of war. By the equation 2,000/347,000 = 72/x, one finds that there would have to have been 12,500 reporters in Iraq to have equal rates of death between reporters and soldiers. Otherwise, the press is taking casualties at a higher rate than the military. The calculation is rough, but makes the point.

Further, reporters can leave any time they choose. The government forces soldiers to fight under penalty of long jail sentences and, in many times and places, death. If you dispute this, tell the troops that they can fly home tomorrow without punishment and see how many remain. They would not leave from cowardice, but from lack of a stake in the outcome. (Would you leave your children fatherless because you wanted democracy in Iraq?)

More than most professions, the military lives in a world defined by idealism. Being a dentist does not carry an ideology with it. Being a soldier does. The dedicated soldier thinks in terms of honor, valor, loyalty, sacrifice, and heroism, of righting wrong and defeating evil, of proving himself in combat, of glory and exaltation and defending the fatherland. The reporter sees the dead lying in the street, the flies crawling in shattered craniums, the bombed-out cities for year after year without change. He hears this described as progress. To him it is pure bullshit.

Maybe, maybe not. But it is how he thinks.

Journalists are not idealists. Cynical, weary of being lied to, having seen the fraud and self-interest that underlie, as they come to see it, almost everything, they regard the soldiery as a riverboat gambler might regard the Boy Scouts. The soldiery regard the press as a Boy Scout might regard a riverboat gambler. Different mental worlds.

Ambiguity disturbs soldiers. Few of us can kill and die for ifs and maybes and on-the-one-hand. Thus every war is described in apocalyptic terms, whether Vietnam, Granada, Korea, or Iraq: We must defeat them there or we’ll have to fight them in California. Usually this is nonsense. Journalists may suggest as much. And so, again, they become traitors.

The moral ambiguity of war is especially painful. While military men as citizens are at least as moral as the rest of the population, as warriors they are not, and can’t be. Because of this conflict they therefore have to believe things about themselves that are not true. Consequently you may hear a soldier saying with perfectly sincerity that the US military goes to great lengths to avoid killing civilians. Furious accusation of treason arise when reporters point out that they are in fact killing civilians.

For example, while a case can be made that the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were militarily desirable, they cannot well be described as attempts to preserve civilians. The bombings of cities in WWII were intended to kill civilians, hundreds of thousands of them, to break morale. In war utility invariably trumps decency.

Reporters, being traitorous, will write of these things. After initial cheerleading while the war goes well, they will note that it isn’t going well any longer. Soldiers, who are being killed and mangled, come to hate them, seldom distinguishing between being against a war and being against the troops. After the hell of combat, who wants to hear that maybe it wasn’t really a good idea after all?

On and on it goes.

Fred Reed


Reporters Errant

The Origins of Bushwah

Everyone and his pet goat has noticed that the media do a poor job of covering the news. The facts frequently aren't facts, the reporters conspicuously don't understand their subjects, and the spin is annoying. Why?

For lots of reasons. To begin with, newspapers necessarily attract certain types of people. To get the news, reporters have to be aggressive, willing to push their way over others and to ask questions people don't want to answer. They have to work well under the pressure. Because deadlines rule newsrooms, they often have no choice but to write superficial, half-understood stories. A reporter can't tell the editor, "Yeah, somebody did just nuke Capitol Hill, but I think we should wait to write about it until next week, when we have the facts."

Further, reporters have to submerge themselves daily in tedious details of unimportant stories about trivial people: Who wrote the check used to buy the fur coat that was obviously if not provably part of the bribe from the lobbyist of the trash-collectors' union to the mayor's wife? (Who really gives a damn?) Most reporting is neither interesting nor exciting.

It requires the soul of a CPA in a hurry, and reporters indeed amount to high-speed fact-accountants. The job quickly weeds out those who don't want to be, who aren't comfortable with the compromises and pressure.

The nature of people is that some qualities do not often coexist with others. For example, the aggressive and detail-minded are seldom studious or contemplative. Fact-accountants are not theorists. The cast of mind of reporters is concrete, not abstract, their mental horizons short. Reporters aren't stupid--most are quick and some are very bright indeed--but they do not naturally look at the big picture. They do not, for example, approach a new beat by reading books about it. Intellectual they ain't.

To put it a bit too succinctly, the qualities needed to get the news preclude an understanding of it.

Since most of the people in any newsroom fit this pattern, a culture has evolved which supports the reporters in their natural inclinations. It is a staple of reportorial philosophy that one does not particularly have to know a field to cover it. Any reporter, goes the thinking, should, given a week or two to fill the Rolodex, be able to cover anything. Which in fact he can, barely: Within a few days an experienced reporter can knock out copy that usually is not ridiculously wrong. Neither is it very good. But that is good enough.

A concrete example: A reporter assigned to the military beat and told to cover, say, submarines, will pull everything he can find on submarines from Nexis and the morgue. He will learn who in the Pentagon deals in submarines, who builds them, what the armed-services committees on the Hill think about submarines, whose districts profit from the contracts.

He will not read books on the design of submarines, their history and modes of employment. He will probably never quite learn what they are for: plugging the GIUK Gap, for instance. Further, reporters seem to be obligate technological illiterates: Our example will not learn about phased arrays, convergence zones, the relation of the aperture of a towed array to its angular resolution. He won't have the background to understand such things even should he try. So he will go for politics, which he understands.

In short, he will learn everything about the politics and bureaucracy of submarines, and nothing about submarines.

The fundamental ignorance leaves him at the mercy of his sources. Since he will have no independent idea which of competing claims about a new submarine make sense, he will have to decide instead which sources seem to him more trustworthy. Seeming trustworthy is an art much studied in Washington.

Now consider the circumstances under which reporters work. Newspapers with few exceptions are understaffed. A computer magazine can have a writer specializing in CPUs and microcircuitry, another in software, a third in disk drives. By contrast a newspaper will have a reporter who covers Science-and-Technology. The job is a bit like specializing in practically everything. It ain't doable. The field is too grand. It can be approximated by the very rare reporter with a strong technical bent and a lifetime of reading texts in biochemistry, vector analysis, neurology, and so on. These usually go to technical publications.

Back to our example, him of the submarines. His beat will be The Military. He can't cover it. The military is a vast, sprawling canvas of different services, weapons, missions, bases, much of it relying on exotic and highly disparate technologies. Further it is all over the world. The reporter can't go all over the world.

So he will cover the Pentagon, which is convenient, and military politics, which he can believe he understands. They aren't the military. But they're coverable.

And here we come to a governing principle of newspaper journalism: Do what you have time to do. This is why you see stories reporting that some policy shop, say the National Coalition of Concerned Physicists (I think I made that up) says that we are all in danger from radioactive emissions from rutabagas. Maybe we are; maybe we aren't. The reporter doesn't have time or, perhaps, knowledge to find out.

To save labor, journalism has decided that the issuing of a report is in itself a story, not the beginning of one. The reporter therefore doesn't have to know enough to determine whether the report is correct. He merely has to announce its existence. The published account is inherently biased, even if the reporter covers himself by adding a one-sentence rejoinder from the rutabaga farmers. The important thing is that he gets a story easily, which is all he has time to do.

The policy shop understands all of this, and takes advantage of it.

Them's some realities of the news racket. We'll look at other from time to time. 

Fred Reed