The Effectiveness of Psychological Operation Leaflets

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)


Major Ed Rouse asked me to consider writing this article. I am the last writer that should be asked. I am one of the believers that it is almost impossible to determine if a leaflet is effective or not. On the other hand, many PSYOP specialists believe that anything can be judged effective or not if you can just come up with the proper algorism. It is true that certain leaflets can be considered effective by the results, think of the World War Two "I Cease Resistance" leaflet against the Japanese or safe conduct "Passierschein" against the Germans. In Vietnam one "Poem to mother" captured the hearts of the men walking down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and in Desert Storm one leaflet held the Iraqi Army in place looking at the sea while General Schwarzkopf completed his amazing "Hail Mary" attack. Some are easy to credit, and others are easy to discredit, but when the Americans drop billions of leaflets in a war there are thousands of different leaflets of varying worth. How do you judge them? In this article we will illustrate some good leaflets and some awful ones. By good I mean they were successful in their purpose and by awful, I mean they failed totally in what was expected of them.

I am not confident about this article. I am not sure we can provide any real answers to the question, or even decide exactly what the question is. So, we shall just put our head down and charge forward into the abyss.

The military has produced dozens of books on effectiveness so we will explore some of them and if we find interesting statements, we will quote them. Some of them are: PSYOPS in Vietnam, Indications of Effectiveness 1967, Indicators of effectiveness at the U.S. Army Division Level 1969, Psychological Operations in Vietnam and A Proposal for Developing new Concepts for determining Effects of Psychological Operations 1973. So much talk, paragraphs with wonderful concepts, words straight from the Thesaurus, but usually very little that can be used in a real time search for effectiveness. Here we go!


Pressmen inspect leaflets during World War I

The United States got into World War I very late and as a result produced few leaflets. Field Manual 33-1, Psychological Operations, July 1987, give a brief overview of the American campaign:

British and French leaflet distribution techniques were adopted or improved with balloons and airplanes used as primary methods of dissemination. Morale leaflets incorporated antimilitarist, pro-democratic sentiments that were popular at the time. The autocracy and inefficiency of the German government provided an excellent target. These leaflets urged the common German soldier to rebel against his generals, nobles, and officials. Leaflets that attacked German nationalism targeted people from Bavaria and Alsace-Lorraine. This method was used because these people resented Prussian dominance of the German Empire. The leaflets were designed to demoralize enemy troops and included the following type messages: 'The U.S. is producing vast numbers of sophisticated weapons,' 'The U.S. Army has landed in Europe,' and 'German casualties and military setbacks are very serious'. The U.S. also produced some excellent leaflets with surrender appeal themes promising the German soldiers who surrendered first-class American food, humane care, guaranteed privileges under international law, the value of remaining alive, and the opportunity to eventually return to loved ones.

Dr. Alfred H. Paddock mentioned WWI PSYOP in a presentation at the Worldwide MISO/PSYOP Conference which I attended on 4 June 2012 He said:

During World War I, the Army established the Psychological Warfare Subsection of G-2 in the War Department, and the Propaganda Section in the G2 of General John Pershing’s Allied Expeditionary Force. Military tactical psychological warfare centered on the production of leaflets; radios did not exist as a means of communication and loudspeakers were primitive. Leaflets distributed by balloons and airplanes emphasized surrender themes to German soldiers: promises of good food and humane care, privileges under international law, and the opportunity to return to families.

Captain Heber Blankenhorn

The military agency was Captain Heber Blankenhorn's Propaganda Section, G-2D, General Headquarters, American Expeditionary Forces A.E.F.). It was established in early 1918. Heber was a former editor who had been promoted to Captain and put in charge of his one-man section. The section originally had the responsibility to study enemy propaganda and prepare counterpropaganda. In April 1918 it was renamed the "Psychologic" Subsection. In July, Blankenhorn and seven officers were sent to study the propaganda methods of the French and British. The official history of the G-2 (Intelligence) unit at General Pershing's headquarters states that they were mostly involved with printed material and leaflets.

The principal leaflets distributed by the United States involved statements by President Wilson that the U.S. was not waging a war against the German people but only against the military class. We also printed pictures and graphs showing, over a period of months, the number of American troops which had arrived in Europe as the German people were not told the strength of the American army and for a long time labored under the impression that we only had a token force in France. The printed material was sent over the front lines in hydrogen balloons made of paper and standing about 6 feet high when inflated. The propaganda was tied to a fuse with strings. We would visit artillery emplacements to get the weather reports and when the wind was in the right direction, we would send those balloons over the enemy lines. By knowing the speed of the wind at the level at which the balloon would travel, and just how fast the fuse would burn we could tell approximately when the leaflets would fall.

American pilots prepare for a propaganda leaflet mission.

Colonel Robert L. Gleason says in “Psychological Operations and Air Power: Its Hits and Misses,” Air University Review, March-April 1971:

This period saw the first practical use of airplanes for leaflet delivery. Balloons were also used as leaflet vehicles. Over one million leaflets were dropped over the German lines during the month of September 1918, shortly before the Armistice. This effort resulted in as many as fifty surrenders per day in certain sections of the front. Not a single Allied footprint had been made on German soil, nor for all practical purposes had a single Allied bomb or bullet struck her territory. From all indications, the Germans attributed greater achievements to the Allied psywar efforts than did the Allies themselves. In one of the Germans’ last propaganda efforts, they stated: “The enemy has defeated us not as man against man in the field of battle or bayonet against bayonet. No, bad content in poor printing on poor paper has made our Army lame.”

In July 2017, the U.S. Army’s 4th PSYOP Group published a book entitled Psychological Operations – A history. The book mentions Blankenhorn and American PSYOP:

Between 28 August and 11 November 1918, the Propaganda section printed some 5.1 million leaflets of nearly 20 different designs and arranged to have more than 3 million of them disseminated...Historians have estimated that that in total some 340,000 Germans surrendered to U.S. and Allied forces between 18 July and 11 November 1918. The removal of a third of a million German soldiers from the battlefield undoubtedly sapped the enemy’s fighting strength and saved American lives in the path to eventual U.S. and Allied victory.

The Official history of the AEF says that 75% of all German officers thought that the leaflets were laughable and had no bearing on the morale of the German soldier. On the other hand, when surveyed, 75% of the enlisted soldiers said that they believed the American leaflets.

The First Million
America is Coming

I don’t think we can pick one leaflet that was outstanding in effectiveness. We have no data that shows that American leaflets were pretested for effectiveness in WWI. The Americans talk about their Maps showing the actual status of the war, their leaflets telling what they eat daily and offering German prisoners the same meals, but I believe the best American leaflets were made by the British. They produced an entire series of leaflets showing the Americans and telling how many fresh soldiers were coming from the USA. One million, two, million, three million, etc. That had to be so disheartening to the Germans that they just quit the war. There must have seemed no way they could win with the massive hordes of Americans on their way to Europe.

The British first disseminated the leaflets in August 1918. The number produced is unknown. The British regularly updated these "Americans are coming" leaflets. For instance, A.P.84 produced in September 1918 gives the latest numbers. "American troops arriving in Europe: 117,212 in April, 224,345 in May, 276,372 in June."

Leaflet 1016 printed in October 1918 gives the total number of American troops in Europe; 100,000 in 1917, 1,750,000 in 1918, and a prospective 3,500,000 in 1919. Later in the same month leaflet 1025 raised the 1919 number to 5,000,000 American troops. It is no wonder that the German soldier became disheartened. It is my belief that these leaflets might have shortened the war considerably. It is a remarkable leaflet.


German soldiers surrender holding safe conduct leaflet


Three Versions of the Standard Safe Conduct pass

In general, all the Passierschein were nearly the same. They all had the same message in German and English on the front:

The German soldier who carries this safe conduct is using it as a sign of his genuine wish to give himself up. He is to be disarmed, to be well looked after, to receive food and medical attention as required and to be removed from the danger zone as soon as possible.

Dwight D. Eisenhower,
Supreme Commander,

Allied Expeditionary Force

Some of the leaflets also have the message in French on the front. All the leaflets have the great seals of the United States and the United Kingdom on the top front; those with French-language text also have the seal of France. All the passes bear the facsimile signature of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The messages on the back differ in subject and length but most stressed six points.

1. Immediate removal from the danger zone.
2. Decent treatment as befits soldiers.
3. The same food as American soldiers.
4. Hospital care.
5. Postal privileges.
6. Return home after the war as soon as possible.

By the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, the British, French and Russians had already printed and dropped a host of surrender leaflets on the German Army. The leaflets were of different sizes, colors, texts, and even the surrender instructions were different. There was no overall guidance, and certainly no uniformity.

This all changed with the arrival of American troops in the United Kingdom and the strong alliance between the U.S. and British Psywar units. For the first time the two allied nations worked together to prepare a standardized safe conduct leaflet that would be the same wherever used. The final version of the "passierschein" has been called the most effective single leaflet of the war. It was considered so powerful that in 1944 the Allied Supreme Headquarters issued a directive forbidding reproduction of the safe conduct pass on other leaflets. They wanted to protect the authenticity of the document. How did this leaflet evolve? This is the story of the most effective leaflet of World War II.



ZG61 was dropped from September 1944 to March 1945. The Allies printed 67,345,800, dropped 65,750,000. This leaflet bears the name and signature of General Eisenhower. It was printed in both red and green. The text on the back is entitled "Basic Principles of International Law regarding Prisoner of War."

The story of the "passierschein" ("safe conduct pass") for Germany is interesting because of the alleged belief on the part of the Allies that the German officer or soldier would react in a positive way to an official looking document. Therefore, the Americans and British collaborated to produce a fancy official document bearing national seals and signatures that would rival a stock certificate. They produced the leaflets late in the war in various formats with different code numbers.

Paul M.A. Linebarger mentions the theory in Psychological Warfare, Infantry Journal Press, Washington D.C., 1948. He says:

Germans liked things done in an official and formal manner, even during chaos, catastrophe, and defeat. The Allied obliged and gave the Germans various forms of very official looking 'surrender passes.' One is printed in red and has banknote-type engraving which makes it resemble a soap-premium coupon.

Daniel Lerner says in Sykewar, George E. Stewart, NYC, 1949:

This safe conduct pass was generally regarded as the most successful leaflet produced by the Psychological Warfare Branch of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)…everything about the leaflet was designed to appear authoritative: the format handsomely engraved on good paper in a rich color, has been described as “looking like a college diploma.

Carl Berger's mentions the passierschein in his report: An Introduction to Wartime Leaflets, written under contract to the U.S. Army in 1959:

First produced and distributed soon after the Normandy invasion, the early Passierschein contained the seal of the United States and the British royal crest; its text, in English and German, directed Allied frontline troops to give good treatment to surrendering Germans. As the campaign continued, a series of improvements was made to the leaflet, based on the results of prisoner-of-war interviews. Martin Herz recalled that by the time the Passierschein went into its sixth printing, the following changes had been made: (a) the German text was placed above the English; (b) a note specifically stated that the English text was a translation of the German; (c) General Eisenhower's signature was added; (d) his name was spelled out after it had been learned Germans did not recognize his handwriting; (e) the leaflet color was changed from green to a more conspicuous red; (f) under the word "Safe Conduct," a note was added stating that the document was valid for "one or several bearers." Continuous interrogations of the German prisoners had netted these improvements.

The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force says in the formerly restricted booklet Leaflet Operations in the Western European Theatre that this is the most successful of all Allied leaflets.

Designed as a document complete with the crests of Great Britain and the United States, the S.H.A.E.F. insignia and the signature of the Supreme Commander, this leaflet embodied the relevant provisions of the Geneva Convention and instructed the Allied outposts to take the bearer prisoner and treat him decently. So successful was this leaflet all through the campaign that it was mixed in the proportion of 10 percent, and later, fifteen percent, with all other combat leaflets dropped. In situations especially favorable from a tactical point of view, bombs filled with nothing, but "Safe Conducts" were dropped on German troops.


The Allies did not only think in terms of individual soldiers. They also produced a larger leaflet of the same general type with all the seals and signatures, but this one to be used by an entire unit to surrender. On the left side of the document is printed: HAND IMMEDIATELY TO THE COMPANY COMMANDER. On the right side: SUBSTITUTE FOR A SURRENDER DOCUMENT. The text of the main message is:



The unit pass is to be used for the surrender of larger units – Companies, Battalions, and larger units. This unit pass takes the place of a document of surrender signed by the Company Commander (Battalion Commander, Commander of Battle Group, etc.) or by his duly authorized representative. The unit pass must be brought in by the Company Commander (Battalion Commander, Commander of Battle Group, etc.) or by his duly authorized representative. The bearer of this Unit Surrender Pass undertakes to surrender his unit without resistance. On the other hand, the unit will be immediately removed from the battle zone in its entirety. The unit is guaranteed the same treatment as commonly accorded to Prisoners of War, strictly in accordance with the Geneva Convention, (as detailed on the back of this document). In the portion appearing below, the Allied outposts are instructed to give the bear of this unit pass all cooperation in facilitating his task.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander
Allied Expeditionary Force.

The unit pass was coded ZG102. The allies printed 6,250,000 of them and dropped 4,250,000 of them from January to April 1945.

The September 1945 issue of ARMY TALKS, an Information and Education Division news magazine for Allied troops mentions the unit safe conduct pass:

The most popular, that is, the most effective, direct surrender appeal leaflet was the safe conduct. More than 10,000,000 a month were dropped on the enemy. Many German soldiers called it an “admission ticket.” Others referred to it as a “free pass for life.” The fact that after very early drops, it carried the signature “Dwight D. Eisenhower” in facsimile, unquestionably gave it higher prestige and conviction. It was good for “one or more.” Later, a unit surrender pass helped to pull them in. To please literal minded Krauts it was twice the size of the single surrender ticket. Sound psychology in dealing with Teutons.


A German Parody of the Allied Passierschein

One way to tell if you are hurting the enemy is that he is forced to retaliate. The Germans did so in the case of the surrender pass. They produced a parody that was almost identical to the Allied leaflet. The general appearance and color of the parody is the same as the red SHAEF leaflet. However, on the leaflet depicted above the back has been faded, probably by laying on a street or grassy field in the sunlight. Sunlight will fade the color of paper, especially low-grade paper used in a propaganda leaflet. Text on the front is in German and English and has been changed to:


The German soldier who carries this safe conduct is using it as a sign of his genuine wish to go into captivity for the next ten years, to betray his fatherland, to return home a broken old man and very probably never see his parents, wife and children again. (Signed) Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force.

Were the Leaflets Against the Germans Effective?

