Conquering Minds

Remember those images of Iraqi soldiers surrendering en masse during the Gulf War? Many of them were holding small papers above their heads. During the course of Operation Desert Storm/Shield the U.S. dropped approximately 29 million leaflets as part of what has been termed a “psychological operation” or PSYOP for short. The MoJo Wire got a hold of some sample flyers as well as a fax from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Public Affairs Office which explains the use of these tactics.

[This is the full contents of a fax sent by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Public Affairs Office on June 27th 1996].

"Psychological operations are a vital part of the broad range of U.S. political, military, economic and ideological activities used by the U.S. government to secure national objectives. PSYOP is the dissemination of truthful information to foreign audiences in support of U.S. policy and national objectives.

“Used during peacetime, contingencies and declared war, these activities are not a form of force, but are force multipliers that use non-violent means in often violent environments. Persuading rather than compelling physically, they rely on logic, fear, desire or other mental factors to promote specific emotions, attitudes or behaviors. The ultimate objective of U.S. military psychological operations is to convince enemy, neutral, and friendly nations and forces to take action favorable to the United States and its allies.

Other side of flyer says:

To seek refuge safely, the bearer must strictly adhere to the following procedures:

  1. Remove the magazine from your weapon.
  2. Sling your weapon over your left shoulder, muzzle down.
  3. Have both arms raised above your head.
  4. Approach the Multi- National Forces’ positions slowly, with the lead soldier holding this document above his head.
  5. If you do this, you will not die.”

“Psychological operations support national security objectives during peacetime, contingencies and war. They provide commanders a critical, force-multiplying capability that can be used at tactical, operational and strategic levels of operations.

“Strategic psychological operations advance broad or long-term objectives. Global in nature, they may be directed toward large audiences or at key communicators.

Translation: “Tomorrow the Seventh Squad troops will be bombed, leave this location immediately and save yourselves.”

“Operational psychological operations are conducted on a smaller scale. They are employed by theater commanders to target groups within the theater of operations. Their purpose can range from gaining support for U.S. operations to preparing the battlefield for combat.

“Tactical psychological operations are more limited, used by command to secure immediate and near-term goals. In this environment, these force-enhancing activities serve as a means to lower the morale and efficiency of enemy forces.

Other side of flyer says: “You are isolated! All your supplies have been cut, and you’ll never get help. Saddam doesn’t care for your fate and he left you to meet your end. Drop your guns and join your Arab brothers in love and peace.”

“Both tactical and theater-level psychological operations may be used to enhance peacetime military activities of conventional and special operations forces operating in foreign countries. Cultural awareness packages attune U.S. Forces before departing overseas. In theater, media programs publicize the positive aspects of combined military exercises and deployments.

“In addition to supporting commanders, psychological operations provide interagency support to other U.S. Government agencies. In operations ranging from humanitarian assistance to drug interdiction, psychological operations enhance the impact of actions taken by those agencies. Their activities can be used to spread information about ongoing programs and to gain support from the local populace.

Translation: “Staying here means death.”

“Psychological operations units of the U.S. Army are language and culturally oriented. The 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C., the only active Army psychological operations unit, constitutes 32 percent of all U.S. Army psychological operations units. The remaining 68 percent are in the Reserve Component.”


We believe that journalism needs to stand for something right now. That the press is the enemy of secrecy and corruption. That reporting without a sense of right and wrong only helps liars and propagandists succeed. And that we're in this fight for the long haul.

So we're hoping to raise $30,000 in new monthly donations this fall. Read our argument for journalism that is fair and accurate and stands for something—and join us with a tax-deductible monthly donation (or make a one-time gift) if you agree.