Psychological warfare is not linked to the use of weapons and ammunition, yet its damage is even more deadly (Getty Images)

Moral war or "psychological", which is one of the subjects of social psychology and military psychology, specialists differed in its linguistic structure; some of them call it "cold war", and some of them call it "war of ideas" and "propaganda war", but they all agreed on its meaning, because it is "a form of conflict that aims to influence the opponent, weaken his morale and direct his thought, belief and opinions, to replace other ideas in their place that are in the service of the party waging psychological warfare."

It was also defined as "the use of activities that cause fear and anxiety in the people you want to influence without harming them physically."

Genesis of the term

The phrase "psychological warfare" first appeared in the German writer Colonel Blau, head of the psychiatric laboratory at the Ministry of Defense, which he published in 1930 under the title "What is the meaning of all propaganda?" , and laid the foundations of psychological warfare.

The term "psychological warfare" was later popularized during World War II by both the Allies and the Axis powers, and was propaganda based on the use of psychology lessons, and one of the earliest definitions of psychological warfare in the U.S. military was "the use of any means with the intention of influencing the morale and behavior of any group for a particular military purpose."

It was then defined in the same lexicon of military terms as "the planned use by the State in time of war or in time of emergency of propaganda measures, with the intention of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes and behaviour of hostile, neutral or friendly foreign groups in a manner conducive to the achievement of the State's policy and objectives".

This definition was amended in the subsequent edition of the dictionary by deleting the words "in time of war or in time of emergency", because the scope of psychological warfare is not limited to these times only.

A U.S. Navy written copy prepared in 1946 and rewritten in 1950 states that "the primary task of psychological warfare is to impose our will on the will of the enemy, for the purpose of controlling his actions in ways other than military means, and by means other than economic means."

However, there is no specific definition of psychological warfare, as it is related to psychological and social sciences, and emerged as a result of the fruits of psychological awareness and the practical application of modern psychological sciences.

Although it is not like a well-known war, in which weapons and ammunition are used, it is no less fierce and lethal than military wars, as its weapon is the word and image that negatively or positively affect morale, in addition to the feelings, attitudes and actions of hostile, neutral or friendly groups to change behavior towards the goal and destination to which psychological warfare is directed, in support of a policy or current events, or a military plan, in conditions of war or crises and confrontations.

Historically used

Although psychological warfare is often seen as a modern invention, it is of ancient origin. Cyrus the Great used it against Babylon, Zerk Sis against the Greeks, Philip II of Macedon against Athens, Khalid ibn al-Walid against the Romans, Yusuf ibn Tashfin against the Castilians, and Abdelmalek al-Saadi against Portugal, as well as the Palestinian resistance, led by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), against the Israeli occupation.

One of the psychological warfare tactics used in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is known to be the "fifth column strategy", a faction of underground subversive agents who attempt to undermine the group's solidarity by any means.

The term is traditionally attributed to a nationalist "general" named Emilio Molla, who used it during the civil war as 4 of his battalions (columns) moved into Madrid, referring to the presence of his hardline supporters inside the capital as a "fifth column", operating clandestinely in Madrid with the aim of undermining the loyal government from within.

The Mongols also used psychological warfare in the Middle Ages, and it had a great impact on the expansion of their state, as Genghis Khan resorted to sending spies at the beginning of the 11th century AD, to spread terror in the hearts of enemies, by intimidation, launching rumors, and trying to weaken the morale of fighters, by spreading news about the large numbers of the Mongol army and their brutal acts.

He deceived his enemy's army into believing that the Mongol army was larger than reality by means of a trained group of cavalry, who moved very quickly from one place to another.

World Wars

The importance of psychological warfare appeared with the start of its use in politics widely at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties of the twentieth century, specifically with the circumstances of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and this perception of psychological warfare and its adoption in the analysis and management of the conflict gave it great importance, and prompted the Western world and America in the new international system to use it among the best influential weapons that prepared the world to accept America's sole presidency and leadership of the world after the collapse of the Soviets.

History is not without images of psychological warfare, as its use in the period of world wars was clear, as the First World War witnessed radical transformations in the means of psychological operations, after its use was accidental became an art and a science in its own right, so that some interested people have gone to say, that winning the First World War is thanks to psychological operations.