It is impossible to say with 100% accuracy. We hardly ever know why someone does something. John Allen Stern does have one interesting comment in C.D. Jackson: Cold War Propagandist for Democracy and Globalism, University Press of America, 2012:

C.D. Jackson loved to tell his audiences about an experience he had in World War II as a member of the Psychological Warfare Group with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). His team had dropped literally tons of propaganda pamphlets in the months preceding D-Day Normandy, and transmitted disinformation "on a 24-hour radio schedule over untold transmitters in England, North Africa, everywhere." He recalled that:

With every bridge over the Rhine destroyed by the Germans, our army found the Remagen Bridge standing, and we were able to establish an immediate bridgehead which probably shortened the war by months. After the war, I ran into a colonel friend of mine who was the Operations Officer of the unit that came upon the Remagen Bridge and I asked him why he thought the Germans had not blown the bridge. My friend said that we had been dropping leaflets in Polish on this group urging them to disregard the orders and sabotage the efforts of their German masters. At least one of the Poles had paid attention, because on inspection they found that the cable had been sawed in two, all except for a few strands which did detonate but didn’t destroy the bridge. There you have the equation: the months of effort, the tons of paper, the millions of dollars spent by Psychological Warfare equals one tiny piece of paper fluttering into the hands of a Polish conscript at the German end of the Remagen Bridge, who reads, believes, and acts, and shortens the war, with its incalculable costs, by months.

An Unsuccessful American "I Surrender" Leaflet to the Japanese

We have discussed the most effective American WWII leaflet against Germany. Now we shall do the same thing with the Empire of Japan. After the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese quickly won battle after battle and seemed invincible in the Pacific. Worse, because of their fanatical Samurai spirit and willingness to fight to the death, there was a belief that Japanese soldiers would never surrender. It was the job of American Psywar specialists to find a way to motive the Japanese to surrender. We will show how the most famous and successful, the "I Cease Resistance" leaflet, evolved from trial and error to become the ultimate American PSYOP weapon against Japanese troops.

According to numerous sources, the Japanese did not have a word for "surrender" in their vocabulary. Worse, under their rules of Bushido, if they did surrender, they would be disgraced and dead to their family and ancestors forever. Regardless, the United States did produce early leaflets that said, "I Surrender." The Japanese apparently did have several words for "surrender," including "kosan" and "kofuku." Whatever the word, the leaflets failed miserably. Japanese surrenders were rare.

The WWII U.S. Military Intelligence Service SOLDIER'S GUIDE TO THE JAPANESE ARMY, Special Series No. 27, dated 15 November 1944 says:

Surrender is considered a great disgrace not only to the soldier but to his family, and his religion teaches the Japanese soldier that it is the highest honor to die for his emperor. There have been several instances where Japanese troops in hopeless positions have fought to the last, and the wounded begged to be killed to avoid the ignominy of capture. They are told to "fight hard. If you are afraid of dying, you will die in battle; if you are not afraid, you will not die. Under no circumstances become a straggler or a prisoner of war. In case you become helpless, commit suicide nobly."

Members of the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Branch in the Philippines
proudly hold a freshly printed but flawed "I Surrender" Leaflet

The American safe conduct passes were much larger than the usual airdropped leaflets, almost 8 x 11-inches in size, and apparently this was so they would be easily recognized by American soldiers.

Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) was created 18 April 1942 in Melbourne, Australia. General Douglas MacArthur was appointed supreme commander. In July 1942, SWPA created the Far Eastern Liaison Office (FELO). It was made up mostly of Australians from their Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB). FELO produced and dropped 58,000,000 leaflets in six languages during the war. In June 1944, SWPA created the Psychological Warfare Branch, Southwest Pacific Area (PWB SWPA). It was made up mostly of Americans, including members of the Office of War Information (OWI) and several Australian FELO members. PWB now had the responsibility for PSYOP in the Southwest Pacific Area. The Australians started to produce safe conduct passes and I have seen about eight different types of them.

An Australian Safe Conduct Pass Leaflet

The British in the Far East also attempted some early surrender leaflets. Charles Cruickshank mentions some of the attempts in SOE in the Far East, Oxford University Press, 1983:

The main stumbling block the Allies had to overcome was the Japanese soldier's attitude to death and surrender, inculcated from childhood. Death in battle was glorious. His family would rejoice to hear of it. That there was no greater disgrace than to be captured was enshrined in the Japanese battle manual.

Sergeant Albert B. Gerger was interviewed about persuading Japanese soldiers to give up by the Manila Chronicle, 19 October 1945. The story was later distributed worldwide by the Associated Press. Gerger mentions that the early leaflets were unsuccessful. The Americans were not sure why leaflets that seemed to be so well written and illustrated had such poor results. Filipino scouts were sent into the field to study the problem:

A Japanese soldier was seen to examine one of the leaflets and then throw it on the ground, grinding it under his heel as he muttered 'Mujokan Kofuku,' the most despised term a Japanese soldier can utter, 'surrender.' From the time a Japanese can understand the meaning of simple words it is driven into his mind that the worse crime he can commit is to surrender. For this there is no forgiveness and one who surrenders sacrifices everything; his property, honor, rights, rights in life and after-life, and the respect of his fellow man.

Our experts in psychological warfare held a huddle and came up with a new one, replacing the 'I surrender' on the leaflet with 'I cease resistance.' It worked.

The Japanese indoctrination was not based on logic or intelligent thought. The Japanese knows that he must not 'mujoken kofuku' and that is all. There is nothing in his learning that prohibits the cessation of resistance. There is even a good Japanese expression used in normal daily living that expresses the same idea, 'Shikata-ga Mai,' freely translated, 'The Hell with it.' The combination of the new leaflet and re-trained troops produced results. The trickle of surrenders became a stream.

Alice Gilmore says in You can't Fight Tanks with Bayonets that the Japanese did not even like the word "surrender" when it was in English:

Harold Nishimura, a Nisei serving with the US 7th Division Language Team, for example, wrote a lengthy memo in January 1945 assessing the merits of the propaganda disseminated during the Leyte campaign…Nishimura reported that in the late stages of the operation "nearly all prisoners either surrendered using a leaflet or stated they had read and been influenced by them." He also noted, however, that of the 127 prisoners taken by the 7th Division, nearly all of them objected to the fact that Allied leaflets contained the word "surrender." Indeed, the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) interrogations revealed that virtually all Japanese objected to surrender leaflets that had the words “I Surrender” emblazoned on them. Even though the words were in English, ATIS reports showed that Japanese troops understood their meaning and found them offensive. As a result, the standard surrender leaflet was changed to read "I Cease Resistance."

Leaflet 37-J-6

The Americans finally react to the problem. This leaflet eliminates the word "surrender." It was called a "Luzon Special" and was requested by a Major Anderson on 17 February 1945 to target desperate Japanese when their positions were discovered. The tactical leaflet is all text on the back. It says in part:

To the Gallant Japanese Soldiers of Luzon:

You have been under heavy artillery fire and air attack. Your food is not sufficient for Japanese soldiers and your ammunition is limited. You have no naval or air support whatsoever. Despite all this you have fought bravely.

We admire your gallantry against great odds. We bow to your courage and determination. Nevertheless, your position will be hopeless when a full-scale attack is launched. So, we will again tell you the truth about ourselves.

We do not wish to kill you. We promise you again that Americans obey international law and treat those of you who come to an agreement with us with the dignity befitting a brave soldier.

This paper is your safe-conduct pass to the American lines. Throw away your arms; put this paper on a white rag at the end of a stick and walk to the south…

A bearded Japanese soldier holds a leaflet as he surrenders to U.S. soldiers.

The Word "surrender" was never used in an American leaflet again. This variant of the safe conduct pass became the official surrender leaflet and was used many more times as the war went on.

Carl Berger says in An Introduction to Wartime Leaflets, Special Operations Research Office, The American University, 1959:

In the Pacific fighting of World War II, Safe Conducts also went through an evolutionary process before becoming standardized. The leaflets were made larger to be easily recognized by American soldiers; they were also rewritten to meet the special Japanese attitude towards surrender. Allied propagandists discovered the Japanese disliked every connotation surrounding the idea of surrender. From captured Japanese soldiers who volunteered to write leaflets, Allied propagandists learned to avoid using the word "surrender." Leaflet writers adopted the slogan; "I Cease Resistance," in their Safe Conducts.


Japanese soldiers holding "I Cease Resistance" leaflets.

Friendly Japanese prisoners of war had much input into the messages on these safe conduct pass leaflets. Since surrender was never mentioned or even hinted at during their indoctrination, they had no guidelines of how to act in captivity. They considered themselves dead in the eyes of Japan and were ready for rebirth under the control of their captors. They were more than willing to help their new American "friends."

There is reason to believe that the safe conduct passes were effective. In November 1944, one hundred Japanese soldiers died in battle for every one that surrendered. Two months later, the ratio fell to 60:1. Three months after that the ratio dropped to 30:1. By July 1945, one Japanese soldier surrendered for every seven of his comrades killed. In early 1945, interrogations proved that 46% of the Japanese taken prisoners in the Philippine campaign were "influenced" by the Allied propaganda leaflets. Whatever the reason, the myth of the Samurai warrior, the code of Bushido, and that Japanese soldiers never surrender was effectively destroyed.

Life magazine of 9 July 1945, mentioned American psychological operations in a pictorial story entitled "Jap Surrenders are increasing - Psychological war proves effective." The story depicted 12 Japanese soldiers on Okinawa stripping off their clothes and then surrendering to U.S. troops. Some of the story said:

Bushido, the code of the Jap warrior, does not permit surrender. A Jap soldier must fight to the death. Americans who have fought the suicidal Jap in the Pacific know that Bushido is not empty talk. But in the past few weeks the verbal bombardments of the U.S. Psychological Warfare units have begun to take effect. On Guam, ten months after the U.S. recapture of that island, 35 Jap infantrymen emerged from their mountain holes and surrendered. In the last days of the bloody fighting for Okinawa Japs were giving themselves up in large groups for the first time in this war. Even taking into account the greater number of enemy engaged, the capture of 9,498 Japs on Okinawa shows a marked increase in prisoners over previous campaigns at Iwo Jima (1,038), Saipan (2,161), Guam (524) and Tarawa (150).

So far in this article we are mentioning what the United States thought were its most effective leaflets. In the case of Japan, after they lost the war, American troops occupied that country and one of the questions they had for the former officials were about the effectiveness of American leaflets dropped on Japan and Japanese troops. The Japanese thought that four were very effective. They are:General Curtis LeMay's three warning leaflets of 12 cities to be bombed by B-29s; The Propaganda newspaper Rakkasan News, printed in Manila; President Truman’s statement that the Japanese people would not be destroyed; and The leaflet telling the Japanese people that the United States would recognize the Imperial Institution. I will depict and discuss just the first choice, the LeMay bomb warning leaflet. Three were prepared. I have selected the second leaflet to show the readers because it has a little color while the other two are black and white.

Office of War Information Leaflet 2106

From left to right the cities named on this version of the 12-city leaflet 2106 are: Nagano, Takaoka, Kurume, Fukuyama, Toyama, Mizuru, Ootsu, Nishinomiya, Maehashi, Kooriyama, Hachioji, and Mito. More than 500,000 copies of these leaflets were dropped on 30 July 1945.


Richard Hubert, OWI Chief Forward Area (Saipan) inspects the newly printed B-29 Leaflets

The B-29 leaflet is mentioned in detail in the OWI official history. Its final report says that General Curtis LeMay requested this leaflet. The leaflet depicted a flight of five B-29s dropping bombs with Japanese cities printed in small circles below. OWI Chief Richard Hubert's final report said:

On July 25 came a development involving the closest collaboration yet achieved in the theater between military and propaganda operations. At the request of General LeMay, a leaflet text had been prepared warning Japanese cities that they would be bombed within the next few days. The first leaflet notified eleven cities. The original leaflet contained the names of twelve cities and included Tokyo, but a last-minute deletion of the name of this city necessitated the reprinting of the whole issue totaling 886,000 leaflets.

The text on the back of this leaflet is:


Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or a friend. In the next few days, American bombs will destroy four or more of the cities named on the reverse side of this leaflet. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories, which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all the tools of the military clique that they are using to prolong this useless war. Unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America's well-known humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives.

America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique, which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace, which America will bring, will free the people from the oppression of the Japanese military clique, mean the emergence of a new, and better Japan.

You can restore peace by demanding new and better leaders who will end the War.

We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked, but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.

On 19 October 1945, interviews were held with numerous Japanese officials about the effectiveness of American propaganda leaflets. They were rated as "very effective," "Effective," "Slightly effect" and "Not effective." The Japanese gave only four leaflets a rating of "Very effective," and 2106 was one of the four. Some examples of why the bomb warning leaflet was rated so highly are:

At Hachioji, all work came to an immediate halt and practically the entire population of the town took to the hills. The warning leaflets dropped in advance of the raids were highly effective because we could take no counter measures against them. After the first big bombing raid on Tokyo the public believed the war was lost. In Akita Prefecture the people in confusion removed their household furnishings to the outskirts of each city. The Americans broadcast the results of the raid so quickly that often the first news the Japanese government and people heard of the aid was over the Allied broadcasting system from San Francisco. It was clear to the people that the United States was winning the war.

W. D. Conde of the U. S. Civil Information and Education Section ordered several uncooperative Japanese "thought control" officials to the Radio Tokyo Building where they were questioned about the effectiveness of the American OWI leaflets. Many of the individuals had been dismissed from their government job in accordance with the American Supreme Commander's directive. At least fourteen Japanese agencies dealt with Allied psychological warfare material. None of the individuals had notes and all made their comments directly from memory. The individual comments were very similar, which indicates either collusion, or that they were telling the truth and were of the same opinion.

Mr. Kawagucki of the Home Ministry said:

The LeMay bomb-warning leaflet was the most effective single piece of American propaganda dropped on Japan.

Masjiro Kawaguchi, Chief of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Home Ministry said:

The warning leaflets dropped in advance of raids were very effective because we could not take counter measures against them. He later forwarded a report that added, "The people were seized with fear by the leaflets announcing the air attacks beforehand. The city that was warned was surely attacked and destroyed within a few days after the announcement."

A report of the Foreign Section of the Home Ministry agrees:

Since the cities that received the notice were reduced to ashes within ten days, the citizens of the cities were considerably frightened.

A report of the Foreign Section of the Home Ministry adds:

Those leaflets saying that American planes aimed at military plants and advising people to evacuate soon from the vicinity of them were effective, and some workmen of those plants were terrified of the air raids…The leaflet shocked us and had a great psychological effect in general. The inhabitants of cities were driven by fear. In Akita Prefecture they moved their household furnishings to the outskirts of the cities.

