The U.S. has used Ghosts, Vampires, and other Superstitions as Psychological Warfare

Photo Credits: Cris Faga/NurPhoto (Left) / John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images (Right)
Photo Credits: Cris Faga/NurPhoto (Left) / John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images (Right)

The US military has the most extensive arsenal of weapons and equipment in the world. If something needs to be destroyed, the US will likely have a piece of equipment to do so. However, while the US is a global leader in technology, they have also dabbled in more spooky methods of fighting their enemies. Ghosts, vampires and superstitions have all been used by the US for psychological warfare.

Nazis and the occult

Occult and psychological warfare
24 April 2019, Berlin: The actress Lara Fangmann (as a white woman) holds the tarot card “the devil” of the Rider Waite tarot set in the Berlin Dungeon in her hand. The show “Séance – Do you feel her too?” is about a medium that tries to conjure up the spirit of a woman during a necromancy. Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Nazis’ interest in the occult was well known and exploited by the Allies by using their superstitious beliefs against them. These beliefs extended into the German population too, who at the time were also intrigued by astrology and other pseudoscience.

The Allies began dropping false horoscopes that told of a bad future for Germany and made sure to point out Hitler’s unlucky Taurus zodiac sign.

Nazi high command quickly caught on to the Allies’ sneaky activities. Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda and reportedly a believer of horoscopes and astrology, wrote about the Allies’ use of superstition to affect German morale in a 1942 diary entry.

He wrote “The enemy is now making use of horoscopes in the form of handbills dropped from planes, in which a terrible future is prophesized for the German people. But we know [something] about this ourselves! I am having counter-horoscopes worked up which we are going to distribute, especially in the occupied areas.”

A month later, Goebbels wrote “In the United States astrologists are at work to prophesy an early end for the Fuehrer. We know that type of work as we have often done it ourselves. We shall take up our astrological propaganda again as soon as possible.”

The Nazis also believed horoscopes could serve as propaganda against their own people too, as a means to improve morale and perception of the nation’s leaders.

Also during WWII, the British constructed a giant, terrifying figure to scare Italian locals. The 12-foot manikin that was described as a “gigantic scarecrow”, walked through the streets of rural Italian villages at the start of the Italian campaign. The trick worked in scaring the inhabitants out of local villages, who thought the British were aided by the Devil. The fleeing locals clogged up routes in the area and caused a logistical nightmare for German forces.

Fictitious creature attacks

Vampires and Psychological Warfare
People wearing horrors costume during a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 16, 2018. (Photo by Cris Faga/NurPhoto)

During the 1940s and early 1950s, the US was involved in controlling the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines. In the Philippines, many believe in terrifying creatures called asuwang; flying vampiric witches that feast on unborn fetuses and human internal organs. To play on these superstitions, US Major General Edward G. Lansdale called in psychological warfare specialists. To begin with, they spread rumors to local villagers that an asuwang was on the loose up in the hills where the Huk rebels lived.

After waiting for the rumor to reach the Huk rebels over the course of a few days, the US sent a team to set up an ambush to ensure the Huks believed the presence of an asuwang. Hidden on a popular trail used by the Huks, the US team prepared their ambush. When a Huk patrol walked past the ambush, they silently pounced upon the rear-most man.

They punctured his neck with two holes to resemble a vampire’s bite and drained his body of blood. When they were done, the US team placed his body back on the trail to be discovered by the returning patrol. When they found the body, they immediately panicked in fear of the asuwang, with the entire group leaving the area shortly after.

The wandering souls of Viet Cong soldiers

Ghosts and Psychological Warfare
Spirit figure floating in the sky. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The US employed their psychological warfare specialists in Vietnam too, hoping to scare the Viet Cong with the haunting screams and cries of their lost comrades. This was known as Operation Wandering Soul, which preyed on Vietnamese cultural beliefs that the dead must be buried, or their soul will wander the earth for eternity.

The US compiled an extensive collection of recordings of eerie noises, disembodied voices, and groans that were meant to be from the lost souls of dead Viet Cong soldiers.

The sounds were played over powerful speakers at night into the jungle surrounding US bases and from helicopters in flight. In the recordings, ghostly Vietnamese voices would tell the Viet Cong to give up and return home to their families, warning of the consequences should they ignore their messages.

It was hoped that the noises would terrify the troops in the pitch-black jungle so much that they would drop their weapons and retreat. The effectiveness of this tactic is unknown, but it seems to have made little difference overall. In fact, reports from helicopter pilots pointed out that they actually experienced more incoming fire while playing the sounds.

Apparently, the response from the enemy was much less aggressive when they played Tina Turner instead.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE