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SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.) \

Note: “MILITARY HISTORY NOW” sampled this article for a story called “The Strange case of Ghost Tape No. 10.” The Weekly Pegasus, The newsletter of professional readings of the U.S. Air Force Military Information Support Operations Working Group recommended this article in their 28 October 2017 issue.

The subject of superstition is an interesting one. There are literally hundreds of definitions. For instance, we might say:

Superstition is a set of behaviors that are related to magical thinking, whereby the practitioner believes that the future, or the outcome of certain events, can be influenced by certain specified behaviors. Superstition is a belief, or system of beliefs, by which almost religious veneration is attached to things mostly secular; a parody of religious faith in which there is belief in an occult or magic connection. Another way to put it is that superstition is an irrational or nonscientific belief in the existence of certain powers operant in the world, with positive or ill effects.

When we attempt to define psychological operations (PSYOP) we find definitions such as:

Psychological Operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to specific foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator's objectives.

What do they have in common? FM 7-98 (Operations in a Low Intensity Conflict) explains:

Psychological Operations. The agent is an effective psychological weapon when used against personnel in countries where superstition and a fear of the unknown are common. The reason for its use in populated areas should be explained in PSYOP follow-up--for example, to protect the population from severe harm if conventional firepower were used.

PSYOP usually attempts to influence audiences and influence their emotions using truth and logic while superstition influences through magic or irrational beliefs. It is very easy to see how tempting superstition is to the propagandist. It is a way to quickly influence a target audience using emotional symbols and words that make no sense to the knowledgeable, but are powerful emotional motivators to the “true believer.” We have read of witch doctors in Africa convincing insurgent warriors that amulets and prayers will turn government bullets into harmless water. We wonder how these adults can be so susceptible to obvious lies, but that is the power of superstition. In general, the government is not in favor of the use of superstition by PSYOP forces, yet we find it used again and again. It is just too tempting, too easy.

An undated WWII Office of Strategic Service Moral Operations report entitled “Superstitions and Black Magic” states in part in regard to Italy:

Exploit local superstitions in Italy to arouse apprehensions about the future and to create defeatism and demoralization. Artificially produce omens predicting Nazi defeat, interpret various events as omens, and spread rumors about omens having taken place. Stir up old superstitions about strangers appearing in the land (Germans). Disseminate rumors that a sibyl or astrologer has predicted the streets of Italy will run in blood in three months' time if the strangers (Germans) stay in the land…Suggest that Italian peasants are burning Hitler and Mussolini in effigy, or are sticking fires into little clay or cloth figures of Hitler or Mussolini.

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Jasper Maskelyne

The Jean M. Hungerford U.S. Air Force Project Rand Research Memorandum dated 14 April 1950 and entitled The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare, mentions an alleged British campaign that used a monster to frighten Italian peasants in August 1945. The monster was created by British Army officer Jasper Maskelyne. He was a magician who is remembered for the accounts of his work for British military intelligence during the Second World War creating large-scale ruses, deception, and camouflage. The problem with the story is that it did not “ring true,” I did not believe it, and when I did some further research I found numerous articles that implied that Maskelyne was a tireless self-promoter and his book Magic: Top Secret was a ghost-written fictional account of his life. He did exist and apparently did some important work for the British, but one individual says that his exploits are about 40% accurate. We will mention this alleged propaganda campaign, but the reader should be aware that there is an excellent possibility that it never occurred.

Our men…were able to use illusions of an amusing nature in the Italian mountains…In one area, in particular, they used a device which was little more than a gigantic scarecrow, about twelve feet high and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs. This thing scared several Italian Sicilian villages appearing in the dawn thumping its deafening way down their streets with great electric blue sparks jumping from it, and the inhabitants, who were mostly illiterate peasants, simply took to their heels to the next village, swearing that the devil was marching ahead of the invading British.

Like all tales spread by uneducated folk (and helped, no doubt, by our agents), this story assumed almost unmanageable proportions. Villages on the route of our advance began to refuse sullenly to help the retreating Germans, and to take sabotage against them…What began as a joke was soon a sharp weapon in our hands which punished the Germans severely

During the Vietnam War, the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) regularly sent out PSYOP Policy to be used by the troops in the field. Policy Number 36 dated 10 May 1967 states that the following guidance is to be followed by all U.S. elements in Vietnam:

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a. To devise guidelines for the exploitation of enemy vulnerabilities provided by superstitions and deeply-held traditional beliefs.

b. To be aware of and accommodate those superstitions of friendly forces and populations that may have a bearing on military operations.


A strong superstition or a deeply-held belief shared by a substantial number of the enemy target audience can be used as a psychological weapon because it permits with some degree of probability the prediction of individual or group behavior under a given set of conditions. To use an enemy superstition as a starting point for psychological operations, however, one must be sure of the conditions and control the stimuli that trigger the desired behavior.