The American 10 Yen “Inflation” Banknote

The United States Office of War information was in Hawaii and Saipan. We know that at some point The Military Intelligence Hawaiian Department under a Lieutenant Colonel Richardson was given the assignment to prepare four facsimile banknotes with different messages to the Japanese people on the back.

Dr. Felix D. Bertalanffy wrote an article on this subject for Numismatics International, April 1980. In his article entitled “The Ten Yen U.S. Propaganda Forgeries of the Pacific War” he wrote:

Postwar interrogations by Col. Bonner F. Fellers of Japanese officials associated with the wartime government singled out four types of propaganda leaflets as the most effective and as exerting the greatest impact of all the great variety dropped over Japan

In the summer of 1945 Japan was showered almost daily be aerial leaflets in such quantity that the Japanese people developed a kind of apathy against them. A novel approach had therefore to be sought to attract renewed attention. The ingenious idea was to reproduce the face side of the then current 10-yen banknote and replace the back with a propaganda message. For who could resist money falling from the skies? The note was exquisitely reproduced by lithography to closely resemble the genuine bill.

There is one brief mention of wartime dissemination in a letter to the editor of Banknote Reporter, October 1983. John Hopkins, a sailor who served in the Far East during the war said that notes were dropped on Japan by carrier-based aircraft.

There are four parodies of the Japanese 10-yen Bank of Japan convertible note of 1930. All the parodies bear the serial number 450941 and the block number 1124 on the front. On the back, the notes are found with four different propaganda messages and the code numbers 2009, 2016, 2017 and 2034. The four are depicted in the classified “Confidential” publication entitled United States Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas - Psychological Warfare - CINCPAC-CINCPOA Bulletin No. 164-15, 15 August 1945. The data sheets state that:

The purpose of the leaflets is to create resentment against the present government in Japan and create fear of inflation...The note conforms to the size of a Japanese banknote which is carefully reproduced on one side.


Banknote Leaflet 2009

The text on the back of 2009 is:


The Gumbatsu is wasting your tax money. For this war the Gumbatsu has spent the equivalent of 5000 yen for every Japanese. Think what you could have done with that.

Every day the war continues more of your money is being wasted.


Banknote Leaflet 2016

Leaflet 2016 starts: FACTORY WORKERS! You have made a lot of money up to now, but what good is it? You can buy little more with it than you can with this 10-yen note.


Banknote Leaflet 2017

Leaflet 2017 starts: JAPANESE! What good is money in the bank or in bonds? Buy articles you need now and buy articles for future use.


Banknote Leaflet 2034

Leaflet 2034 starts: In 1930, when the Gumbatsu had not yet started the war in China, you could buy the following items for 10 yen: 25 sho [about 20 Kg] of good rice, material for 8 summer kimonos, or Four bags [50 Kg. Packages] of charcoal.

At the end of the war when Japanese officials were brought together and questioned these comments were made:

Iwatai Sakamoto, Chief of the censorship Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department:

The 10-yen note leaflet was one of the most effective.

Toshikazu Kase, Chief of the First Section of the Third Department of the Cabinet Board of Information added:

The 10 yen note leaflet was the most effective, very good, very powerful. It evoked great interest and curiosity among the Japanese people.

Masjiro Kawaguchi, Chief of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Home Ministry forwarded a report that said:

Leaflets of our 10-yen notes most excited the curiosity of our people. The best leaflet was the one that dealt with the cost of living [No. 2034]. In Fukushima, Fukuka, and Aichi Prefectures there were cases where the 10-yen leaflet was used as currency.

A report of the Foreign Section of the Home Ministry adds:

The 10-yen banknote leaflet aroused the nation's curiosity and gave the financial circles anxiety as they believed that the Americans might drop counterfeit currency later. The banknotes addressed to workers [2016] were unpopular among the working class because they felt insulted by the leaflet.

[Author’s note] It is possible that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services counterfeited the 10-yen note. We find copies of it in the OSS files and I have seen one pasted down on an exhibit board. We cannot tell if it is a forgery unless we remove it from the board and that request was denied.

A departmental ordinance decreed that the Japanese people collect and turn in Allied leaflets. Those who disobeyed faced a sentence of up to three months in jail and a fine of up to 100 yen. The government did not fear the American propaganda and expected each citizen to do his duty to his Emperor and his nation. There were less than a dozen people arrested for carrying and reading leaflets, and all apparently received reprimands with no incarceration.

Admiral Chester Nimitz signs a “Short Snorter” on Guam, Summer, 1945

A short-snorter is a paper object of some kind, usually a banknote of the country a service member is stationed in, that is signed by the owner and often has the signatures of their friends or unit members and comrades and kept as a remembrance and souvenir. In the picture above, Admiral Nimitz is signing one of the 10-yen notes.


Loading leaflets for leaflet drop

A General MacArthur Safe Conduct Pass

I don't think we have a Korean War leaflet that we can call totally effective. Unlike WWII and the Vietnam War which you will read about further down in this article, there was never a single official safe conduct pass used. The generals were changed as the war went on and there are four such passes printed and signed by MacArthur, Ridgway, Clark, and Van Fleet. The enemy finding such a leaflet must have wondered if it was still valid. The entire war was a mess with intelligence error after error, perhaps that is why they call it a police action, and by the way there was never a formal declaration of war and no peace treaty was ever signed, so in effect we are still at "war" with North Korea. Some of the intelligence failures are:

The CIA admitted major intelligence errors on their part in declassified reports entitled: Two Strategic Intelligence Mistakes in Korea, 1950. Six days before the invasion the CIA did not think the North had the power to defeat the South:

While North Korea could take control of parts of the South, it probably does not have the capability to destroy the South Korean government without Soviet or Chinese assistance…

The CIA did not believe that China would enter the war:

While full-scale Chinese Communist intervention in Korea must be regarded as a continuing possibility, a consideration of all known factors leads to the conclusion that such action is not probable in 1950.

On 15 October, General Douglas MacArthur told President Harry Truman:

There is little chance of a large-scale Chinese intervention.

On the very next day, 30,000 Chinese troops poured across the Duman River followed by 150,000 more soldiers a few days later.

A General Ridgway Safe Conduct Pass

The goals of the United Nations were so unclear that Lieutenant General James A. Van Fleet answered the question, "How will we know when we have won the war?" with the answer, "I don't know, somebody higher up will have to tell me."

Even worse, early in the war the mention of China or the USSR was forbidden in Allied leaflets because there was a fear that such comments might bring them deeper into the war. Later, they were not mentioned because it was feared that the knowledge that China and the USSR were backing the North Korean armed forces might tend to demoralize South Korean civilians.

The United States was unprepared for a war using psychological warfare. Captain Jeremy S. Mushtare wrote his Naval Postgraduate school thesis entitled PSYOP in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations: Preparing for Korean Reunification in 2005. He explains:

Despite the prevalence of psychological warfare in both World War I and World War II, such units no longer existed in the U.S. Army inventory at the outbreak of the Korean War. By the beginning of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, the Tactical Information Detachment of Aggressor Force at Fort Riley, Kansas, was the only PSYWAR unit that remained in the entire United States Army that dealt with PSYWAR. Comprised of approximately twenty personnel, it focused mainly on simulating loudspeaker and leaflet operations against U.S. troops during training exercises. During the first five months, the thematic emphasis was on distributing safe conduct passes and surrender appeals. By January 1951, the United States began to analyze the results from over six months of enemy prisoners of war interrogations to determine systemic evidence of the effects of psychological warfare products on the enemy. However, they still had not conducted key research on enemy target audiences and demographics. Thus, their inability to isolate specific target audiences forced message themes to be broad in nature to ensure as much applicability as possible.

A General Clark Safe Conduct Pass

Dr. Edward P. Lilly wrote a top secret 95-page report dated 19 December 1951 on the history of U.S. PSYOP from the end of WWII to the start of the Korean War titled: The Development of American Psychological Operations 1945-1951. It would seem to indicate that there was no specific policy and for about 6 years there was a constant fight between the State Department and multiple other agencies about who would oversee American psychological warfare. He added:

By 1946 all trace of American PSYWAR was gone. The most qualified people had returned to their radio and newspaper careers and covert actions were abandoned. The American Congress was hostile to any psychological activities and as a result the Department of State was hampered. Congress cut funds to all the information programs 50% between 1946 and 1948.

A General Van Fleet Safe Conduct Pass

More than 20 million leaflets a week were prepared and disseminated by United Nations Forces at the height of the conflict. Joseph Trevithick is a Fellow at, specializing in defense and security research and analysis. I have edited and shortened some of the comments for brevity:

The United States and its allies dropped some 2.5 billion propaganda leaflets during the Korean War. But after the 1953 armistice which halted the fighting, the Pentagon discovered that few enemy troops ever read the messages, let alone understood them. One reason was that pilots rarely dropped the leaflets in the right places. There were also too many types of leaflets with contradictory and confusing messages.

Units reported to be under self-induced pressure to produce propaganda under all considerations. Even more problematic, the language on leaflets and in radio broadcasts was often too complicated for the North Korean and Chinese troops, many who were illiterate. The Pentagon didn't research the best places to drop the leaflets, and its method of "blanketing dissemination" over wide areas was completely ineffective. When dropped from high altitudes to avoid enemy fire, crews had little control over where the bundles might fall.

Leaflet 8202
An ineffective Leaflet?

This leaflet depicts a diving U.S. fighter, but the nose of the aircraft has been changed to that of an attacking hawk. It chases a terrified Communist chicken. The leaflet was printed by the Psychological Warfare Division of EUSAK and coded 8202. It was designed to destroy Communist troop morale by pointing out their lack of air support and that the United Nations Forces ruled the skies. Some of the Korean Language text is:


Day and night United Nations aircraft sweep the skies of North Korea. They search in vain for the Communist Air Force but find the skies as empty as the promises of your leaders.

The few Communist aircraft that dare to raise their wings flee from the UN challenge as a chicken before a hawk.

Why? Why? Why?

Major Albert C. Brauer mentioned this leaflet in an article titled Psychological Warfare Korea 1951:

One more example of the use of an illustration suitable for Americans but too subtle for the Oriental. The simple Communist soldier trying to figure this one out probably thought we were crazy trying to make him believe in a half bird and plane creature. This leaflet was one of the first prepared by my replacement. The illustration had appeared on the cover of "Time" and the Chief of the Psychological Warfare section thought it a sure thing. The leaflet was not tested on POWs nor was the Chinese on staff consulted. I volunteered my thought that it was of questionable value. One year later when I revisited Korea my replacement admitted that the enemy's reaction to it had been negative.

Leaflet 8586

This leaflet uses a common theme used in almost every war. Soldiers are away from home and they miss their families. It is quite common to see leaflets where a loved one, a wife or mother, cries for the son far away in mortal danger. Here a mother weeps as she thinks of her son and he weeps on the battlefield. The Chinese text says in part:

Come back, my son!

How much longer are you going to be away from home? My eyes fill with tears when I think of what is happening to our beloved China. Thousands and thousands of peaceful Chinese are killed every day by the murderous Communists. The Communists took your father away days ago and we have not seen him since…My son, only you, the young generation, can save us –you and the others must come back and save us from these brutal Communists.

I, your mother, who has never said an unkind word, nor quarreled with anyone, could hardly tolerate the Communist's atrocities. We must avenge. The Communists are mad dogs - they are murderers: I shall die hating them: Oh, my son, my son, come back:

Your Mother                                                                                   

Major Albert C. Brauer Liked this leaflet a bit more and thought it was one of the best during his tour. In Vietnam very similar leaflets were printed.

This Chinese anti-morale leaflet was, in my estimation, the most effective leaflet prepared in the Korean War. All the emotional ties between mother and son are stressed to create maximum home sickness. A survey of this leaflet with five other leaflets was conducted on one hundred POWs. 90 picked this leaflet as the most effective. It was easily understood by both literate and illiterate people and was so effective that some cases POWs burst into tears as they discussed the leaflet. “Everyone has a mother,” was the comment made time after time.

The artwork for the leaflet was prepared by an anonymous Chinese artist in South Korea. He gave the sketch to the Chinese Nationalist Embassy from where it found its way to my desk. It was almost not printed as our art section did not believe it would reproduce satisfactorily.

Herbert Avedon notes an obsession with the production of leaflets in Psywar Commentary Number 1, (14 November 1952):

The Far East Command goal seemed simply to drop fourteen million leaflets a week for no other reason than to bring the year's total to one billion.

Enemy troops are either walking about in piles of leaflets up to their ankles or the billions of leaflets being dropped are scattered all over the Korean hills forever beyond the range of targets.

When the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel, they were no Psywar units in the U.S. Air Force, much less the Korean theater.

Jacobson discusses the effectiveness of the PSYOP campaign in Korea. Some of his comments are:

Did the dissemination of billions of leaflets and thousands of loudspeaker messages make any difference? Did psychological warfare achieve any meaningful results? The problem of evaluating psychological warfare techniques is a problem as old as the weapon itself. Measuring human behavior and attitude change in any situation can prove a tricky and difficult proposition. Overstating the case for psywar and the resultant failure to achieve results caused some commanders, especially in the field, to disregard any claims as to the value of the weapon.

Stephen E. Pease wrote in Psywar: Psychological Warfare in Korea 1950-1953:

Judging the effectiveness of a Psywar operation is almost impossible. The effect is often cumulative, achieving a surrender after repeated efforts coordinated with several military attacks. There usually is no immediate and observable link between the cause (Psywar) and effect. Careful interrogation of prisoners can help to gauge Psywar effectiveness. After an area is liberated, interrogation of civilians may identify effects from Psywar operations, as may in-depth intelligence analysis…UN forces delivered more than two billion leaflets from 1950 to 1953.

William E. Daugherty said in the secret memorandum Evaluation and Analysis of Leaflet program in the Korean Campaign June-December 1950:

In terms of the quantity of leaflets printed and disseminated to enemy and friendly audiences the effort of the Psychological Warfare Branch has been impressive…It is doubtful that the total effort has been highly effective. Certainly, the result obtained has been far below that which could have been achieved through a more highly coordinated program, implemented by a larger staff, a more effective organization, and better planning procedures.

Major Brauer, a Korean War Psywar Officer wrote a 1953 report for a course at Georgetown University titled Psychological Warfare Korea 1951.

