Sample research paper on the effects of psychological warfare

In this paper we strive to present the phenomenon and effects of psychological warfare. Psychological warfare is related to learning every aspect related to target enemy, their attitudes, behavior, likes and dislikes etc. Supported by extensive research, we have also highlighted the major events of twentieth century, such as World War I and II as well as Cold War and the psychological operations executed during these wars. Attempt has been made to underline the effects of psychological warfare, especially in the twentieth century.

Psychological Warfare

Psychological warfare can be described as a type of persuasion and propaganda in which the real force is used as its foundation. Psychological warfare is used as a measure to impact a combat opponent’s attitude, ideology, actions or will. The primary objective of the psychological warfare is to win, without being engaged in a full-fledge fight or accomplish a significant victory with fighting at a low scale. Just by securing an advantageous and favorable position in relation with politics and nature of warfare, a basic psychological advantage can be achieved. (Hogan 2006)

In the span of a psychological warfare, a group can effectively use economic, scientific, diplomatic, political, ideological, cultural or military forces to alter the national will or to change and impact opponent’s attitude towards, belief in, or hostility toward an organization, towards a public, or towards governance and military agencies. A psychological warfare is, in fact, the study and exploration of the psychological quantity of thoughts generally practiced by the strategic leadership of a nation.

Psychological Warfare is learning each and every thing related to target enemy, their beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and vulnerabilities. Once the reasons of motivating the target are established, the psychological operations are initiated. As such, psychological operations are the planned and strategic use of communications to impact human behavior and attitudes. Moreover, it creates emotions, attitudes and biased feelings in the target groups that could support the accomplishment of national objectives. (Irving 1951)

The psychological warfare, in fact, has become a widespread and systematic technique with the support of scientific advancements made in the field of communications, for instance high-speed printing as well as radio, along with significant developments made in the area of public opinion and the prediction related to mass behavior. (Armistead 2004)

History of Psychological War

Psychological war has its deep origins in the history as Cyrus the Great used it against the Babylon. Later, Philip II of Macedon effectively employed it against Athens. Genghis Khan, in his invasions and wars, utilized the phenomenon of psychological war in different ways; one of them was spreading of rumors for including huge fierce Mongol horsemen in his army. (Lung 2006)

Propaganda and Psychological Warfare

The effective usage of propaganda in a psychological warfare in one form or another has effectively accomplished the set objectives and has proved to be essential to waging of war successfully as the use of weaponry and manpower. However, the possibility for using the persuasion power through psychological operations generally as a force multiplier to accomplish national objectives and goals with minimum possible destruction has been acknowledged by many military statesman and leaders. Moreover, after World War II, the psychological warfare has regularly been used as an effective and major weapon system. (Hoffman 2001)

The word ‘propaganda’ was used by the Catholic Church in the seventeenth century to narrate an organization intended to combat the development of Protestantism. Initially, the word propaganda described the sowing of values and ideas- and it was about belief. In the ancient times, commanders like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great acknowledged the need to motivate their soldiers in war as well as sustaining support for different military campaigns fought by fathers, sons and brother who could afford to leave their land until harvest time. (Lerner 1972)

It was until twentieth century- and the huge volume of slaughter experienced- the conduct of propaganda was not only unsystematic but also dependent upon individuals who understood the significance of psychology. The process of persuasion through propaganda- in a sternly value-neutral theme- became a phenomenon of huge interest to the politicians. The reason for the heavy usage of propaganda, especially in the psychological warfare, was to create a favorable public opinion. The technological advancements like radio, cinema, telephone and television had caused a huge information explosion to transform the modern world into ‘Information Age’ also known as ‘The Age of Propaganda’.

The RAF and the USAAF airdropped millions of aerial leaflets from their planes over Germany. Reciprocally, the Luftwaffe also dropped a huge quantity of leaflets over England. Most of the airdropped leaflets contained the strategic and tactical type of propaganda with the main purpose of influencing the target audience in the long term. Most of the propaganda materials, after D-day, were spread over distances in short range by firing with rockets or artillery. (Radvanyi 1990)

World War I- Effects of Psychological War

The significance of psychological war and the usage of propaganda were not acknowledged initially, particularly in the military. The customs of hierarchy and secrecy were the antithesis of such newer developments in the democratization and publicity. When the World War I broke out in the year 1914, the phenomenon of propaganda and the psychological warfare became the order of the day.

After suffering huge losses in 1915 and 1916, the British government started recognizing the fact that new weapons including aircraft, tanks and propaganda would be needed for a major breakthrough. The slow evolution made towards a methodical deployment of propaganda specifically on the battlefield can be viewed though many key events. For instance in 1915, leaflets were dropped by the Germans over British lines. In 1918, first Ministry of Information was created by Lloyd George to supervise and protect the level of morale both at home and war through effective usage of propaganda. Ultimately ‘The Enemy Propaganda Department’ was created at Crewe to deal with the phenomenon, known today as ‘psychological warfare’. (Gilmore 1998)

Subsequently, the activities related to propaganda and enemy propaganda were separated. This resulted in distinguishing between managing propaganda- which meant persuasion at the strategic level- and the phenomenon of psychological warfare- managed mostly at the tactical level. In other words, it distinguished specifically between propaganda aimed at civilian audience and the element of psychological warfare focused at enemy soldiers. It is claimed that the usage of propaganda in World War I saved almost a year of war along with million lives. Adolph Hitler was a great admirer of psychological warfare and using propaganda. He noted, as a serving soldier, that the dropping of leaflets that commenced in the year 1915 transformed into a stream and ultimately in a flood.