The first step in the manipulation of a superstition as an enemy vulnerability is its exact identification and detailed definition of its spread and intensity among the target audience. The second step is to insure friendly control of the stimuli and the capability to create a situation that will trigger the desired superstitious behavior. Both conditions must be met or the PSYOP effort will not yield the desired results; it might even backfire.

As an illustration, one can cite the recent notion spread among combat troops in the First Corps area that VC and NVN troops were deathly afraid of the "Ace of Spades" as an omen of death. In consequence soldiers, turned psy-warriors with the assistance of playing card manufacturers, began leaving the ominous card in battle areas and on patrols into enemy-held territory. The notion was based on isolated instances of behavior among Montagnard tribesmen familiar from French days with the Western deck of cards. A subsequent survey determined that the ace of spades does not trigger substantial fear reactions among most Vietnamese because the various local playing cards have their own set of symbols, generally of Chinese derivation.

Here then was an incorrect identification of a superstition coupled with a friendly capability to exploit the presumed condition. It did not work.

For a correct identification of a superstition coupled with an inability to exploit same, one could postulate the case of an enemy dictator or ruling group with deeply-held beliefs in astrological predictions of the future. Unless the favored soothsayer can be motivated to say the desired things - an unlikely possibility - the accurate knowledge of this enemy weakness could not be turned to friendly advantage.

In a minor key, PSYOP use of the venerated figure of Tran Hung Dao, victor in 1285 over the Golden Horde led by Kublai Khan's Chinese vassal, satisfies both requirements. We know the supernatural qualities with which the heroic figure of Tran Hung Dao is endowed in the popular mind, and the GVN has the capability of invoking him in patriotic appeals aimed against the invaders (see JUSPAO Poster # 1271) which are among the most popular produced in the PSYOP field to date.

On the accommodation of friendly superstitions it is instructive to quote from the First Corps after-action report: ... "As we started on the patrol we heard a lot of noise as the men walked. The advisor, who was brand new, stopped them and found hanging around their necks, dangling from their belt or in their pockets objects of stone, wood and metal. The noise would have surely revealed our position, so the advisor collected all the amulets and sent them back to the camp area. This proved to be a bad mistake. Before we had penetrated deeply into the forest we had lost half the men. The other half would have been better off lost, because they believed it was their time to die. They had been deprived of the protection of the good spirits. Needless to say, we came back without accomplishing our mission..."

An experienced advisor would have balanced the noise factor against the morale effect of depriving the soldiers of their magical protection. A compromise could possibly have been found in wrapping the amulets in some sound absorbing material.

In summary, the manipulation of superstitions is a delicate affair. Tampering with deeply-held beliefs, seeking to turn them to your advantage means in effect playing God and it should only be attempted if one can get away with it and the game is indeed worth the candle. Failure can lead to ridicule, charges of clumsiness and callousness that can blacken the reputation of psychological operations in general. It is a weapon to be employed selectively and with utmost skill and deftness. There can be no excuse for failure.



1. To exploit enemy superstitions, PSYOP personnel must be certain that:

a. The superstition or belief is real and powerful.

b. They have the capability of manipulating it to achieve results favorable to the friendly forces.

2. As a corollary, the PSYOP effort must insure that the audience against which a superstition campaign is launched is sufficiently homogeneous in their beliefs to be susceptible to this kind of manipulation. Superstitions vary widely; for example, among city and country people and the inhabitants of different regions of the same country, both in kind and in degree of intensity.

3. Would-be superstition manipulators must be prepared to face a credibility test if their efforts are traced to the source. Additionally, the triggering device of the superstition response must seem entirely credible to the target audience. As an example, many Vietnamese, particularly in rural areas, are provoked into a fear response if startled at night by the hoot of an owl or the call of a crow. These are considered death omens. The response will not occur, however, if the sound can be detected in any way as originating from an artificial source, such as a loudspeaker.

4. A PSYOP operator's desire to take advantage of manipulating enemy superstitions surreptitiously must be balanced against the counterproductive effects of possible failure and exposure of the attempt by the mass media. The U.S. image and the effectiveness of future PSYOP might lose more than the commander might hope to gain by successful execution of the plan.

5. In summary, enemy superstition manipulation should not be lightly employed by field PSYOP personnel. Proposals to make appeals based on superstitions or otherwise manipulate target audience beliefs will be forwarded in each case to JUSPAO and/or MACPD through the respective channels of their originators. They will be carefully analyzed there in the light of the considerations spelled out in this guidance. No PSYOP campaign in the area of superstition manipulation will be undertaken without JUSPAO/MACPD approval.

6. Where the superstitions of friendly forces and populations are concerned, PSYOP personnel will assist commanders as required or called upon in devising indoctrination materials familiarizing troops with these beliefs and counseling respect for and sensitivity to local beliefs and traditions.

You never know what action on your part will bring forth the power of superstition in the enemy. A 28 July 1962 memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara of the subject of defoliation in Vietnam said:

An interesting side effect in such an operation as crop destruction is that because of the superstitious nature of the rural peasant in Vietnam, the ability of the GVN to kill large areas of vegetation "magically" makes a deep impression on him. During the Delta Mangrove defoliation operation one hundred and twelve VC surrendered when it was publicly announced that additional defoliation operations would be conducted.