Shortly after General Matthew B. Ridgeway assumed command of the Eighth United States Army in Korea, December 1950, an increased emphasis on Psychological Warfare was ordered. At that time ten officers and I were assigned to the Army's reorganized Psychological Warfare Division. Except for one officer none of us had had any previous psychological warfare experience. In the first year of the Korean War many leaflets were, out of necessity, prepared and dropped without being evaluated. In June 1951, the Army Psychological Warfare Division moved to Seoul. Here the prisoners of war in a nearby processing point were made available for psychological warfare testing and sampling. Results of these tests indicated:

1. That American high-pressure advertising is too subtle for the Oriental, and that the only sensible and sure way to ascertain their reactions is to run a survey.
2. That 56% of the North Koreans and 22% of the Chinese Communists were literate.
3. That the Chinese had difficulty in comprehending most of drawings while having comparatively little trouble with the photographs. The difference in comprehension was not so pronounced in the North Koreans.
4. That texts should be written in good easily understood Chinese or Korean instead of a word-by-word translation from the English.
5. That an overwhelming majority believed the good treatment theme to be the most effective. This involved a personal appeal. It was something they liked to hear, especially after Communist charges that we killed or mistreated POW's.
6. That the anti-morale, material superiority (especially photos of dead Communist soldiers) were least effective. The general feeling seemed to be: "We know this only too well, but what can we do?" This fatalistic attitude, together with a lack of individual initiative was, I believe, the psychological factors most difficult to combat.
7. That a large percentage of the illiterate would have friends read the leaflets to them secretly. These illiterates could understand many of the photo leaflets.

In the report he mentioned a leaflet and then made a statement regarding most UN leaflets:

This leaflet was prepared by the Psychological Warfare Branch, General Headquarters, Far East Command, Tokyo. It is an excellent example of the use of a sketch and theme that would be effective against Americans but of little or no value against Orientals. The artwork is of no value whatsoever as it is completely foreign to the enemy. In addition, the text is written in such a manner as to make little sense to the Chinese Communist. I estimate that about 70% of all leaflets prepared in Korea exhibited to some degree this same kind of weakness. In other words, they did not speak the language of the enemy either in picture or language.

Pretesting Procedures for Psychological Warfare Printed Media: Ranking and Other Methods is a report written for the Operations Research Office is a working paper presenting the considered results of study by the ORO staff members responsible for its preparation. The findings and analysis are subject to revision as may be required by new facts or by modification of basic assumptions.

Since the beginning of the Korean war, psywar operating units have clearly recognized the need for procedures by which the probable effectiveness of tactical psywar leaflets could be predicted prior to their dissemination to the target audience. Such procedures or pretesting would have the obvious advantage of enabling the operator to spot weaknesses in his leaflets and to improve them, thus avoiding costly mistakes which might render ineffective the given psywar effort.

This report gives multiple ways to try and analyze the effectiveness of leaflets, mathematical formulae and numerous questions that can be asked. In the case of this procedure for studying the effectiveness of UN leaflets the same instructions were given to both North Korean and Communist Chinese respondents. I show one series of questions below. Many more are listed.

Is the quality of the paper poor?
Is the illustration too complicated to be understood with­out taking a great deal of time to study it?
Is the leaflet too large?
Are the letters too large?
Is the color of the paper unsatisfactory?
Is the leaflet too small?
Are the letters too small?
Is there anything in the text or illustration which violates a custom or tradition of the NKPA or CCF soldiers?
Is there anything in the text or illustration which violates a religious belief of the NKPA or CCF soldiers?
Will the leaflet cause the NKPA or CCF soldiers to desire to fight the UN Forces ?
Will the leaflet appeal only to a small or special group of soldiers?
Will the leaflet not be understood if only the illustration is seen?
Should the form or shape of the leaflet be changed?
Does the leaflet appear to be an unofficial document?
Will the leaflet not be understood if only the text is seen?
Will the whole illustration or any part of it be easily forgotten?
Is the message childish or foolish?
Will the text be easily forgotten because it does not have a slogan-like quality?
Is the message unclear?
Is there any word in the text which is not in harmony with the illustration?
Will any word in the text offend or anger the NKPA or CCF soldiers?
Is the text too long?
Is the illustration not in harmony with the text?
Is Is there any word misspelled?
Is the text too short

The Far Eastern Command Psychological Warfare Operation: Intelligence, produced for the Operations Research Office (ORO) on 28 April 1952 was printed in 250 copies is a study made during the period of August thru December 1951, designed to describe, analyze, and evaluate theater-level psywar intelligence operations in the Far East Command. Some of the questions asked of prisoners are to help with effectiveness were:  

Did you surrender! If so, why?
Did you see any UN leaflets or hear any loudspeaker broadcasts?
What did the leaflets look like and/or What did the loudspeaker say? What was the effect on you?
Have you heard any talk about leaflets or broadcasts? If so, what was said, and what happened?

The Division's analyses of psywar effectiveness, for example, relate only to front-line psywar operations and to their influence in inducing surrenders. The Intelligence Division of the Psychological Warfare Section (PWS, GHQ) planners and operators, however, are at least equally interested in rear area and enemy home front operations, which have little or nothing to do with surrenders. More important still, the analyses are not addressed to the kind of questions about effectiveness that, necessarily, are uppermost in the planners' and operators' minds. These questions do not with tell whether the psywar operation is getting results (which is what the analyses, in fact, attempt to tell them), but with whether this type of leaflet gets better results than that one, whether this line of argument has convinced more waverers than that one, and other problems of this general character.

Of the NKA prisoners who commented on psywar, 87.1 percent observed leaflets, 20 percent observed loudspeakers, 19.4 percent observed both.

Of the NKA prisoners who commented on psywar, 68.0 percent (43.4 percent of those interrogated) said they were influenced by psywar and surrendered as a result; 7.6 percent said they were influenced but did not surrender as a result; 24.4 percent said they were not influenced.

Of the CCF prisoners who commented on psywar, 78.6 percent observed leaflets, 39.4 percent observed loudspeakers, 35.2 percent observed both. Of the CCF prisoners who commented on psywar, 67.5 percent (55.4 percent of those interrogated) said they were influenced by psywar and surrendered as a result; 10.9 percent said they were influenced but did not surrender as a result; 21.6 percent said they were not influenced.

Korean War Conclusion

In this section we indicate that the United States entered the Korean War totally unprepared to do Psywar. In other articles I show how the system was put together in record time and with the Eighth Army, the First Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company, and the First Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Group quickly producing millions of leaflets a month. However, it seems clear that there was confusion, indecision, and a lack of coordination at the top and as a result I find no single leaflet I would call effective. Curiously, Peace calls the Moolah leaflet (an offer of $100,000 for an enemy pilot to fly a MiG-15 to the South) successful, but in reality it was a failure. One pilot did fly his MiG to the south and defect, but he had never even seen the leaflet and was just flying south for freedom, and it was after the war was over so served no real propaganda use.


Viet Cong soldier surrenders holding safe conduct leaflet

In the Korean War section above, we talk about the problem of far too many leaflets being dropped. We give several examples: Units reported to be under self-induced pressure to produce propaganda under all considerations; The Far East Command goal seemed simply to drop fourteen million leaflets a week for no other reason than to bring the year's total to one billion; and Enemy troops are walking about in piles of leaflets up to their ankles. I find some of the same problems mentioned by Vietnam War personal.

For instance, I talked with Specialist Five John Irwin about his assignments in PSYOP during the Vietnam War. He was in Vietnam in 1966-1967, originally assigned as an interpreter to the 19 PSYOP Company, and later worked with the 245th PSYOP Company in Nha Trang, and the 246th PSYOP Company in Bien Hoa. He gave me several examples of the overuse of leaflets:

I recall a Tuy Hoa leaflet aimed at the North Vietnamese Army 410 Mortar Company. We knew their approximate location. Too little information for a bomb or artillery strike, but enough for a leaflet mission. We only wanted a few hundred or a couple thousand leaflets, aimed directly at the 410th. The lieutenant wanted thousands and thousands of leaflets spread over the entire region. PSYOP meant that the leaflet needed to land on the targeted audience, the 410th. Excess leaflets landing on other units meant the North Vietnam Army political officers could correctly say that since they were not the 410th company, the leaflet was a lie, and that the soldiers needed to ignore all leaflets. Our own brass did not understand the futility of excess leaflets, and that correct intelligence and targeting really meant something. 

Robert X. McNamara was Defense Secretary under President Johnson. His resume as a Ford executive led to a bean counter mentality that everything needed to be counted and documented. More aircraft sorties, more artillery rounds fired, more leaflets dropped, more troops in Vietnam meant a better result, regardless of the truth. In the case of infantry field operations, the higher the count, the better the unit and commanding officer. For PSYOP, the only thing that mattered was the total leaflet count.

I found this very early Vietnam war mention of “most effective leaflet. Notice this leaflet is in the 1000s and the JUSPAO leaflets alone went up to over 5,000, and all the battalions were making their own leaflets at the same time. So, this is a very early choice.

On 2 July 1966 the 244th PSYOP Company was asked to determine the most effective they had used so far in the war. They selected leaflet 1151 and said in part:

Hoi Chanh and NVA prisoners indicated this leaflet was highly effective. On 22 February 1966 two Viet Cong rallied with hand grenades and a Thompson sub-machinegun. They were carrying this leaflet. Several prisoners remembered seeing the leaflet and on 10 June one captured cadreman said it was very effective. The artwork conveyed fellowship and helped allay his fears about how he would be received by the Vietnamese Army.

Leaflet SP-1151

This leaflet depicts a dead Communist soldier at the left and a live prisoner being treated in a hospital at the right. The text on the front says in part:

What will your fate be if you are wounded in battle?

A cruel death because of neglect in a primitive Viet Cong jungle hospital where medicines are scarce and facilities are inadequate. OR recovery and new life through the tender care provided by Government of Vietnam and Allied doctors.


The text on the back is:


If you are wounded, find ways to delay and avoid being taken away. Try to go to an open area where you can easily be found by patrols. If possible cross the Government of Vietnam’s lines. You will be taken to a hospital where you will be well cared for by doctors.



This 1 January 1969 work was supported by The Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense and was monitored by The U.S. Army Missile Command under Contract Number DAAHO1-68-C-1659. It was prepared by Pacific Technical Analysts, Inc.

Part I of this manual presents a method for pretesting newly developed psyops leaflets and estimating their potential effectiveness. The manual is designed for use by psyops personnel in the field, where pretesting must be done quickly. It is specifically intended to be understood and used by non-specialists, including the ARVN sergeant who frequently assists the U.S. psyops enlisted man in the field.

Part II presents certain findings about: PSYOP messages that appeal to wide ranges of target audiences; the effectiveness of certain symbols used in psyops leaflets; and the vulnerability of certain kinds of Vietnamese among uncommitted and hostile psyops target audiences to some PSYOP messages.

Note, this is not a booklet of American beliefs in the effectiveness of a leaflets, it is the Vietnamese citizen, military, and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army members belief in the leaflet. Some Americans might think are excellent have been found wanting by the Vietnamese readers. It states the problem:

PSYOP leaflets are dropped by the tens of millions upon areas where the enemy has infrastructure of control, and/or troops in Vietnam. A method is needed to objectively pretest PSYOP leaflets directed at a variety of target audiences in these areas.

The manual goes on to tell different ways to pretest, how to present the questions and even how to grade the answer. In this section we will just show a few that were found excellent and a few that were considered terrible.

Good Leaflets

Leaflet T-25

This leaflet uses the theme of the TET holidays to entice the enemy to return home or seek refuge in Laos. The image depicts a happy and prosperous family celebrating the TET holidays. This is a very small leaflet and measures just 2 x 6-inches. The back is all text and says:

To all North Vietnamese fighters:

Spring has returned. This is a time when you should be enjoying the happiness of family reunions in the North. Instead, you are walking through hostile jungles and mountains on foreign soil.

What has led you to this life of hardship? It is because you have been lured by the Party into believing that the South needs "Liberation" by the North. The South is living in prosperity. Your comrades have turned it into a sea of fiery war with consequences reaching all the way to the North. Your southern compatriots do not wish to be liberated by the North; they only wish to live in peace.

You can end this war and your hardships by choosing a cease-fire of your own. Deny the Party the use of your person as a tool to impose Party rule on South Vietnam.

Quit the Communist ranks, return to your homes, seek refuge with the Royal Lao Government, or, if you reach South Vietnamese territory, take the opportunity to rally to the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. This is the safest way to end the war and your hardships.

12,000,000 copies of T-25 were ordered by the 6th PSYOP Battalion to be printed by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa. They were dropped over Vietnam in March and May of 1968 and 20 million copies of T-25 were dropped on Cambodia.

A sample of 1,757 Vietnamese were asked to judge the effectiveness of this leaflet. They included the inhabitants of Viet Cong controlled areas, Hoi Chanh who had defected, and prisoners of war. Leaflets were judged on a scale of very good, good, fair, bad, and very bad. One problem was to reduce the number of leaflets to a workable size. In this test, 798 leaflets were judged, and the leaflets were reduced to 77. Unfortunately, the report did not explain why certain leaflets were good or bad. We assume this leaflet captured the feelings and culture of the Vietnamese people. Leaflet T-25 was rated VERY GOOD by the panel.

Leaflet 2263

There are dozens of Vietnamese-language propaganda leaflets using poems. The tradition of poetry is long and respected in Vietnam and a poem is the perfect way to send a propaganda message to the enemy. Leaflet SP-2263 is depicted in the JUSPAO November 1968 publication Communicating with Vietnamese thru Leaflets that says:

This leaflet uses poetry as a medium of communication. In fact, some of the best leaflets ever used in Vietnam have consisted of emotion-provoking poems, with suitable illustrations related to the thematic content of the poem. Poems frequently express nostalgia, sorrow, and longing more effectively than is possible in prose. But the poetry must be good, or it will be scorned. Do not use amateur poets; employ or use material from popular and well-known poets.

Leaflet 2263 is in color on the front and depicts happy scenes of life in North Vietnam. The back is black and white and depicts a sad North Vietnamese soldier thinking of his homeland. The text on the back explains that the poem printed on the leaflet was written by a North Vietnamese soldier to his mother, Mrs. Tran Thi Phan of Hai Duong. The soldier was killed in the battle of Duc Co. The poem is very long. It was prepared in November 1967 for distribution in I, II and III Corps areas. Some of the stanzas are:


From the day I left you, O mother,
To follow my companions in this trip through Laos to Central Vietnam,
I have endured the hardships of climbing up the giant mountains,
And marching through rain and shine.
Although at my young age life could have blossomed like a flower, enduring hardships and dangers,
For several months I marched during the day and rested at night,
The bottoms of my shoes have worn out,
And the cloth on my shoulders has worn thin and the cold slips in.
Often my hands trembled while laying a mine,
Because later I saw people blown up and blood sprayed around.
Whose blood, was it?
It was the blood of our people, those like mother and me.
That night my eyes were filled with tears,
And my sleep with nightmares.