Although the Germans did not succeed in their propaganda during World War I, especially on the home front, Germany learned this lesson: Nazism came to power by co-opting the common man, when Hitler applied this tactic in the international arena, beginning with influencing audiences everywhere, holding shows of power and ending with cold brutality that did not care what happened in order to achieve its goals.

So the fields of propaganda in both world wars were similar, but the psychological warfare effort in World War II was greater in its field, so the name psychological warfare became the new name for propaganda, and radio began to play a major role in spreading propaganda among a large number of listeners for this purpose.

In the second war, the Axis powers (Italy, Germany, Japan, Spain) were able to gain the satisfaction of their peoples through a war of aggression, and then fragmented their opponents to obtain victory, so they had to inject fear and terror into the hearts of their direct enemies, and black propaganda was widely used before the war operations, despite the great effort made to hide it.

In the social context

The Greeks called the philosopher Socrates "the first doctor", and he also had a great knowledge of medicine besides philosophy, and it is said that this title given to Socrates has angered his neighbor, who was already a doctor, which prompted him to denounce when the king called Socrates the title of "the first doctor", claiming that he is better than him and deserving of the title of "the first doctor", so Socrates said, "If he proves that, he is the first doctor, not me."

The king asked the doctor for a way to prove that he was better than Socrates. He said, "I will water him with venom, and he will also water me with poison of his own making; whoever cures himself is the most knowledgeable, and whoever dies is the loser," so the doctor was busy preparing the poison while Socrates summoned 3 people, and ordered them to pour water in a pestle and knock continuously for 40 days until his neighbor heard the doctor.

On the appointed day, the doctor and Socrates met before the king; each prepared an antidote to the poison of his opponent. The doctor asked Socrates to start drinking poison and he drank it, so Socrates yellowed and had a fever, but he was cured for an hour. Having eaten his prepared antidote. Then the king ordered the doctor to drink the poison prepared by Socrates and within moments the doctor fell to the ground screaming.

Socrates said to the king, What I gave to the doctor was not poison, but fresh water, and I will drink of it, and you will drink and there is no harm in it. Socrates was then asked why the doctor died after drinking water, and he replied that he fell because of the power of suggestion, after 40 days listening to the voices of the Daqaqin and believing that they were preparing poison for him, so the psychological factor had a greater impact than the poison, which led to his death. Thus, Socrates killed his opponent only by illusion, or what we call psychological warfare today.

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Islamic History

Perhaps one of the most important examples of psychological warfare is what Khalid ibn al-Walid deluded his Roman opponents in the battle of Mu'tah that the Muslim army was receiving the night, and then the next day he deluded them that he was luring them into an ambush prepared for them behind a hill.

As well as the extreme secrecy imposed by the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) when he went to Mecca to conquer it without the knowledge of the Quraysh and preparing for a war that may be fierce, until they were surprised at their gates at the head of a large army that they could not afford, so they were forced to surrender Mecca without war.

In the battle of the "Al-Aqsa Flood" launched by the resistance against Israel on October 7, 2023, Hamas played on the psychological chord alongside its military advance, until the occupation soldiers became constantly anxious, panicked and nervous, feeling that the resistance surrounded them from all sides, so some of them described its fighters as ghosts, and the resistance even published video clips from among tents set up by the occupation soldiers in the Gaza Strip, taken with a camera coming out from underground.

The statements and statements issued by the leaders of the resistance contributed to shaking the confidence of Israeli society, and many of its groups demanded the dismissal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who brought the situation to what they believe is.

Hamas has revealed, for example, that the Israeli government refused to receive the bodies of prisoners killed in the occupation bombardment despite an offer to do so, so the families of the prisoners revolted, accusing their government of failing them, and the images of handing over prisoners to the Red Cross while smiling and comfortable and saying goodbye to resistance fighters had a great impact in refuting the Israeli narrative seeking to demonize the resistance.

Psychological warfare objectives

Psychological warfare seeks to achieve several objectives depending on the circumstances and the hostile party, including the following:

  • Weakening the faith of the hostile group in all its religion, belief, principles and values by exaggerating some behavioral errors or intellectual perceptions, and trivializing and defaming some values to the point of mockery.
  • Stirring up the seeds and factors of division and discord in the hearts of the neutral or hostile group, by separating the members of the people from the leadership and dividing the members of the same community from each other.
  • Exaggerating and exaggerating the economic, financial and social hardship in order to impose hegemony and guardianship on the target country through loans and rescue plans under conditions that increase dependence and acquiescence of the target state.
  • Achieving control over the will of the peoples and their leaders and directing them, according to what serves the interests and policies of the hostile party, by questioning the capabilities, plans and programs of the targeted countries, to make them surrender to the decisions of the colonial countries without discussion or observation.
  • Encouraging and supporting religious and political extremism to confuse and question the credibility of valid and moderate religious convictions and beliefs.
  • Spreading feelings of frustration and despair among members of society, especially among young people by virtue of the specificity of their interests and ambitions, and other political, economic, social and strategic goals.