John Schlight mentioned superstition in The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia: The War in South Vietnam - The Years of the Offensive 1965-1968:

Beginning near the end of January 1966, elements of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, an ARVN division, and a Korean battalion engaged in the first division-size search and destroy operation of the war…Each night C-l23s, AC-47 gunships, and C-47 flare ships kept the area lit and warded off enemy attacks while U.S. units established their positions. The main attack began on the 28th in poor weather. The following day, as the Air Cavalry linked up with the South Vietnamese and moved north, their way was blocked by an enemy dug into trenches, bunkers, holes, and tunnels. More A-1Es were called in, and the Skyraiders cleared out the obstacles with bombs, napalm, and white phosphorous rockets…From overhead, a U-10 from the 5th Air Commando Squadron dropped leaflets and beamed messages through its loudspeakers. After each period of heavy fighting, the PSYOP plane broadcast funeral dirges and wailing sounds to play on the enemy’s superstitions.

It is clear that superstition as a PSYOP theme can be extremely valuable or a total waste of time. For example, as the policy guidance above states and we will later show, Americans in Vietnam used the Ace of Spades as a death card thinking that it terrified the enemy and yet it had no effect on them at all. The article will discuss and illustrate several of the better known campaigns that used superstition as a PSYOP theme.

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General “Black Jack” John Pershing

There have been many anecdotes about Western occupying forces using pig carcasses or blood to intimidate Muslim of Hindu inhabitants. One of the first I heard was the claim that American general “Black Jack” John Pershing buried Muslims with pig's blood and entrails during his Philippine campaigns in Jolo province in 1913.

The insurgents were allegedly forced to dig their own graves, then tied to wooden posts. American soldiers then slaughtered pigs in front of the insurgents, rubbing their bullets in the blood and fat. Those about to be executed were terrorized. Being contaminated by pig blood and unclean, they could not enter Paradise. All but one insurgent was shot, their bodies dumped into the grave, and the hog guts dumped atop the bodies. The lone survivor was allowed to escape back to his camp and tell his comrades what happened to the others. This allegedly brought a stop to terrorism in the Philippines for the next 50 years. Other variations say that he had six of twelve insurgents shot, or he threatened them with “Any who attack us and are killed will be buried in pig-skins.”

Their story could be anecdotal because in a 1938 book entitled, Jungle Patrol, the author states that it was a Colonel Alexander Rodgers of the 6th Cavalry that buried “dead juramentados in a common grave with the carcasses of slaughtered pigs” or beheaded them and buried their head inside a pig carcass. The Juramentados had taken an oath to wage a personal jihad or holy war against Christians.

There were similar legends of the British in India using pig’s blood or urine to contaminate high-caste Indian nationalists, and even an alleged story of Jewish Settlers at Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip defiling the body of a dead Palestinian suicide bomber with “pigskin and lard.”

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Edward Lansdale

One of the prime American proponents of Superstition was General Edward Lansdale. In fact, he is the poster boy for such campaigns. It is impossible to discuss this subject without his name immediately being brought up.

Lansdale believed that to successfully implement psychological warfare, you needed a firm understanding of the socio-cultural beliefs and myths of the target. He believed that an exploitation of these mores and beliefs would result in a successfull campaign. Nowhere did Lansdale implement these tactics more ruthlessly than in the Philippines, where he served as the CIA’s chief operative during the early 1950s counterinsurgency campaign against the country’s Huk rebels.

The Hukbalahap Rebellion was a rebellion staged by former Hukbalahap or Hukbong Bayan Labansa Hapon (Anti-Japanese Army) soldiers against the Philippine government. It started during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1942 and continued during the presidency of Manuel Roxas, and ended in 1954 under the presidency of Ramon Magsaysay. Part of the reason this rebellion was able to be ended was the involvement of psychological operations.

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Huk rebels hung by the CIA’s psywar combat squad.

In the most famous operation, which may or may not be true, it is alleged that he was told of an area known to be harboring Hukbalahap guerrillas. A combat psychological warfare squad was brought in and, under Lansdale's direction, planted stories among town residents of an asuang or vampire living on the hill where the Huks were based. A famous local soothsayer, they said, had predicted that men with evil in their hearts would become its victim. After letting the story sink in, Lansdale's ambushers waited for a Huk patrol to pass along the trail, quietly snatched the last insurgent, punctured his neck with two holes, hung the body by the ankles to drain it of blood, then put the corpse back on the trail. When the guerrillas returned to look for their missing comrade they found the bloodless corpse, obviously killed by an Aswang (vampire). The entire Huk unit packed up and left the area in great haste.

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The 1973 Philippine Movie: Son of the Vampire

Another Lansdale PSYOP tactic was what he called the “eye of God,” where government troops identified villages known to be sympathetic to the Huks. At night the PSYOP teams would creep into town and paint an eye on walls facing the houses of suspected sympathizers. The notion of an all-seeing malevolent eye was supposed to have been “sharply sobering.”