This leaflet was called "NVA Poem," and 14,000,000 copies were ordered by the 6th PSYOP Battalion to be printed by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa. The leaflets were to be delivered to Da Nang (6,000,000), Nha Trang, (4,000,000), Pleiku (2,000,000), and Bien Hoa (2,000,000). After the Tet Offensive of 1968 the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office prepared a PSYOP Policy 57 – Chieu Hoi Campaign to Capitalize on Failure of Communist General Offensive. The policy set out themes to be used in Allied propaganda and listed several leaflets already in the inventory that could be used as part of the campaign. Examples are SP 893 (Safe Conduct Pass), SP 2263 (North Vietnamese Army Poem) and SP 2336 (Message to a North Vietnamese Army soldier).

What is amazing is that upon his capture, North Vietnamese Army 2nd Lieutenant Nguyen Van Thong, Leader of a Reconnaissance Platoon, mentioned American propaganda when interviewed by Military Intelligence. He said in part:

I have seen lots of PSYOP leaflets, but they are very poor, and we laugh at them. They make no impression on the soldiers of the NVA. The quality of the writing is very poor and not good Vietnamese. The Americans should let the Vietnamese write them as they know how to put the story or what you want said into poetry; the Vietnamese are a very poetic people. The best way to tell of goodwill is with a poem. All the men in my unit knew the lines of a poem used in South Vietnam and we thought of it often. The poem that we remember is for our mother.

This poem appears on a dozen different leaflets. It was so good that it was reprinted many times. The North Vietnamese apparently picked it up walking down the trail and found it so moving that they memorized it. What is ironic is the comment that the US leaflets are so awful that they are laughable, followed by the comment that his entire platoon had a memorized a poem from an American leaflet. Of course, the Americans cheated. No American wrote that poem. It was written by a North Vietnamese soldier to his mother, and the Americans simply copied it. Still, if we are to believe the North Vietnamese Lieutenant it is one of the most effective leaflets of the war.

I asked retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill of the 7th PSYOP Group who oversaw the printing of these leaflets if he was aware how influential this leaflet was. I expected him to say "no." Instead, he said:

I am aware of it. When I traveled to Laos, at one meeting the CIA mentioned the leaflet and said that every prisoner was able to recite the poem. They wanted to know who was responsible for its distribution. I acknowledged our involvement. They asked for a shipment, and I was able that day to divert 1,000,000 copies from IV Corps where there were few if any North Vietnamese Army troops to Laos where there were plenty of them.

This leaflet was rated VERY GOOD, VERY EFFECTIVE.

Bad Leaflets 



This leaflet was made by the 8th PSYOP Battalion in 1968 and is just about indescribable. I see troops coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a skull, Allied helicopters attacking the same group as they continue down the trail, another skull, and then they are apparently at the end of their march into South Vietnam, and they sit sad and lonely and think about their life. There is no text on the leaflet. This may be one of the worst leaflets ever made. The Vietnamese asked to judge its effectiveness rated it VERY BAD, COUNTEREFFECTIVE, UNINTELLIGIBLE. They hated it. The leaflet is not well drawn, it has no explanation and the meaning is hard to interpret.


Another leaflet that the large gathering of Vietnamese did not like. Notice that both leaflets are from the Battalions out in the Combat zones. This leaflet depicts a Viet Cong recruiting squad in the home of some civilian people and in this case, drafting a young son to become a fighter. The leaflet is titled "HERE ARE THE SOUTH VIETNAM LIBERATION FRONT ACTIONS." From left to right:

Do you liberate like this?
You are now in the Liberation Force.
Get up and follow me.
I am just 13 years old and too young to join the NLF.
Shut your mouth.
I have two children. One was killed because he followed the Front, now I only have the younger one left. Please let him stay home with me.

The back is a long all-text message. It says in part:



The Viet Cong suffered heavy casualties at the battle of LOC NINH. 1,400 North Vietnamese Army troops were killed. 1,641 other Communist other communists were killed at DAKTO.

To replenish the above casualties, the VC are intensifying their conscription of youths and teenagers. They are imposing on the people to contribute money so they can prolong the war

It is easy to see why the NVA and VC and even the Hoi Chanhs who defected from the Viet Cong hated this leaflet. They claimed that the people joined freely and happily contributed their rice and money. This leaflet says they shanghaied the youth and stole their rice and money. It is no surprise that the leaflet was considered VERY BAD, COUNTEREFFECTIVE, and UNINTELLIGIBLE.

We have shown the reader what the POWs and other Vietnamese think, now we will look at two leaflets that the Americans determined were good and bad. The first is the official safe conduct pass for the war. It was very colorful and went through many changes as the political situation changed. The second is a very normal photograph of a young lady in a bathing suit. There is nothing risqué about it but it caused quite a commotion in Vietnam.

A Good Leaflet

The 5-flag official Vietnam safe conduct pass

We will now talk about a leaflet that proved its worth. It is the single most printed leaflet of the war and has many variations.

In the early days of the Vietnam War before the Allies decided there needed to be an official safe conduct pass, any unit could print one. This caused confusion among enemy troops. Would the pass still be valid, would they receive the promised good treatment, or be shot.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill of the 7th PSYOP Group told me about his desire to see an official safe conduct pass that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army would recognize and have confidence in:

During one trip to Vietnam, I discussed the safe conduct pass problem with our Vietnam PSYOP Detachment Commander.  I suggested that he have his people draft a National Safe Conduct Pass to be used throughout the nation.  He took a proposed leaflet layout to JUSPAO.  They immediately took the project over and assigned it leaflet number SP-893. The leaflet was eventually produced at the rate of one hundred million leaflets per month and dropped throughout the country.

The first version of the safe conduct pass contained the flags of the Republic of Vietnam and four countries that provided combat and support troops – The United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea.

The main Allied operation using such PSYOP in Vietnam was the Chieu Hoi program. first started by President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. Diem believed that a defector who willingly came over to the government side was more valuable than one who is taken prisoner. He encouraged the Allies to drop billions of leaflets offering amnesty to those who might rally to the government. In 1969, over 47,000 Viet Cong deserted. During the length of the war, about 160,000 enemy soldiers voluntarily came over to the Government of (South) Vietnam. I should point out that there are several different official numbers for the number of defectors, some a bit lower, some as high as 200,000.

The 7-flag official Vietnam safe conduct pass

In War of Ideas: the U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, author Robert W. Chandler says:

A standard certification was used; it was slightly altered in 1967 to include the flags of Thailand and the Philippines as new allies. The serial number on the old version was dropped in favor of President Thieu's signature and photograph as evidence of the official sanction for the safe conduct invitation. Both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defectors and prisoners gave Saigon's safe conduct pass high credibility. Many cited it as an influential element in their decision to lay down their arms.

J. A. Koch authored an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) report in January 1973 entitled: The Chieu Hoi Program in South Vietnam, 1963-1971. He says about the flag safe conduct pass:

This leaflet -- distributed from aircraft by the 5th Air Commandos of the USAF, by the VNAF, and by hand -- proved to be the most effective means of disseminating the Chieu Hoi message. The ubiquitous, multilingual "Safe Conduct Pass" which had literally blanketed South Vietnam has been the most effective of all.

Though there are thousands of other leaflets stressing other themes, the pass is most often described by ralliers during interrogation as the one most seen, the one most conducive to rallying. After one battle during OPERATION PAUL REVERE 90 percent of the VC who could be searched -- the dead, wounded, and captured -- had the leaflets. By the spring of 1971 it is estimated that JUSPAO had distributed nearly four billion leaflets in the campaign to persuade "men to rally to the GVN under its amnesty program.

We should point out that besides the actual pass in full color, the safe conduct pass appears on various booklets, cards, and in dozens of other leaflets in black and white. It was very popular and would be added to many leaflets where there was some space for it.

The 1-flag official Vietnam safe conduct pass

The final flag safe conduct pass is the one-flag variety. This was a symbol of the American policy of Vietnamization. President Richard M. Nixon explained that plan in a 3 November 1969 speech. He said:

The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird's visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces. In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams' orders so that they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the new orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of South Vietnam.

An official document dated 20 December 1972 states:

The Republic of Vietnam National Safe Conduct Pass depicting the Vietnamese National Flag surrounded on either side by the six flags of the Vietnamese Allies participating in the Vietnam War is rendered obsolete by Vietnamization. This safe conduct pass is replaced by a Safe Conduct Pass depicting only the Vietnamese National Flag.

So, in conclusion, it is safe to say that this safe conduct pass was the most printed leaflet in Vietnam, saw the most dissemination and use, and brought the best results of any leaflet of the Vietnam War.

A Bad Leaflet

Leaflet 4-133-68

There were no "official" sexual leaflets used by the United States during the Vietnam War, but there were some that showed pin-ups or sad wives waiting for their husbands to come home from the south. The 4th PSYOP Group produced a leaflet coded 4-133-68 that depicted an attractive Vietnamese girl in a bathing suit and the text:


The back was all text:

Right now, your only satisfaction is that you hope you can stay alive through the terrible Army of Vietnam attacks. Don't deny yourself the right to be a man. Return to a life of happiness and personal freedom. Rally to the open arms of the Government of Viet Nam.

Robert W. Chandler mentioned this leaflet in War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam. He mentions the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Saigon warning that "Cheesecake photographs might be acceptable to Western standards but would likely offend native canons of good taste.” He quotes another writer, "The Americans often distributed their propaganda messages with pictures of voluptuous scantily clad women. The Americans assumed the pictures would turn the thoughts of enemy troops toward home. But to most Vietnamese, there is nothing captivating about over endowed women. Pinups just don't have the same appeal here, says an American PSYOP specialist, a little sadly." Chandler is correct. This leaflet was a failure. The Vietnamese people are very staid and traditional and the sight of a young girl in a bathing suit would be insulting to them. They would assume that she was a prostitute or bargirl.

Lieutenant Colonel David G. Underhill who was with the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa during the Vietnam War agrees. He said about this leaflet:

The 4th PSYOP Group prepared a very tame "white" leaflet that depicted a Vietnamese woman in a bathing suit that brought a strong adverse reaction in post-testing. The girl in the picture, the enemy claimed, was a prostitute for the American soldiers. Do you think any soldier would be induced to defect by a prostitute?

The Joint United States Public Affairs Office Policy 70, dated 29 October 1968 says about the use of sex in American propaganda to the Vietnamese:

The mores of the peoples of Viet Nam differ greatly from those of Americans about the relationship between the sexes and the limits to which one can go in exploiting the female form in communications media. Most Vietnamese, particularly in rural areas, are still as conservative as Americans were eighty years ago. This conservatism also characterizes the North Vietnamese approach to women and sex and is held up to the people of the north as a cardinal principal of socialist morality. The Cheesecake approach is looked upon as decadent and symptomatic of the hedonism and moral rot in capitalist society.

The use of sex appeal and the youthful female form in PSYOP material should be limited to young women dressed in appropriate Vietnamese traditional clothes. This type of illustration should be in support of and directly related to the PSYOP message. Cheesecake or the exploitation of the female form either clothed or semi-clothed and depicted in such a manner as to appeal to the sexual instincts will be avoided.

Midshipman Jason Thomas Chaput mentions this leaflet in his 2000 U.S. Naval Academy Department of History honors thesis. He says:

Other messages such as those of the sex appeal leaflets acted to turn the reader off to entertaining the idea of the Chieu Hoi program because they were anchored in American values and not those of the Vietnamese. The sex appeal propaganda which depicted bikini-clad, over endowed Vietnamese women stated that the soldier could find true happiness and the satisfactions of life which every man was entitled if he chose to rally to one of the program's centers. The individuals drafting the propaganda mistakenly believed that Vietnamese soldiers saw the world through the same masculine goggles as did American GI's. The U.S. advisors failed to understand that the Confucian ideals held by most of the Vietnamese directed them to be in harmony with their environment by adopting a middle path in all areas of conduct. The effect of the sex appeal leaflets was to turn off the Vietnamese by solidifying their views that the corrupt outside Western influence present in their country had to be defeated. With the input of the Viet Cong defectors at the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) centers, the program coordinators discovered the error of their ways. Essentially, the propaganda themes which had been carried over from the Korean War were no longer effective in inducing the enemy to rally.

A Good Leaflet

Leaflet 4-132-68

So, the pretty girl in the bathing suit disappeared and in its place a leaflet a second leaflet appeared showing a Vietnamese woman in traditional garb that was completely appropriate and certainly a better medium for a propaganda message. Text over the primly dressed beauty is:


The back is all text:


The animal-like existence that the Army of Vietnam forces you to lead brings no happiness, only denial, without hope, love, or offspring. You have nothing to look forward to that might change this hopeless situation. Rally now to the open arms of the Republic of Viet Nam.

Reading through the Indicators of effectiveness at the U.S. Army Division Level, I see they have lots of ideas, but they offer no answers.

Lieutenant Colonel Norman L. Robinson, then Assistant Chief of Staff, G5, Americal Division, wrote that the PSYOP program of that division was made up of five major campaigns: (1) Chieu Hoi (program designed to induce members of the insurgency to defect or rally to the side of the allied forces), (2) Volunteer Informant Program, (3) Anti- Viet Cong, (4) Anti-North Vietnamese Army, and (5) Pro- Government of Vietnam. He then went on to say:

In the case of the first two campaigns listed the feedback indicators are concrete and measurable. Indicators of the effectiveness of such campaigns as Anti-Viet Cong, Anti-North Vietnamese Army and Pro-Government of Vietnam are difficult to perceive. In assessing such campaigns, the variety of factors involved makes it extremely difficult to determine the part played by PSYOP.

Since this is three of the five major PSYOP campaigns this booklet says were important, it leaves the searcher for effectiveness behind the eight ball immediately. And of course, there was a lot of debate about the real value of the Chieu Hoi program. The U.S. loved it, the Vietnamese not so much. The average good Vietnamese that stayed home and was loyal got nothing. Those that joined the Viet Cong, committed terrorist acts, and then returned got money, clothes, maybe the material to build a home, etc. So, what was the advantage of being loyal? And worse, many American soldiers thought these Hoi Chanh were just coming in when they were sick and hungry, got a hot bath and a hot meal and then after a few days when they felt better went back to the Cong. I doubt that is true, but it was a belief among many Americans.

A Typical Chieu Hoi Leaflet.

 This 10th PSYOP Battalion 1968 leaflet depicts the Chieu Hoi symbol in color with the added text:

To the soldiers, officers and cadres currently fighting against the National Government.
This is an appeal from the Government of The Republic of Vietnam.
Friends, return to the national just cause through the return policy. You will be warmly welcomed. 

More leaflets were printed for this campaign than any other during the Vietnam War

Leaflet 4-18-69

This 4th Group leaflet is very simple. It just depicts a sad and tearful wife or girlfriend and the text:

Chieu hoi – your family waits for you.