Such goals are confirmed by Professor Rajdar Dakrus, Britain's pioneer of psychological warfare during World War II, when he said that the most important goals of psychological warfare are the following:

  • Destroying the values and morals of the people to whom psychological warfare is directed.
  • Confusing the people's political outlook and killing all their beliefs and ideals.
  • He bombarded the people with new "lessons and ideals" to believe in afterwards.
  • Widening the rift between governments and their people.
  • Planting the seeds of division among the sons of the same people.

Psychological warfare tools

In order for psychological warfare to achieve its effect and results, it relies on several tools, the most important of which are:

  • Rumors

Rumors are transmitted by individuals, newspapers, magazines, radio, television or other media, such as: making appeals by loudspeakers and distributing leaflets containing encouragement to surrender, with the aim of psychologically influencing local, regional, global, or national public opinion in order to achieve political, economic or military goals on the scale of one or several countries, or on a global scale.

The rumor affects many events, such as war, disasters, high prices, political or economic relations, and may affect people, groups, etc., and target the morale of the people, so it is called moral war or psychological warfare.

Among the main functions of rumors are to cause fear in the hearts of enemies, falsify facts, raise or destroy morale, destroy confidence in media sources and question them, and create confusion and chaos.

  • Publicity

Propaganda is common in the enemy to confuse his plans and projects, and has a prominent role in influencing the reality of individuals and societies; the bulk of psychological warfare is managed by propaganda through the transfer of certain information, ideas, opinions, and even lies, and propaganda in our time has become large areas through social networks, which have shortened time and brought the world closer until the world became a village, as what happens in the far east affects the reality and life of those in the far west, and vice versa.

Propaganda is defined as "the expression of opinions or actions intentionally done by individuals or groups, on the grounds that they will influence the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups to achieve predetermined goals, through psychological evasions."

Technological development has contributed to increasing the influence of propaganda on the masses, so that countries broadcast and send their ideas in order to influence and control trends, employing modern theories in psychology, sociology and the media, which enable to deepen the influence on the masses.

The history of propaganda is in fact the history of humanity itself, since man began to express himself through words, writing and symbols, he has been searching by various means, through illusion, exaggeration, distortion of facts, and reformulation of news in order to reach his goal.

  • Brainwashing

It is also called forced persuasion, and it has an importance in psychological warfare to convince non-believers to accept a certain loyalty, order, or belief. The term is generally applied to any technique designed to manipulate human thought or action against the desire, will, or knowledge of an individual, by controlling the physical and social environment; where loyalties are attempted to be destroyed by any disloyal groups or individuals; to prove that an individual's attitudes and thinking patterns are incorrect and must be changed; and to develop absolute loyalty and obedience towards the person and the ruling party.

The nature of brainwashing (as in communist political prisons) received wide attention after the victory of the Chinese Communists in 1949 and after the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

  • Economic boycott

It is a systematic refusal and voluntary abstention from consuming the products of a company or a country, or establishing any economic relationship with it, to pressure it or force it to respond to specific demands, such as changing its positions or policies towards some issues.

The economic boycott is an effective deterrent weapon in confronting the other and adapting his will, because of the economic damage it can inflict on him, such as the decline in the volume of sales and exports, and the consequent political and social effects.

Psychological warfare is the most dangerous war facing revolutions and reform movements at all times and places, as it tries to infect ideas, teachings and emerging principles, and prevent them from reaching minds and establishing them in hearts.

It also sows the seeds of division and division, puts obstacles to progress and development, works in the dark and stabs in the back, resorts to confusing ideas, creating gossip and rumors, spreading terrorism and using the means of carrot and threat.

The boycott has been used recently on many issues, including a call for Muslim audiences to boycott Swedish products after the Qur'an burning incident in Sweden, and a call to boycott French products after a French newspaper published cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Added to this is the call to boycott Israeli products, or those whose companies support Israel, and these campaigns have spread widely on social media.

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