In another case when Lansdale wanted all the Catholics in North Vietnam to move south he broadcast over and over to the Catholics, “'The Blessed Virgin Mary is going south.”

Later, he decided to publish falsified prophecies from Vietnamese soothsayers. This had been done by both the Allies and Axis in WWII along with modified predictions of Nostradamus, each side showing clearly that there side would win the war. Lansdale published an almanac with the predictions of the Vietnamese astrologers and mediums in 1955 that forecast disaster and doom for the Communists and the people that remained in the north under their control. The almanac became a best seller in Haiphong and a second printing was produced. ''The Blessed Virgin Mary is going south,'' broadcast repeatedly to the North's many Catholics.

In 1967 he wrote to Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker:

It is suggested that the U. S. Mission compile a list of the personal soothsayers and astrologers who service leading Vietnamese personalities, particularly those who will be candidates in the forthcoming Presidential campaign. These soothsayers have a decided influence on the activities of many of the Vietnamese leaders, and their guidance may not always coincide with U. S. objectives.

Lansdale was involved in a variety of strange psychological operations. He instigated Operation Mongoose, a plan to overthrow Fidel Castro by convincing the Catholic Cuban population that Castro was the anti-Christ. After broadcasting that message day and night to the Cubans and properly preparing them to overthrow the demon, the CIA would spark an uprising by staging the return of Jesus from the heavens by firing barrage after barrage of phosphorous shells into the night skies over Havana. His colleagues called it “elimination by illumination.” (It never got off the drawing board.)

World War Two

Decades after I wrote this article, I was told about a USAF 1950 Project Rand Research Memorandum titled The Exploitation of Superstition for Purposes of Psychological Warfare. It was unfortunate that the memorandum was before the Korean and Vietnam Wars, but I have added a few small comments from the Rand Report to this section of the article.

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British fake copy of Der Zenit

Astrology might be defined as the study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs. This strange pseudo-science is believed by millions of people and it has survived for thousands of years. The ancient Chaldeans and Assyrians studied the planets 3,000 years ago. The Babylonians, and later the Greeks worked out most of the fundamental elements of modern astrology.

Critic Ivan Kelly wrote that:

Astrology has no relevance to understanding ourselves, or our place in the cosmos. Modern advocates of astrology cannot account for the underlying basis of astrological associations with terrestrial affairs, have no plausible explanation for its claims, and have not contributed anything of cognitive value to any field of the social sciences.

Despite the fact that Astrology has no scientific background, during WWII both the Allies and the Axis powers used astrologists to prepare fake charts showing that their side was assured victory and their enemy faced nothing but tragedy and defeat. Ellic Howe discussed some of the British campaigns in his book The Black Game, Michael Joseph, London, 1982. For those who want to study this phase of psychological warfare in greater depth, I recommend Ellic Howe’s book Astrology and Psychological Warfare During World War II, Rider & Company, London, 1972. I knew Ellic Howe quite well. In 1945 the British Government confiscated and burnt all of his forged materials under the Official Secrets Act. When he was writing The Black Game he visited me to borrow reference articles and photograph items in my collection.

Howe mentions various issue of Der Zenit, a bogus astrological magazine of which half a dozen issues were produced during 1942 and 1943. The texts were written by Louis de Wohl with help from the British intelligence experts. De Wohl is an interesting character who liked to dress as a British Army Captain and apparently convinced the English that they needed his input to determine what advice Hitler was getting from his astrologer:

If I make the same calculations as Hitler’s astrologer, I will know what kind of advice Hitler is getting from a man whose judgment he respects. It is only logical that this information will be extremely useful to the British.

De Wohl was of Hungarian descent and partly Jewish. He had been raised in Germany and had many powerful friends in Berlin. He claimed to have been approached by the Germans in 1935 to work for them. With the rise to power of the Nazis, de Wohl fled to Great Britain. He claimed to have worked for the British “Psychological Research Bureau” in September 1940. There was no such organization. The Special Operations Executive was apparently paying him to work on astrological propaganda in his hotel room, and de Wohl decided that it was an official office. He became an Army captain the same way. Howe says:

Leonard Ingrams and his friends at SOE put de Wohl through an elaborate fake commissioning ceremony as he was anxious to be an officer.

A second version of the same story involves the War office:

Brigadier N. thought up a face-saving operation. Hence the “ceremony” and the manufacture of some kind of official-looking paper stating that de Wohl had sworn allegiance to His Majesty and had verbal permission to wear the uniform in London.

The early issues of Der Zenit were aimed at convincing U-boat crews that they should not sail against England. In one issue the author explained the loss of German submarine U-335 due to captain sailing on an unlucky date. Of course, according to the magazine, hardly any dates were good. It was best to just stay in port.