Captain Olsen mentioned in the report that it is very difficult to determine what goes on in another person's mind. Captain Olsen suggested that although there may not be any overt evidence readily available that might show that an enemy soldier has been influenced by U.S. Army PSYOP, there is still the possibility that PSYOP efforts may have had some influence over the morale, attitudes, or future behavior of the soldier in question. I suspect that telling a commander that a leaflet might have influenced a guerrilla is not going to fill that commander with confidence about PSYOP.

A PSYOP research proposal developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency during the year 1968-1969, summarized the current state of the art:

At the present time, although psychological operations have been conducted in Vietnam for several years, the primary foundation for the total PSYOP effort has been forced to depend upon the previous experience of personnel in other areas, and upon "intuitive" approaches that appear to have merit for logical reasons. Very little effort has been given to the creation of an overall theoretical model for PSYOP, or the provision of an empirical base for the conduct of specific programs. There is reason to believe that the effect of PSYOP programs can be measured and that the nature of the PSYOP programs found to be effective can be specified as well as the conditions and circumstances in which they were effective.

This seems to indicate there is no effectiveness plan being used, but they think perhaps one would work. A Major Fortuna is quoted speaking about PSYOP effectiveness:

The need for measures of PSYOP effectiveness has long been an urgent one. This urgency has found expression in the substitution of effort for effectiveness. Briefings concerning PSYOP activities have been punctuated with quantities of leaflets, loudspeaker hours, and air sorties. These presentations satisfied neither the briefer nor those being briefed, but the complexity of the problem generally vetoed any statement of dissatisfaction until recently.

I have always enjoyed the military's attempt to determine the effectiveness of leaflets. Whenever someone would surrender holding a Chieu Hoi leaflet, the military wanted to believe that the propaganda message had somehow convinced them. Reading through hundreds of reports, I have been surprised to see how often it is sex that was the motivator. Many post-Chieu Hoi interviews reveal that the fighter left the Viet Cong because the officers and Cadres had women in their tents while the enlisted men had no such privileges. The following leaflet is a case in point, also mentioning sex, but in a slightly different way.

Leaflet SP-1692

This leaflet depicts a letter to Sau On, security cadre, Chau Thanh District, Can Tho, from Huynh Thanh Huong (Alias: Hai Nhai). He explains why he left the Viet Cong (edited for brevity):

For six long years I gave myself to the Viet Cong in the hope of liberating our people. The Viet Cong treated me very badly. My family was living in full happiness. Suddenly a bad man named Tu Liem, Deputy Secretary of the Party in Nhon Ai village, took advantage of my absence while I was on an operation and lured my wife into adultery. All the Party Committee knew this, but they did not say anything about it. On top of this, the Party sent me to a faraway place, and my family fell apart…On 3 September 1966 I rallied to the government….

As you can see from the comments on the leaflet above, it was often not the leaflets that motivated the Viet Cong to go Chieu Hoi, it was personal reasons. Raymond A. Millen, Ph.D. says in Death by a Thousand Cuts: Weakening an Insurgency through a National Reconciliation Program Three Case Studies: Malaya, Vietnam, and Iraq written for the US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute in May 2020 (edited for brevity):

Vietnamese insurgent (Viet Cong) motives for defecting to the Republic of Vietnam government (RVN) were diverse and invariably personal. The protracted nature of the conflict (1961 to 1972), the military effectiveness of allied operations, and the ruthless behavior of the communist leadership created a feeling of anxiety, weariness, and alienation among the rank-and-file insurgents. The unremitting realities of fighting proved mentally debilitating. From the beginning, the communist leadership at all levels assured the proletarian ranks that the insurgency would achieve victory swiftly, and the populace would hail them as patriots. When these promises proved illusory and the conflict continued unabated, the average Viet Cong became disheartened and doubted the insurgency would prevail, especially once US military forces intervened.

The Viet Cong leadership resorted to coercion of the populace (e.g., threats, intimidation, terrorism, and violence), to levy heavy taxes and to impress young men, women, teenagers, and even children into service, two issues which further alienated villagers. Some insurgents harbored deep resentment and revulsion over Viet Cong atrocities on family members. Both conscripts and volunteers grew to loath Viet Cong cadre indoctrination and discipline. The leadership prohibited fighters from visiting relatives, marrying, and raising a family. Since Vietnamese revered close family ties and the fighters suffered from homesickness, these restrictions were particularly vexing. Discontent also arose from the denial of leave for insurgents wishing to check on their families’ safety or contribute to their livelihood. Among other grievances, the reasons for defecting or deserting were overwhelmingly personal.

A similar comment is made in a 1971 Australian General Staff conference, A Review of the Vietnam War. Speaking about the PSYOP aspect of the war they said:

The constant attempt to measure the actual effectiveness of psychological operations is as difficult and frustrating for the staff as it is to commanders at all levels. Yet it was known that the programs were effective. Information was constantly being made available of the enemy’s recognition of their effectiveness, in enemy documents and radio broadcasts, this was further validated in interrogations. It is known that there were instructions forbidding Vietcong/North Vietnamese from reading leaflets. Hanoi Radio complained that the wicked and vile propaganda put out by the United States - and it is assumed that this applies to Australia as well - was unfair and unduly influenced the weak and politically un-indoctrinated members of the Vietcong/North Vietnamese forces. The ‘Chieu Hoi’ rate was another example. The psychological operations staff could not take direct credit because combat pressures, fear, hunger, homesickness, probation, and similar factors played a critical part in the decision to rally. However, psychological operations can intensify all these negative factors in the enemy mind, although the effect cannot be measured. The thought is planted that if things get tough there is a way out.

When a potential rallier picks up his first leaflet he cannot be expected to run to the nearest ‘Chieu Hoi’ Centre but the nudging effect has started. Exposure to additional media continually reminds him of the way out and when he finds himself in a vulnerable position he often responds to the psychological operations advertising. For one reason or another, 182,000 ‘Hoi Chanh’ rallied between August 1971 and the introduction of the program in 1963. While the significance of this figure may not be readily apparent, it does represent the manpower of approximately 400 battalions denied to the enemy, many of whom are now available to the South Vietnamese Government.

It was found that Chieu Hoi statistics were universally used by the U.S. Army divisions in Vietnam as an indicator of PSYOP effectiveness. This indicator lends itself to this purpose particularly well because the data involved can be readily presented in Quantitative form on a briefing chart or in a report to higher headquarters or to ocher interested agencies. A weakness of this indicator is that misleading statistics can be easily developed unless a careful, accurate, and honest reporting system is used.

I don't recall the name of the conference held at Ft. Bragg many years ago, something like the Worldwide PSYOP Conference. I do recall that for a whole weekend most of what we heard were arguments that claimed the PSYOP campaigns could not be judged on effectiveness, or that anything could be judged on effectiveness. They might still be arguing.

The 2005 Review of Psychological Operations Lessons Learned from Recent Operational Experience says that extant lessons learned, and guidance are correct but inadequate. Currently, psychological operations (PSYOP) can produce modest effects, particularly at the tactical level, with minimum resources. The Joint Staff, Joint Forces Command, and the 4th Psychological Operations Group (POG) produced joint lessons learned about PSYOP from recent operations that identify factors constraining its ability to produce greater effects. These lessons learned are accurate and consistent with the four lessons repeatedly revealed in post operational assessments of PSYOP—namely, that PSYOP performance suffers from:

• a lack of national-level themes to guide message formulation
• slow product approval process that renders some products irrelevant
• questionable product quality with uncertain effects
• an overall lack of resources, including insufficient force structure

Some of the general statements about effectiveness are:

Although quantitative measures of effectiveness for PSYOP are difficult to obtain and not fully reliable, it is possible to make qualitative assessments of PSYOP effects, and it is possible to hold PSYOP accountable for standards of performance that are more rather than less likely to produce desired effects.

The challenges of PSYOP measures of effectiveness are well understood, but PSYOP can and must conduct ongoing qualitative assessments of its effects. Currently, PSYOP does not have the resources to do much in this regard.

ARVN soldier with loudspeaker hands a leaflet to local villager

Effects can be assessed, and any good PSYOP campaign will go to extraordinary lengths to do so. Enemy prisoner of war interviews and PSYOP face-to-face contacts provide information. Physical evidence of effectiveness is also possible, such as leaflets found near abandoned equipment, evidence of attempts to follow PSYOP instructions, or immediate reaction to loudspeaker operations.

The general lack of feedback on the effectiveness of past campaigns and products, combined with limited resources, undermines the quality of the overall PSYOP effort, as do other process shortcomings.


Sometimes PSYOP people just do things that they want to do even though everyone tells them the idea is terrible. I don’t know why that is, but Americans are free thinkers and when they get an idea in their head they just move forward regardless of the contraindications. The first bad idea is showing pictures of the dead enemy. The culture experts and psychologists have repeatedly said this is a bad idea and just makes the enemy mad and motivates them to fight on. But we keep doing it.

Robert W. Chandler says in The War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam:

Aother attempt to reinforce the enemy's fear of death that went awry was the use of brutally macabre leaflets. Photographs and sketches of a head torn from a body, a mass grave, or a skull roasting in flames were used to scare Communist troops into giving up. Others depicted battlefield dead with flies crawling over them and grotesque corpses with twisted limbs showing advanced stages of rigor mortis. As early as 1967, however, it became evident that these appeals failed to impress the enemy and had little effect on their decision to rally (defect). In fact, a reverse or 'boomerang' effect resulted from the use of such leaflets: Many hoi chanh (Viet Cong who had already defected to the national government) felt that these grisly pictures reflected unfavorably on the Republic because the government seemed to be gloating over the deaths of fellow Vietnamese." Chandler says later, "Death themes were repeated over and over in virtually all enemy-oriented communications.

Harry D. Latimer discusses atrocity photographs in U. S. Psychological Operations in Vietnam:

Do exercise extreme caution when dealing with the subject of VC atrocities. "Bounds of good taste" may be difficult to determine when presenting photographs of atrocity victims, but in general, it should be remembered that a nauseated audience is not necessarily a receptive audience. Extremes in goriness (e.g., close-ups of decapitated victims, disemboweled women in extreme pregnancy, etc.) may simply induce an avoidance reaction rather that the desired emotional reaction. The most effective use of atrocities is when they can be tailored to appeal to the sentiments, such as depicting an innocent child whose leg was blown off by a VC mine – and the stump should be bandaged. The audience can easily see the point (which also can be made verbally in the text) that here is a young child, who could have harmed no one, but must now go through life minus a limb.

Knowing all this, certainly the Americans produced no such leaflets featuring dead bodies. Wrong! The troops and the PSYOP specialists seemed to love them, and they printed them all through the war. An example:

Leaflet 2448

JUSPAO leaflet 2448 is one of the more gruesome leaflets prepared for use against the Communist forces. It depicts a handsome soldier, then a rotting corpse that seems to have taken a bullet directly in the face. The text is:

The Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces have completely crushed the Viet Cong's general offensive against the cities. From 30 January 1968 to 15 February 1968, over 34,000 North Vietnamese Regulars and Viet Cong soldiers paid for their crimes. Among them was Major General Tran Do, who was killed in an action at 46th Street in Cholon in the outskirts of Saigon City. The death of Tran Do proved that the Communist aggressive policy to take over South Vietnam has severely failed. It was not their inability or incompetence, but the Communist adventurous acts that caused their deaths. Why do you still hesitate? Try to find an opportunity to return to the National Community and rejoin your families, as tens of thousands have already done.

The government continues to tell the troops the leaflets don’t work. The subject is mentioned in the PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter, September 1968:

POWs and ralliers have recommended against the use of scare, threat, and death theme leaflets because they have little effect on the men in the field. Returnees feel that this is especially important in conjunction with a pleas for return to the government, “The scene of death brought about by the government did not show the government in a favorable light, we preferred to think of the government as the head of the family of Vietnam, one who is our benefactor and helps us, death scenes show the government as being unsympathetic and, to a degree, gloating over a victory scored against the very ones that are being asked to return.”

An Army officer who took part in both the leaflet production and themes told me:

The overwhelming majority of leaflets we printed said something like “We killed you here, we killed you there, and we will continue killing you everywhere.” The sad part is, post-testing revealed that the enemy felt the Government of South Vietnam should be a government that was saddened by the death of fellow Vietnamese, and not a government that bragged, rejoiced, gloated, and exploited through propaganda these deaths. It was an ill-conceived propaganda campaign that at one time accounted for most of the printing effort of the 7th PSYOP Group.


The 1st Cavalry Division Death Card

Are there other themes that the government told PSYOP did not work and not to get involved and yet they were printed. Of course, ever hear of death cards? It is interesting to note that the ace of spades was not a cultural indicator of death to the Vietnamese and in fact, had no meaning to them. A JUSPAO policy directive prohibited the image on leaflets, but American soldiers continued to leave the ace of spades as a "death card" on the bodies of Viet Cong.

One veteran who worked in PSYOP remembered the cards, but in a very negative way. He said:

I seem to recall that some Vietnamese professors were contacted at the University of Saigon and when they were asked about that card their answer was quick and simple. There is no black ace of spades in one of the main card games that Vietnamese play. Of course, the ace of spades became a legend after being used constantly, but certainly did not have the meaning to the VC or NVA troops that we seemed to think it had. It was just another example of cultural ignorance on the part of brass that hardly ever got out of their air-conditioned headquarters and the Circle Sportif.

Specialist 4th Class Jim Brannen who served in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970 in the Military Assistant Command Vietnam (MACV) and later the 4th Infantry Division agrees:

Not a lot of people know that the whole decks were aces. I knew. I saw many of them in the Pleiku area since the 1st Air Cavalry was at An Khe. The 4th Infantry took over An Khe in March 1970. There were plenty of those ace of spades decks around. I wish I had kept some. I did see a few of the cards used. It is hard to talk about it now but during the war things were different. Some soldiers would place the cards on the eyes of a dead Viet Cong. It meant that the card was the last thing they saw. The Viet Cong really feared the Air Cavalry. Some of those with or without cards were along the Highway running from Pleiku to Qui Nhon. I think that the 82nd and 173 Airborne had death cards made up too.


A Genuine use of the Death Card
Official U.S. Army Film (untitled)

Research assistant Sharon Frickey worked at the CRESS (Center for Research in Social Systems) field office at Ft. Bragg in 1967-1968. The CRESS field office, an extension of the think-tank research arm of American University, responded to requests from the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare and the 4th PSYOP Group at Ft. Bragg.  One of the research questions that CRESS received in 1967 was about the possible use of the Ace of spades for psychological operations and the strength of the superstition about it among the Vietnamese. There were seven PhD area specialists and dozens of researchers studying the problem and they concluded that the Vietnamese had no cultural basis to fear the Ace of Spades as a symbol of death, and any such propaganda utilizing the symbol would be useless.