Europe experienced a traumatic disruption with the formation of a communist government in Soviet Union as well as the emergence of some anti-communist fascist governments in Germany and Italy etc. This particular ideological confrontation resulted in generating an entire new media of sound cinema and radio to effectively compete for the minds and hearts of a European population being increasingly impacted by the control and power of authoritarian regimes of right and left persuasion. Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler, all of them revealed huge interest in propaganda as an influential instrument for retaining as well as securing political power.

World War II- Effects of Psychological War

Psychological operations were extensively used by all participants in the Second World War. The rise of Adolf Hitler to power was mainly due to his exploitation of dissatisfaction prevailing among traditional right and left wing parties. National Socialism was presented by Hitler with the purpose of creating a movement to unite international socialists with conservative nationalists, the working class with the professional class of the nations. His usage of propaganda as a weapon in psychological warfare and his oratory techniques provided him an actual hypnotic command over almost entire German masses. Propaganda was used by the Germans both to intimidate their enemies and unite Germany. (Lerner 1949)

Radio broadcasts became a main phenomena of passing propaganda aimed at enemies. The weapons used by Japanese in the psychological warfare included ‘Tokyo Rose’ for propaganda, broadcast music and words of discouragement to allied forces. Mildred Gillar was used by the Germans in their psychological operations during World War II, while Americans used different deceptive tools to convince the high command of Germany that invasion of D-Day was going to be launched at Calais and not at Normandy. (Gian 2001)

The most innovative and the best utilization of psychological warfare are attributed mostly to British Broadcasting Corporation in a radio broadcast. During May, 1949 when the German offensive on England was almost imminent, a regular radio program at BBC, often listened and easily heard by the Germans, started lessons of English language for the probable invaders. Such broadcasts were presented in perfect German. Although, the material used by the British announcer was crude, yet it proved to be influential and effective. (Margolin 2007)

Deception and cover operations are intricate and complex affairs, consistently involving many techniques, resources and talents. The most spectacular and ambitious deception and cover operation of the twentieth century was the endeavor of the Allies to persuade the high command of German that the upcoming invasion of Allied forces of Europe would ultimately occur across the Pas de Calais, instead of the narrow cliffs and sand strips of Normandy almost at a distance of hundred miles. (Simpson 1996)

Through employing imaginative psychological operations, an ‘Army Group Patton’ entirely fictitious in nature, was created by the allied forces and was poised to make a huge strike at the German 15th Panzer Army, across the English Channel. This ruse firmly convinced the planners and strategists of German command that the allied assault would be headed by an army under the command and control of Lieutenant General George, considered by most as the finest combat command. Resultantly, the huge concentration and gathering of German combat strength was positioned in Pas de Calais at France, waited for Patton. Another example of psychological warfare in the World War II was using psychological operations to promote, unity, morale and cooperation within people and friendly units along with resistance forces deployed specifically behind the opponent’s lines.

During Second World War, the Soviet Union’s survival was mainly due to the ability of Stalin to mobilize and appeal to the emotional patriotism of his citizens. Stalin sensed that the Communist platitudes and ideological abstractions were somewhat barren and did not have much spiritual and emotional impact essential to fortify and reinforce the Russian people to fight against Hitler and his armies. The Church and the Army, the two institutions of Russia with the most genuine roots in the past, were cultivated by the propagandists of Stalin most effectively as never done before in the history of Soviet Union. (Gaula 2006)

As such, Josef Stalin, one of the most shrewd and tough dictators of the twentieth century, sensed that his traditional military weapons were not enough to face the threat of German armies. Conversely, it can also be noted that the Stalin’s choice of using psychological operations to support his traditional military forces, would ultimately prove to play a primary role for prolonging the communist regime for a long time.

The Second World War spurred the materialization of psychological warfare as a promising new shape of applied communication studies. The social, scientific and personal networks established, particularly in social sciences, in World War II, especially among social psychologists and communication researchers; ultimately played a major role in the social construction or evolution of sociology after war. (Jones 1997)

Cold War- Effects of Psychological Warfare

After World War II, two superpowers emerged in the shape of Soviet Union and the United States of America. Britain the sole superpower in the past lost most of the parts of its empire and struggled to search for a new role in the Europe and the world. The Cold War broke around 1947 which meant the intense ideological struggle between new superpowers or conflicting lifestyles involved an international propaganda struggle for minds and hearts. (Light 2005)

A global strategic campaign of psychological warfare commenced primarily between two new superpowers or the main contenders of cold war that lasted almost for forty years in which the KGB of Soviet Union and the CIA of U.S actively took part. The Americans, on an overt level, formed ‘United states Information Agency’ with the purpose to defend the campaigns of disinformation launched by numerous propaganda agencies of Soviet Union. The focus of the Soviet Union’s propaganda policy was to bring the newly independent nations of the Third World under their influence.


The arguments presented in the paper describe the psychological warfare and propaganda as a deceptive tool. The events of World War I, II and cold war reveal the significance of psychological warfare. These major war events of twentieth century have been discussed to some extent in the context of psychological warfare and the false propaganda made by the opponents. It is therefore concluded, on the basis of arguments presented, that psychological warfare ultimately altered the entire scenario of twentieth century.


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