The British also sent Wohl to the United States where he lectured and made astrological predictions of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

We know from British wartime records that 500 copies of the Zenit IV booklet were printed January 1943 coded H315. Zenit V was coded H330 and also printed in January 1943. Rod Oakland’s Catalogue of British “Black” Propaganda to Germany 1941-1945 states that the astrological magazine Der Zenit was printed from June 1942 to about March 1943.

Howe adds:

There were two octavo issues, dated January and march 1943, and a miniature “Armed Forces Air Mail” edition, printed on very thin paper, dated April 1943. The miniature one is by far the most interesting of the three, probably because the de Wohl-Delmer partnership was now getting into stride.

The British also put the black radio station Astrologie und Okkultimus on the air to Germany. This station had an actress named Margit Maas pretending to be a medium who could speak to German war dead. She gave anti-war and defeatist messages from the dead to their bereaved families.

Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels used an astrologer named Karl Ernst Krafft. He was assigned the duty of casting horoscopes of allied leaders and generals that could be slightly changed by the Germans to predict their defeat and downfall. Although raised in Switzerland, Kraft seemed to have completely followed the Nazi propaganda line. He wrote a letter to a friend in Switzerland in 1939 in which he complained about international freemasonry and Jewry, and warned that Switzerland might be invaded if they did not become friendlier to Germany. He advised his friend to read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious Russian anti-Semitic forgery. Kraft started work for the Nazis in October 1939 writing astrological predictions about the Polish campaign and what might be expected to happen as a result, the possibility of a war in the west and various other questions. He predicted an attack on Hitler’s life in the period 7-10 November and this brought him to some prominence within the Nazi Party.

The Rand Report says in part (edited for brevity):

Summaries of German radio broadcasts and the Nazi Security Service report on German morale refer to the prevalence of several types of superstitious beliefs and practices in wartime Germany. Anxiety about the future, coupled with ignorance about how the war was going, let to the patronage of soothsayers of all sorts who claimed to be able to guess the future, astrologers, fortune tellers, crystal gazers, Ouija board manipulators, tea leaf readers, numerologists, and the like. In 1943, an increase in non-institutionalized forms of religion was reported.

It is widely known that Hitler was a very superstitious man. In his twenties, he is said to have frequented spiritualistic circles and taken part in seances. Goebbels was superstitious too. Rudolf Hess was interested in the occult and had great confidence in horoscopes. In fact, after Hess flew to England hoping to make peace with the British, many fortune tellers and astrologers in Germany were arrested.

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Perhaps even more exotic for psychological operations are the various prophecies of Nostradamus. The French physician and astrologer Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566) published a collection of prophecies which are open to various interpretations. Since his writing consisted of coded rhymed quatrains (4-line poems), no one can state exactly what they mean. As a result, both the Allies and the Axis prepared interpretations of the prophecies where it was predicted that they would win the war. During the “Phony War” period in 1939 the Germans dropped fake prophesies of Nostradamus over French troops.

Walter Schellenberg, Hitler’s Chief of counter-intelligence said in his memoirs that about May 1940 he was instructed to prepare propaganda leaflets and radio broadcasts against France. He then prepared and dropped leaflets with threatening quatrains from the prophecies of Nostradamus over France.

The minutes of a Josef Goebbels’ conference show that the by March 1940 the Germans had printed 83,000 booklets with the fake Nostradamus prophecies, 20,000 in French, 5,000 in Dutch, 10,000 in Italian, 10,000 in Serbian, 25,000 in Croatian, 5,000 in Rumanian, 5,000 in Swedish and 3,000 in English for the United States.

Hull adds:

The propaganda sting is to be found in the commentaries to the German translations of fifty bogus Nostradamus quatrains that were composed in appropriately archaic French.

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A fake de Wohl Quatrain

The fake quatrain above claims that Hitler, who has won more victories in his war than he was entitled to, would be killed by six men who would murder him in the night. The German leader dies, naked and without his armor.

Goebbels mentions the propaganda campaign several times in his diary entries of March, April and May 1942:

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

In the United States astrologists are at work to prophecy an early end to the Fuehrer. We know that type of work as we have often done it ourselves. We shall take up our astrological propaganda again as soon as possible. I expect quite a little of it, especially in the United States and England.

Berndt has drawn up a plan demonstrating how we could enlist the aid of the occult in our propaganda. We are really getting somewhere. The Americans and English fall easily for that type of thing. We are therefore pressing into our service all the experts we can find on the occult prophecies; etc. Nostradamus must once again submit to being quoted.

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Nostradamus Predicts

The Germans prepared an 11 x 12 centimeter all-text aerial propaganda leaflet entitled “Nostradamus Predicts.” We have no information on dissemination. The text is:


Nostradamus, the greatest of all the prophets
in his tenth Centuria with gravity predicts:

The great Empire will be England
The ruler of the seas of more than three hundred years.
Great forces by sea and land will pass
The Portuguese will not be satisfied.

But the king of islands shall be expelled,
And one put in his place who has no sign of kingship.

A coward without faith, without laws will bleed the earth.
His time approaches, I sigh.