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of February 1971 adds in part:

Recent reports indicate that some U.S. units have been using the Ace of Spades to elicit fear in enemy units. This notion, based on isolated incidents of behavior among Montagnard tribesmen familiar with the Western deck of cards introduced by the French is erroneous. A 1967 survey determined that the U.S produced Ace of Spades does not trigger substantial fear reactions among most Vietnamese. Activities of this nature may prove counterproductive, and often increase enemy vigilance countering other PSYOP programs.

Edwin Roberts says in The Psychological War for Vietnam, 1960-1968:

The 245th PSYOP Company requested an analysis of the usefulness of the Ace of Spades as a calling card. The study, conducted by the 6th PSYOP Battalion S2 (Intelligence), concluded, “That it would not be an effective or meaningful symbol.” Culturally, most Vietnamese had little or no experience with Western playing cards and attached no value to the ace. The cards were most often used by non-PSYOP soldiers that thought they were conducting psychological operations.

7th PSYOP Battalion Death Card

This card coded 7-1040-69 was printed by the U.S. Army 7th PSYOP Battalion in 1969. The skull on the front is a bit odd and perhaps more Asian than American. The back is all text with a green Chieu Hoi symbol in the background. The theme of this card is “You are being watched.” What I find most strange about this item was that the official U.S. line on death cards was that they were useless and there were even some attempts to ban the troops from using them. Yet here an American PSYOP unit produced one. I suspect an informal off-the-cuff request from some supported combat unit that wanted them and the PSYOP Battalion prepared them just as a courtesy. The text on the back is:

No place is safe for you. You have no place to hide. Your only option is to return to the just nationalist cause by rallying to stay alive.

I could go on all night. American soldiers loved the cards and believed they terrified the enemy. In fact, the enemy had no clue what they meant. Still, they kept writing to playing card companies who gladly sent them boxes of ace of spade decks, and some PSYOP units even printed leaflets or posters using the symbol.

The PSYOP Guide
MACV – 27 April 1968
(Comments edited for brevity)

Some of the comments on effectiveness are: The need for the evaluation of PSYOP effectiveness dates to the inception of PSYOP as a member of the military arsenal…Repeatedly, examinations of PSYOP in Vietnam have led to reports which underscore the need for evaluations of effectiveness. If it were possible to move PSYOP activities into a laboratory or a controlled setting, effectiveness could be determined within limits. Laboratory studies do not have the scope needed. This the psychological operator is forced to accept rules and generalizations either supported by miniature studies completed in colleges or those extrapolated from analysis of audiences’ responses in political and social issues.

Under the present state of the art, any assessment of PSYOP effectiveness must be responsive to criticism. There will be strained assumptions, fractured support, and weak data. An October 1967 MACV study, "PSYOP Effort and Effectiveness" used numerical counts of leaflets dropped, loudspeaker hours, posters, movies and cultural team performances arrayed as indexes. The indicators of effectiveness were also indexes: the Hoi Chanh rate, secured population, RVNAF desertion, induction, and enlistment rates, VC terror rates, POW rates, and ARVN contacts per operation. This method is just about a baby step away from a pure guess....

The 4th PSYOP Group Propaganda Guidelines
Number 4 – Techniques of Audience Analysis – 18 October 1968
Written by Major Alan Byrne 

The reader might think that there was no analysis of PSYOP during the war. The opposite is true. There was constant analysis. There were piles of data. One wonders if that ever was applied to the leaflet messages and images. For instance, here is a 24-page booklet just on analyzing the target audience.

I had hoped to find some information on leaflet effectiveness in this booklet but it mostly outlines a basic system for conducting in-depth analysis of a target audience. The system is organized in terms of ten associated steps, each logically leading to the next, which must be considered in sequence for the system to function properly. Although this booklet does not discuss the effectiveness of leaflets, it does show clearly that a great amount of work was going on in determining how the leaflets should be written and how the target should be defined. For instance, there are recommendations on how the PSYOP specialist should build hate for the Viet Cong. Some of the comments are:

Utilizing the ultimate PSYOP objective of creating popular hated of the Viet Cong, suggested themes for the accomplishment of each objective are:

1.Theme possibilities to create popular hatred of the VC: Disregard of family traditions; hidden motives of evil intent; indicators of future economic scarcity.
2.Develop disgust of the VC: Disregard of traditions and beliefs; Minor acts of inconvenience like taxes; Broken promises.
3.Develop marginal hatred of the VC: Major acts on inconvenience like drafting young men; forerunner of great evil; possible destruction.
4.Develop hatred of the VC: VC atrocities (exploited carefully); major acts of inconvenience (recruitment of females and using the populace as hostages).


Iraqi soldier surrenders holding safe conduct leaflet

I think this will be the last “war” I will mention in this article. There were millions of leaflets dropped during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, but I can think of none that were clearly effective. However, there are several in Operation Desert Storm. There was an official safe conduct pass that achieved great results and a “Marine leaflet” that held Iraqi forces in place watching the sea while the Marine drove straight up through Kuwait and General Norman Schwarzkopf in one of the greatest military deception maneuvers swung around to the west of the Iraqis and hit their flanks by surprise. So, we are off to the sand box.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait occurred on 2 August 1990, resulting in a seven-month-long Iraqi military occupation of the country. The invasion and Iraq's subsequent refusal to withdraw from Kuwait by a deadline mandated by the United Nations led to a direct military intervention by a United Nations authorized coalition of forces led by the United States. These events came to be known as the first Gulf War, eventually resulting in the forced expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the Iraqis setting 600 Kuwaiti oil wells on fire during their retreat, as a scorched earth strategy.

The main American proponent of psychological warfare leaflets was the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne). They produced and printed over 29 million leaflets. The Coalition forces packed M129E1 leaflet bombs with up to 54,000 machine-rolled leaflets, which were dropped over Iraqi concentrations by F-16, F/A-18, B-52, and MC-130 aircraft. Other leaflets were delivered by balloons. Before the ground war started, 12,000 leaflets were floated onto the beaches of Kuwait by bottle. Interrogation of Iraqi prisoners revealed that 98% had seen Coalition leaflets.

The Coalition leaflets appear in various sizes, papers, and colors. In many cases the same leaflets were prepared in both color and black and white, as well as with slightly changed vignettes, and different papers and sizes. Some are found on cardboard, others on thin tissue paper. The leaflets were prepared in vast quantities as part of a plan to drop propaganda on the Iraqi forces every three hours. The Iraqis were to be kept awake, off balance, and reminded of their helplessness.

Developmental artwork for the safe conduct pass

Artist draft concept leaflet which eventually became the leaflet shown below.

A U.S. Army PSYOP artist begins the drawing that will appear on the standard safe conduct pass.

This has been called the standard safe conduct pass because it and its variants were produced and dropped in great numbers. The original printing order was for 1,500,000 leaflets. More were printed because the first air drop on 16 January consisted of 2,000,000 leaflets. This leaflet is found on a very white paper, cardboard (166,000 leaflets believed to be used by the CIA), and variations exist where there is no Arabic on Saudi flag and the Arabic headline missing. There are several developmental artwork leaflets using this same front with various backs.


The Standard Safe Conduct Pass and the Deception Varieties with the VII Corps or XVIII Airborne Corps symbol

There were also deception leaflets produced identical to the one above but with the Dragon symbol of the XVIII Airborne Corps (900,000 leaflets) or the VII Corps symbol 270,000 leaflets). These were meant to hold the Iraqi Army in place while the deception plan known as the "Hail Mary" with the corps quietly moved west, and then turned north, then east, and attacked the unsuspecting Iraqis.

We know that this leaflet was also inserted into artillery shells. 60 such loaded shells with 150,000 leaflets identified as "Safe Conduct Pass 13A-26" were stored in Logistics base Charlie. Another 25 shells with 100,000 leaflets were stored at Logistics Base Alpha. Log Base Alpha (supported VII Corps) was an intermediate supply depot in the east located on the Tapline Road. Log Base Charlie (supported the XVIII Corps) was in the west, 7 miles from the Iraqi border near Rafha and designed to be ready by 11 February. This meant a five-day supply of rations, 3.4 million gallons of fuel and 15 to 45 tons of ammunition.

About 8,000 to 50,000 Iraqi troops estimated killed, but I suspect the number is much higher since many were likely buried in the sand and never found. Some 41 Iraqi divisions, 30 infantry, 4 mechanized, and 7 armored, were effectively wiped out, and the material losses suffered by the Iraqi military were staggering. Iraqi equipment captured or destroyed included 3,008 tanks, 1,856 armored vehicles, and 2,140 artillery pieces. The number that deserted is unknown because they simply got out of the uniform, put on civilian clothes and started walking home. At the end of the war when the Iraqi generals met to discuss the repatriation of prisoners, the Americans were asked how many were currently in confinement. When told over 58,000, the Iraqi vice chief of staff was stunned and asked his own military commanders if that could be true. They said, "It is possible."

"The Tidal Wave" Leaflet

This leaflet was part of a deception plan to make the Iraqis believe that the U. S. Marines will invade from the sea. 12,000 of the leaflets were placed in empty plastic water bottles and floated up on the beaches of occupied Kuwait. Allegedly, another 90,000 were dropped by aircraft. This leaflet was drawn by Tim Wallace of the 4th PSYOP Group. The product name of this leaflet is "Tidal Wave," the product number is 2-U, and the CENTCOM mission number was 60-01-1.

The text on the back is:

Cease resistance - Be Safe.

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 slowly, with the soldier holding this document above his head.
5. If you do this, you will not die.

Artist Tim Wallace in Riyadh during Operation Desert Storm

Sergeant Tim Wallace was an artist assigned to the 4th PSYOP Group during Operation Desert Storm. He designed many of the leaflets dropped on Iraqi troops in Kuwait. Tim designed the Tidal Wave leaflet we depict above.

Invasion by Sea

This leaflet looks a lot like “the wave,” leaflet C-20 depicted above. There is no Marine symbol in this drawing, just waves of American troops backed by heavy gunboats towering over fleeing Iraqi troops. When I spoke to Tim Wallace about this image, he agreed that he had used this early draft when he drew the USMC leaflet. Tim said about this image:

There was a whole series of wave leaflets both on the beach and storm waves that I drew in the initial months. Although the famed “Marine Wave with K-Bar” is the one they most remember, this one ran a close 2nd, but it was never made into a leaflet. I did another one that was done in pencil and not yet inked that shows a little of the process used to narrow an idea down to one approved leaflet. This is where working on newspapers as a political cartoonist came in handy. I could take an idea that they would want as a leaflet and present that same idea with 10 different ways to find the best possible image.

The Shield and the Storm says about this deception operation:

Twenty U. S. amphibious warships with nearly 8000 Marines and 10,000 sailors were on-station in the Gulf of Oman. Before Desert Storm began, the task force enacted elaborate practice landings on Coalition beaches in the Persian Gulf. Five divisions of Iraqi infantry entrenched in Kuwait, some 80,000 men in all, watched and listened with keen interest as U. S. amphibious forces conducted these highly visible exercises, often accompanied by members of the international press corps. By November 1990, the thirteen ships of Amphibious Group Three arrived from the U.S. west coast ports with the 15,000 Marines of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Force on board.

Water bottles were collected and stuffed with leaflets and then provided to Naval Special Operations which made sure they floated ashore. The first airdrop of 88,000 of these leaflets occurred on 15 January1991.

American battleships fired on the beaches so that the Iraqis were sure the attack was about to occur. The battleship Wisconsin fulfilled her first call for naval gunfire support since 1952 when she fired eleven 16-inch shells over 20 miles at an Iraqi artillery position in southern Kuwait. Just before the mock invasion the two battleships Wisconsin and Missouri both opened fire on Iraqi forces in Kuwait. It is said that Iraqi troops on the beaches waved white flags toward the sea and at overhead drones looking for targets.

The Iraqi Commander plots the Sea-borne Invasion.

Did the plan work? The ground war took exactly 100 hours. We will never know for sure what part the leaflet played in Saddam's defeat, but we do know that the Iraqi III Corps commander's 20 x 30-foot intelligence map of Kuwait found on a Kuwait City floor depicted virtually every Coalition avenue of approach from the sea. To the very end, Iraqi troops nervously watched the Persian Gulf for any sign of the dreaded U. S. Marines and their landing craft. They waited in vain.

This is the leaflet that Jon Cartier of the 245th PSYOP Company who was attached to the Marines saw one day and said:

I must say I was not happy about the thought of slugging through the surf and obstacles while being peppered with artillery and small arms fire. I am ESPECIALLY glad it was a deception!

The B-52 Bomb warning leaflets.

The Original Vietnam War B-52 Photograph

There are several leaflets showing the B-52F bomber numbered "70162" dropping 750-pound bombs. The original photo was taken during the Viet Nam war.

We mention the leaflets dropped on Japan above that told the people that 12 cities would be bombed. The same thing was done during Operation Desert Storm. The Iraqi forces were well dug in just over the Kuwait border awaiting the U.S. troops. The U.S. wanted to put some fear into them, shake them up so they might throw down their weapons and desert. These leaflets seem to have done the trick. General Schwarzkopf had served in Vietnam and remembered the effect of the “Rolling Thunder" B-52 raids on the enemy.

It certainly worked in Vietnam. Truong Nhu Tang says in Viet Cong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath, that the B-52 strikes were “undiluted psychological terror…nothing the guerrillas had to endure compared with the stark terrorization of the B-52 bombardments.”

Schwarzkopf wanted those B-52s over the Iraqis, and he wanted to use PSYOP to frighten them and cause them to abandon their posts. Schwarzkopf came up with the idea of announcing to a designated Iraqi that they would be bombed on the following day. At first the Air Force was hesitant, but daily attacks on Iraqi radar and anti-aircraft sites and American electronic jamming aircraft had made the high-flying bombers reasonably safe from attack. Schwarzkopf wanted to announce a bombing attack on one day and hit the Iraqis the next. He figured they would have 24 hours of anticipation and worry. He would then drop a second leaflet that said something like "we told you we would bomb you and we did. We are going to bomb you again" As the leaflets were dropped, the Coalition's Voice of the Gulf radio station broadcast the same message. The Iraqi front-line divisions stayed glued to their radio hoping that their unit would not be designated as the next target.

The front-line Iraqi divisions identified as targets of the B-52 leaflet are the 7th, 16th, 20th, 21st, 28th and 48th Infantry divisions. In general, two leaflets were dropped on each division, one before and one after a bombing raid. Three B-52 bombers were dedicated to this operation. They were assigned the mission of bombing after each leaflet drop.

