Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Propaganda War

I'm back from vacation in Florida, and I must say, it was pretty damn boring. Beach was boring, was there with my family, which is all well and good, but I'm 19 years old, for Christsakes. Anyway, the boredom did allow me to get caught up on some required reading. Re-read Animal Farm and 1984, but the real purpose of the trip was to tackle "The Sling and The Stone," by Marine Col. Thomas Hammes. The book is a very apt and accurate study of 4th Generation Warfare (4GW), which is the kind of conflict we are currently engaged in. While the book makes many good points (and I'll probably be referring back to it in coming weeks), one very relevant topic it discusses is the role of the media, propaganda, and perception when engaged in 4GW.

Before we get to our discussion, however, a bit of background. 4GW is the most recent evolution in war. It originally appeared in the Chinese Civil War, developed by Mao as he led the Communists against Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalists. Mao's idea of 4GW had three phases: phase I is when "the insurgents concentrate primarily on buildling political strength. Military action is limited to selected, politically motivated assassinations. Any other military action must have a propaganda purpose to cement the population's support of the insurgents." (Emphasis mine.) Phase II has the insurgents "gain strength and consolidate control of base areas. They actively administer some portions of the contested area." Phase III is when the insurgents "commit regular forces in a final offfensive against the government." Now, as Col. Hammes makes clear, warfare is constantly evolving, so it is no surprise, then, that the Vietnamese employed Mao's technique in their long wars for independence, but with a twist. The Vietnamese understood the power of the media, and made it a cornerstone of their plan for victory. The Vietnamese strategy was a "war of attrition, accompanied by intensive national and international propaganda to weaken American resolve." (Emphasis, again, is mine.) The obvious case study for this propaganda/media strategy with regards to Vietnam is Tet. While it is commonly accepted in military and conservative circles that Tet was a disaster for the VC, Hammes makes a much different point. While acknowledging that Tet was in fact a tactical disaster for the VC, Hammes quotes a Vietnamese general who, when posed with a statement that the Americans never lost a battle in Vietnam, states that the statement "is true. It is also irrelevant."

The victories on the battlefield were irrelevant because the Vietnamese won the battle for the hearts and minds of America. And that is how 4GW is fought. An adversary carefully crafts a message, often tailored for different audiences, and makes careful use of the media. Using Tet again as an example, after the battle the Vietnamese increased their propaganda. The response of the United States was predictably tepid, sticking to its "pre-Tet statement that it was winning and that the South Vietnamese were a democratic government." In other words, "we seemed to feel that the destruction of the cadre and the improving security situation in the south should speak for themselves." (Emphasis mine.) Does that bolded phrase sound familiar at all?

The common counter-argument to all this talk of use of the media and propaganda is that "it's the media's fault." This argument was used in Vietnam, and it is trotted out on an almost daily basis today. For now, I leave it to you, the reader, to ponder over whether or not this is a valid argument. Remember, in order to fully understand 4GW, we must look at things from the adversary's point of view, not our own. For a bit of background and seasoning, I leave you with these selected links, primarily discussing Haditha and the fallout. Dadmanly, In From the Cold, and Mike Yon. I look forward to getting your responses on this and continuing the discussion especially with regards to our current conflict.