Twenty months he will hold rule
The old man disappointed in his main hope,
The cruel tyrant will then perish one evening.

I therefore predict for this despicable land,
Between 1940 and 1950, the end of the pirates of England.

Only the 1st quatrain is from Nostradamus. The rest is German propaganda telling of the coming of Hitler and the defeat of England. The original first quatrain can be translated to say that England will be destroyed by large forces coming to overwhelm her by sea and land. The three hundred years dominion of the sea can be used to date the end of the empire. The Spanish Armada of Philip II was destroyed in 1588 and England could be said to have ruled the seas for about 350 years, or as the quatrain says, “The ruler of the seas of more than three hundred years.” It also implies that when England falls, Portugal will also fall to Spain (another fascist nation).

Some of the background of this operation is mentioned in Stanley Newcourt-Nowodworski’s book Black Propaganda, Sutton Publishing, UK, 2005. The author mentions Josef Goebbels’ Ministry for National Enlightenment and Propaganda, abbreviated to Promi. He says:

Promi concocted chain letters, offering celestial proof that Germany would win the war. They resurrected the prophecies of the sixteenth-century astrologer Nostradamus (incidentally, a Jew) presenting them in a way that implied Germany would be victorious. It is interesting to note that at the same time identical prophecies became very popular in occupied Poland, but in the Polish version they left no doubt it was Hitler who should be beaten and then, I quote from memory, “Four victorious kings will water their mounts in the Vistula.” British black propaganda also dabbled in astrology.

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The Parlor Prophet 

The Germans also produced a 21-page propaganda booklet for occupied Belgium with their own interpretations of the prophecies of Nostradamus. The booklet was Published by Imprimeries Steenlandt Brussels in 1941. Not much is known about Steenlandt, but they seem to have been in business only during WWII printing Nazi propaganda books and booklets. It is possible that they were a German-front printing house that closed up shop immediately after the German defeat.

The booklet introduced Nostradamus and pointed out that he had predicted many important events from both the past and the future. It was comprised of five chapters, each one quoting Nostradamus to prove his ability to forecast the future. Cleverly, the first three chapters were interpretations of events that had already taken place, allowing the author to build up trust in the prophetic power of Nostradamus. The fourth chapter was entirely propaganda, stating that the great prophet Nostradamus clearly saw the future destruction of the British Empire.

Chapter one Discusses the victories and ultimate defeat of Emperor Napoleon. 

Chapter two Discusses French policy and the League of Nations in Geneva.

Chapter three discusses the rise of Chancellor Adolf Hitler and the Triumph of the National Socialist concept in Germany and fascism in Italy.

Chapter four predicts the destruction and annihilation of the British Empire.

Chapter five predicts the advent of “Greater Germany” and the collaboration between German and the countries occupied by the Germans.

The Germans prepared a similar 16-page booklet entitled The Seer of Salon. Howe says:

A German friend of his was surprised to find that a copy had been slipped into his overcoat pocket when he collected his garment from the cloakroom of a cinema in Tehran, Iran, sometime in 1940-1941. Internal evidence indicates that the background material for this pamphlet was supplied by Kraft.

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Nostradamus' Phrophecies

The British prepared a 124-page book with various anti-German interpretations of the prophecies. These books were circulated in Europe in 1943. There is at least one reference that implies they were also disseminated in the Middle East. One of the more interesting quatrains implied that the individual named “Hister” was in fact “Hitler,” and prophesized a bleak ending for the Fuehrer.

Beasts ferocious from hunger will swim across rivers:
The greater part of the region will be against the Hister
The great one will cause it to be dragged in an iron cage,
When the German child will observe nothing.

Howe says about the book:

We decided to give it a miniature deluxe format. The booklet was printed on the thinnest available Bible paper and its 124 pages weighed less than an ounce.

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Prophet Sven Green

The Germans were not above using every collaborating prophet they could find in their propaganda. During WWII they fired Propaganda leaflets to Southeast England inside the V-1 missile. One of the leaflets was called The Other Side and is a 4-page pamphlet; six different numbered issues exist. I depict the article from issue number two above. In it, Swedish prophet Sven Green predicts that the Allies will meet terrible defeats at the hands of the German secret weapons. Russia will fall, Germany will rule Europe and it will be a time of great prosperity for all.

The Rumor Campaign

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Besides leaflets and booklets, in an attempt to raise the morale of occupied Europe and lower the morale of the German military, civilians and their allies, the secret British Underground Propaganda Committee produced well over eight thousand rumors, (they called them “Sibs” from the Latin sibalare – to hiss). Researcher Lee Richards mentions the whisper campaign and many of these rumors in his book Whispers of War,, 2010. In regard to British propaganda rumors about religion and the occult he lists dozens of moral-destroying rumors. I have selected a few of the more interesting ones:

15 August 1941 – People in Cologne attribute the town’s misfortunes to the fact that the Stefan Lochner Madonna has been appropriated by Goering.