The B-52 was so universally feared that in one instance a troop commander identified it as the sole reason he surrendered his troops to advancing coalition forces. Reminded by an interrogator that his position was never attacked by B-52s, he stated, “That is true, but I had seen one that had been attacked.”


This is the only bomb warning leaflet not addressed to a military unit. It was coded "MSR" which implies it was meant to flood Iraqi main supply routes with refugees. 180,000 of the leaflets were disseminated during four missions, on three consecutive days, from 16 to 18 February.

The text on the front is:

Desert Storm is coming to your area...flee immediately!

The text on the back is:

Saddam's army intends to use your city as a protective barrier to hide behind. Saddam doesn't care about you or your family. The joint forces do not wish to hurt innocent civilians, so take your belongings and head north to a safe place.

All the leaflets are basically the same. 620,000 leaflets were printed and dropped on 14 February aimed at the Iraqi 7th Infantry Division on the Kuwait-Saudi border. The text was:

This is your first and last warning! The 7th Infantry Division will be bombed tomorrow! Flee this location now!

The 7th Infantry Division will be bombed tomorrow. The bombing will be heavy. If you want to save yourself, leave your location and do not allow anyone to stop you. Save yourself and head toward the Saudi border, where you will be welcomed as a brother.

620,000 leaflets more were printed, and 60,000 dropped on what remained of the 7th Infantry Division on 16 February.

We have already informed you of our promise to bomb the 7th Infantry Division. We kept our promise and bombed them yesterday. BEWARE. We will repeat this bombing tomorrow. Now the choice is yours. Either stay and face death or accept the invitation of the Joint Forces to protect your lives.

Evidence seems to point out that the Iraqis accepted the invitation. The bomb warning leaflets were dropped over and over on various infantry divisions. The Autumn 2015 issue of Perspectives, The Journal of the Psychological Operations Association, in an article entitled "The Effectiveness of Bomb Warning Messaging" printed a message from Colonel Jack Summe to USAF PSYOP expert Chuck Doig about this operation:

The credibility of the overall PSYOP effort was improved by coordinating leaflet operations with B-52 bombing along front-line enemy positions. Leaflets were dropped telling the enemy force that bombing would begin against a specific unit on a specific day and encouraging them to desert or defect. This was followed by the bombing and another leaflet drop predicting the next strike. Post-tests showed that the campaign was highly credible among Iraqi soldiers and leaders and produced large numbers of desertions and defections. Iraqi General Officers that were interviewed after the conclusion of the war stated emphatically that the B-52 campaign was extremely effective and cemented the credibility of our PYSOP effort with Iraqi soldiers.

There was a lot of research done after the First Gulf War and these are some of the things that the PSYOP commanders said were clear signs of the effectiveness of their campaign.

The massive numbers of Iraqi desertions (over 44 percent of Iraqi units in the Kuwait Theater of Operations) prior to and during the war.

Iraqi leaflet and information campaigns to counter coalition leaflet operations and confiscation of their soldiers' personal radios so they could not listen to the Coalition radio broadcasts.

Iraqi chain of command reports to their soldiers that coalition leaflets were contaminated by chemical agents.

Iraqi prohibitions against carrying or having a coalition leaflet and Iraqi death squads operating between the Iraqi and coalition fronts to stop and assassinate defecting Iraqi soldiers.

Iraqi prisoners of war reports of listening to coalition broadcasts for "true" programming.

Iraqi "Mother of All Battles" broadcasts changing frequencies to counter coalition broadcasts, and the jamming of the "Voice of the Gulf.’

Ninety-eight percent of all prisoners of war having seen or possessed PSYOP leaflets and taken the action the leaflets encouraged - e.g., deserting, defecting, abandoning equipment, or surrendering. Fifty-eight percent of all enemy prisoners of war reported listening to coalition broadcasts and said they trusted them as truthful. Eighty percent of those followed the instructions encouraged by the broadcast. Thirty-four percent of all enemy prisoners of war reported hearing loudspeaker broadcasts, and more than half of those followed the broadcasts' instructions.

How successful was the US PSYOP campaign in Desert Storm? During the war, more than 17,000 Iraqi troops defected into Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and 44 percent of the Iraqi military deserted. The International Red Cross reported that nearly 87,000 Iraqi soldiers turned themselves over to coalition forces, most of them clutching the leaflets or hiding them in their clothing. These proved the PSYOP mission's worth and saved countless enemy and coalition lives.

All incidents of surrender were bloodless. Perhaps the best testimony to the effectiveness of PSYOP was given by an Iraqi General when he stated that: “PSYOP...was a great threat to troop morale, second only to the coalition bombing campaign.”

The 4th Psychological Operations Group received the Meritorious Unit Commendation award for its contribution during the Gulf War.

Good or Bad Leaflet?

Leaflet 1-W, “Sunset”

This is an odd leaflet and depending on your politics and perhaps sexual orientation you either love it or hate it. It depicts two Arab soldiers walking off toward the setting sun together. Rumor has it that the Americans hated it. It was far too effeminate and in the American Army any outward sign of homosexuality would get you tossed out. So, allegedly many of our good old red-blooded boys despised it. The image on the front depicts the two men hand in hand, and at the bottom the flags of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The short text on the back is:


About 18,000 of these leaflets were printed. It is rumored that many were disseminated by balloon. The Arabs loved them as they showed the solidarity of the soldiers, hand in hand. The codename for this leaflet 1-W is “Sunset.” The image was very powerful and seemed to work well on the Muslim mentality. There is a rumor that some of these leaflets were secretly ballooned by German PSYOP troops from Al Quysumah Airfield to Southern Kuwait.

Colonel Borchini of the 4th Group said:

This leaflet was probably the most effective of the war. It stressed brotherhood among the countries in the region. After the Iraqis surrendered, the captured soldiers were interviewed. We found that this leaflet had a tremendous impact upon the Iraqi soldiers. It had a nice message. There was nothing devious. We all want peace!

When I asked Lieutenant Colonel Kelliher of the 3rd PSYOP Battalion about the balloon operations he practiced operational security (OPSEC) and was non-committal:

Part of the Battalion deployed north to support some classified leaflet balloon efforts. No more to say about that.

Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan

Arturo Munoz says about effectiveness in U.S. Military Information Operations in Afghanistan Effectiveness of Psychological Operations 2001–2010, Rand Corporation, 2012.

The inherent lack of precision and uniformity in developing PSYOP measures of effectiveness (MOEs) have been noted in previous documents:

The biggest problem is connecting the shaping action or message with some measurable quantity or quality that is not confounded by other possible causes. For example, many Iraqi soldiers surrendered at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Was this due to PSYOP leaflets dropped instructing them to do so? Was it instead due to the coalition’s massive military might? Were there other causes? What was the most likely combination of causes that resulted in the desirable end. In this case, the possible causes are highly conflated, even though the objective being measured—surrender—is an observable behavior. It would be even more difficult to assess the multiple causes underlying other objectives, such as creating positive public attitudes toward the coalition.

Iraqi Freedom

Perry, Darilek, Rohn, and Sollinger mention the effectiveness of Coalition leaflets just lightly in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM Decisive War, Elusive Peace, Rand Corporation, 2015. It seems they would like to take credit for the vast numbers of Iraqi troops that surrendered, but they cannot bring themselves to do it:

A TPT used loudspeakers to broadcast a surrender message to paramilitary forces fighting marines in An Nasiriyah. The message informed the fighters that bombs would be dropped in their positions if they did not surrender. The fighters began following the surrender instructions within ten minutes of the loudspeaker announcement.

The desertion of Iraqi forces has been touted by the IO community as a PSYOP success. Others have argued that bombing, rather than PSYOP efforts, explains the desertions. Captured Iraqi leaders have claimed that the leaflet messages did not persuade people to desert; rather, the coalition’s ability to pinpoint their positions with leaflets sent a clear message that next time it could be a bomb. On the other hand, PSYOP may have reinforced the messages of U.S. military superiority and the inevitability of defeat. Current evidence does not conclusively support PSYOP as the decisive factor in the desertions.


I don’t know if we can draw a conclusion from this article. As I said at the start, I am not sure you can judge the effectiveness of a leaflet or the results of a campaign. Some appear to be great successes, some pitiful failures. It is hard to see why people do what they do and, in many cases, they don’t want to tell the truth and make up stories. Ashley Franz Holzmann and Whitney O'Connell wrote "Falling Short in Measures of Effectiveness" for the Small Wars Journal. They solidify the argument that more work is needed:

The result of this inattention to evaluations is that PSYOP specialists are forced into one of two data manipulation methods to defend the funds that were allotted for the programs being executed: (1) series impact indicator data and supporting information is manipulated into a skewed version of effectiveness; (2) data or measures that are not relevant to the disseminated products are claimed as a measure of series effectiveness. The PSYOP community would dramatically increase its effectiveness and credibility by specifically correcting three common institutional pitfalls: having non-specific target audiences to measure effectiveness, failure to properly document and track impact indicators, and substandard reporting practices; failing to address these pitfalls will only continue the trend of drawing inaccurate conclusions from well-conceived, well-planned, and costly operations.

Carl Berger concludes:

The very nature of war operations, however, as the late Major General Robert A. McClure, then Brigadier General, former Chief of Psychological Warfare, once declared, makes it "an impossibility" to measure leaflet effectiveness accurately. In time of war the Army propagandist often finds himself operating in almost total ignorance of the enemy's situation. The physical, psychological, cultural, and racial factors involved are so complex, the propagandists' knowledge so limited, access to the target so uncertain, and changes so unpredictable, that wartime psychological operations partake of the mixture of art rather than science. It has been said that this is true of war itself.

Over the years we have all discussed the effectiveness of PSYOP leaflets and such. It is an impossible argument and last year I sat down one weekend and wrote 22,000 words on the subject. I keep finding new comments. Here is a letter from a friend of mine in the Australian PSYOP unit and he admits to the problems of effectiveness. I add this because it is an interesting way to look at PSYOP by someone who is intimately familiar with the subject and performed it Vietnam. He uses a woman shopping as an example. When I lectured i went more for shock value. I would say to public relations students, "you sell vaginal sprays and ribbed condoms, PSYOP sells life."

Colonel Joseph D. Celeski mentions effectiveness of the Laos PSYOP program in Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos, Air Commandos 1964–1975. He is not overly optimistic:

The effectiveness of a PSYWAR campaign is extremely hard to ascertain. Overall, attempts to subvert Pathet Lao political initiatives were successful for several years. However, the thorough indoctrination of NVA soldiers, and to some extent the Pathet Lao, nullified many of the PSYOP themes. Captured soldiers often remarked they used PSYOP leaflets and printed material to roll cigarettes and for toilet paper. The NVA and Pathet Lao soldiers were also used to deprivation and were hardy, tough people; these variables noted in PSYOP products had little impact on their morale.

The high turnover of experienced PSYWAR personnel, serving with only six-month or one-year tours, impacted the continuity of the program, often resulting in loss of institutional knowledge as the war went on for years. It is also difficult for a Westerner to really understand the beliefs, values, and motivations of the Laotian and Vietnamese people, relying on hired experts who invariably filtered the products through their own prejudices and understanding of the situation.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the PSYWAR initiatives used in Laos, all the programs continued until the end of the war, at a cost of millions of dollars. What is known is that the Pathet Lao fought against government forces for over two decades, exercised strategic patience, and took political control of the Land of a Million Elephants in 1975. Perhaps the use of PSYWAR delayed this inevitability.

The constant attempt to measure the actual effectiveness of psychological operations is as difficult and frustrating for the staff as it is to commanders at all levels. Yet it was known that the programs were effective. Information was constantly being made available of the enemy's recognition of their effectiveness, in enemy documents and radio broadcasts, this was further validated in interrogations. It is known that there were instructions forbidding Vietcong/North Vietnamese from reading leaflets. Hanoi Radio complained that the wicked and vile propaganda put out by the United States - and it is assumed that this applies to Australia as well - was unfair and unduly influenced the weak and politically un-indoctrinated members of the Vietcong/North Vietnamese forces.

The 'Chieu Hoi' rate was another example. The psychological operations staff could not take direct credit because combat pressures, fear, hunger, homesickness, probation, and similar factors played a critical part in the decision to rally. However, psychological operations can intensify all these negative factors in the enemy mind, although the effect cannot be measured. The thought is planted that if things get tough there is a way out.

Perhaps psychological operations should be thought of in terms of an advertising campaign. The housewife does not immediately buy an item merely because she sees it in her magazine or hears about it on the radio, but the thought has been planted, and when exposed to the actual item in the shop a human vulnerability takes over and the product is often put into the shopping bag. It is to be expected, therefore, that when a potential rallier picks up his first leaflet he cannot be expected to run to the nearest 'Chieu Hoi' Centre, but the nudging effect has started. Exposure to additional media continually reminds him of the way out and when he finds himself in a vulnerable position he often responds to the psychological operations advertising. For one reason or another, 182,000 'Hoi Chanh' rallied between the introduction of the program in 1963 and August 1971. While the significance of this figure may not be readily apparent, it does represent the manpower of approximately 400 battalions denied to the enemy, many of whom are now available to the South Vietnamese Government.

Propagandists are the great communicators. I read a report by Ernest F. and Edith M. Bairdain "Effectiveness of PSYOP Messages." It left me dizzy. I add it for the reader’s pleasure.

The first issue in consideration of effectiveness is "what is effectiveness?" A search for answers to this question requires selection of criteria appropriate to the subject being studied (i.e., the phenomenon selected for measurement). In evaluating the effectiveness of rally or surrender appeals, the most demanding criterion is that rally or surrender occurs immediately in response to such an appeal; a less restrictive criterion is that the desired response occurs ultimately rather than immediately. A still less strict criterion is consideration of rallying or surrendering whether or not the action takes place. If any of this family of criteria is met, the message has been effective in some degree.

Being overly strict in specification of criteria also would mean being somewhat unrealistic or impractical in evaluating PSYOP; there must be some acceptable relationship between effort expended to transmit the messages and the amount of return for the effort. The second issue to be considered in effectiveness, then, is the question of "yield" or productivity; the basis for selecting criteria for evaluation of this issue appears to be purely a matter of subjective opinion in most cases unless someone can be persuaded to make arbitrary decisions that trade off danger to life against expense in dollars and effort.

For clarity of analysis, interpretation, and discussion of the issues of "whether effective" and "how effective" cannot be treated simultaneously.

Unfortunately, separate treatment of the two issues results in tedious, lengthy, and monotonous restatements of the same issues. In what follows the question of "whether effective?" will be treated in detail; the issue of "how effective?" will be treated in a more global fashion.


Readers with personal experience witnessing the effectiveness or failure of psychological operations or having more information or an opinion on the subject are encouraged to write the author at