7 March 1944 – A woman in Stuttgart removed all the pictures of Hitler in her house and burned them. She replaced them with a picture of Jesus Christ. That night the bombers came and destroyed every house on the block, except the house of this woman, which was left miraculously standing.

1 September 1944 – Arrests of Catholic priests have followed the pronouncement that the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of oaths to the Fuehrer because Hitler is considered an anti-Christ.

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An Old Prophecy for our Time

It was not just the British and the Germans producing prophetic leaflets. The Americans jumped into the “psychic” battle too. The Above leaflet is a black American Office of Strategic Services leaflet prepared in Berne, Switzerland for use against the Germans. Note that it bears a “171,” hand-stamp at the top. This is the way that propaganda documents were filed by the OSS in Berne. A German who looked at the leaflet stated:

Wow, talk about Armageddon!  I just read it through once for the first time. This is an amazing leaflet.  If it was designed to scare the "Scheisse" out of the Germans and I am sure it did so.

The text reads in part:

An Ancient Prophecy for our Time!

An almost complete manuscript from the 13th century was discovered in the ruins of the great medieval monastery Paulinzella (Thuringia) during excavations shortly before the war. It originates from the learned monk Alfred of Wirdingen. An excerpt reads:

“…times will come when the nights will be light like the days and the days dark like the nights. There will be arms of steel and legs of iron; they will move faster that the fastest greyhound…And Germany will believe it is to become the mightiest empire on earth. But it will exist no longer than a thousand years can be divided by hundred years because it will make war to all peoples of the world…Giant birds will come from the air, atrocious winged dragons, they will spit flint stones over the men and their cities. They will emerge in such swarms that the sun will darken and the men will die…all land between the Rhine, the Vistula and the Danube will become a devastated area, a landscape like on the moon, in which all creeks will overflow from blood and tears…The men will get desperate and want to escape. They cannot, because they will be held tight by the glowing iron claws of a man who is united with the devil…but finally, when the bloody creeks swell up so high that all animals and men are in danger of drowning --- then the people will stand up and will kill the Devil’s mate and his companions…and the bloody creeks will sink down at once, the famine will end, and the birds of death will disappear from the air…The men will be crazy from joy: they will dance on the open roads and will fling their arms around the necks of each other like friends and brothers …”

Many other things are included in this manuscript, which seem to almost literally match our days. That is why the government did everything to prevent this manuscript from getting known by the people. It was buried in a secret state archive. When the archive was destroyed during an air raid a while back, the manuscript fell into the hands of a soldier from the Eastern Front that was on leave. This is how it became known among the people. It is already well known along the Rhine and in southern Germany, because everyone who reads it needs to copy it in his own interest as many times as he can and forward it to his acquaintances and friends, for at the end of this strange prophecy it reads:

“Whoever learns of my manuscript is obliged to copy it at least three times and forward it to others. Those who do so will be saved. Those who do not, and all who denounce it will be eaten up by the fire birds…” It is clear how often the last prophecy has become true. A large number of men and women in Cologne, Aachen, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, and recently Bremen and Stettin, who had received and copied this prophesy, were mysteriously saved from their completely destroyed homes after air raids, while others who did not do so were killed by stray bombs or direct hits.

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Map dowsing

The Germans were involved in at least one other very interesting form of occult warfare. The German Navy was losing submarines at an alarming rate. They did not know that Great Britain had broken their code and knew (in general terms) the position of their submarines all through the war. It thus became clear to the Germans that the British were using some other technique. Could it be “dowsing,” that technique used by some to find underground water? Could the insidious British be using occultists to locate the submarines by means of a pendulum held over a map? As strange as it sounds, the Germans decided to investigate. The German Navy formed a “Pendulum Institute” that was to establish the nature of the required pendulum techniques. Howe says:

Daily for hours on end the pendulums swung over the maps of the Atlantic Ocean and other seas, but apparently to no good purpose.

Hull says that the occultists were called in again after the arrest of Hitler’s old friend, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. They were unable to locate Il Duce but one of the occultists pointed out a small island that turned out to be a location that Mussolini was temporarily held on the way to his mountain-top prison. That was probably enough to keep the Germans enthused.

We read more about that affair in Wilhelm Hottl’s book, Hitler’s Paper Weapon. He says in part:

On August 18 Himmler paid his ‘dear guests’ [Spiritualists and Mystics] another visit at Wannsse; and one of them, a Berlin Pendulum-swinger, invited him, with an air of deepest mystery, to accompany him to his room…The worthy man began to pendulate over the map of Italy. The pendulum made a significant pause above the Bucinari islands between Corsica and Sardinia, Mussolini must be on one of them…

Strange Creatures for the Japanese

During World War two the American Office of War Information (OWI) propagandists on Saipan, in conjunction with the U.S. Navy targeted the Japanese troops and homeland. Several of the propaganda leaflets dropped on the enemy featured creatures from Japanese mythology in an attempt to use superstition to lower their morale.

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Leaflet 2089

In the case of OWI leaflet 2089 the American propagandists produced a leaflet that featured an ancient old vampire legend as the theme. It depicts a vampire cat drinking the blood of a Japanese maiden, drawn in the style of an old Japanese line woodcut. The text is:

A long time ago there was a beautiful girl named Otoyo who served the Lord Hizen. Of all the ladies of the palace, she was his favorite. One day, the lord and Otoyo went into the gardens and enjoyed the flowers until sunset. They were not aware of a huge cat following them. Otoyo returned to her room and went to sleep. At midnight, she was aroused by the huge cat. Terrified, she screamed. The cat jumped on her, bit her soft neck and killed her. The cat buried the dead body of Otoyo and took her form to bewitch the lord. The lord weakened daily; his complexion became pale; and all the medicine he took did not help.

Finally, Ito Soda, a loyal and brave retainer was able to reveal the true form of the cat. The cat ran away into the mountains. The people hunted it down and killed the cat.

What is the meaning of this story? The cat compares with the Gumbatsu, who are sucking the life-blood of the nation. The Gumbatsu is needlessly sacrificing the lives of thousands of young men who are isolated far from home. Also, are they not neglecting to provide the clothing, food, and medicine needed by the people? Are they not causing the ruin of the nation? Beautiful Otoyo who was killed by the cat represents the constitutional system destroyed by the Gumbatsu. Disobeying the orders of Emperor Meiji, the military interfered with politics. Rather than protecting the Empire, they have led the Empire to the brink of disaster. Finally, the cat was forced to reveal her true form by loyal retainers. It was chased into the mountains and killed. Does this mean that loyal Japanese will destroy the Gumbatsu who have fooled the people and the Emperor and thus bring back peace and prosperity to the nation?

The Gumbatsu is the military-industrial complex, made up of high-ranking officers, some politicians, and the wealthy factory owners.

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Leaflet 2092

Another mythological creature is depicted on leaflet 2092. This leaflet depicts an angry Buddhist devil with the text:

Your Military Leaders are Responsible for the provoking of This War.

Seek the peace

The back of the leaflet is a list of alleged crimes committed by Japanese military leaders:

The crimes committed by your military leaders are:

1. They have dragged the nation into a war they cannot win.

2. They have conducted this war poorly, sacrificing millions of Japanese lives.

3. They have contrived the sinking of practically every ship built with the sweat and blood of the Japanese people.

4. They are responsible for the starving of hundreds of thousands of garrison unit personnel left behind on the islands of the Pacific.

5. They have provoked war and ruined the life of the people.


Men of Japan!

1. Your military leaders are turning your native land into ruins.
2. Is the continued sacrifice of countless lives all right with you?
3. Clean up your government!
4. Rebuild your nation!
5. Save what is left of Japan!
6. Seek peace!

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Leaflet 518

The United States used good Japanese Gods in its propaganda just as it did evil demons. Leaflet 518 depicts the Goddess of Mercy. The United States points out its past generosity to the Japanese and reminds them how it helped the people in time of need. The image depicts the bodhisattva of Mercy, (Kannon Bodhisattva); a Buddhist deity who showers compassion upon all sentient beings. The image pays attention to details such as the headdress, hand gesture, jewelry, drapery, and lotus pedestal. This is a Navy O.W.I. leaflet designed in Honolulu and printed on Saipan. Some of the text on the back is:

America treats those who come over to us well.

America’s humane feelings are well known in Japan

At the time of the Great Earthquake in 1923 America supplied millions of dollars and large quantities of medical supplies and food to Japan. It is well known that America has gladly given medical services and food to all nations in time of need.

The American spirit is one of humaneness.

Those who are with us are given the best of food, clothing and shelter.

This leaflet also appears with the code 518A in a smaller 5 x 8-inch version on a cream-colored paper.

We know that this is an Office of War Information leaflet designed in Honolulu by American artist Frances Blakemore. This information is found in An American Artist in Tokyo, Michiyo Morioka, the Blakemore Foundation, Seattle, WA. Morioka describes the artistic aspects of the leaflet and says:

To enhance the message, Frances chose the Bodhisattva of Mercy, a Buddhist deity who showers compassion upon all sentient beings. Beautifully rendered, with careful attention to iconographicaldetails such as the headdress, hand gesture, jewelry, drapery, and lotus pedestal, the deity stands as a supreme symbol of the theme conveyed in the text.

The U.S. Army also printed a leaflet for Japanese troops in the Philippines in 1945 coded 125-J-1 showing the Goddess of Mercy with the title:

Peace with Honor

The OSS in the China-Burma-India Theater of War also tried to use superstition against the Japanese. We find the following in Ann Todd’s book: OSS Operation Black Mail – One woman’s covert War against the Imperial Japanese Army, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2017:

The Japanese took prognostication seriously, and OSS intelligence knew the value of a well-placed astrological prediction or explanation of events. They created a Hindu sage, the illustrious Pundit Inbramunyum Rao of Yokohama, who based his observations on the Panchagrahakuta (combination of five planets). The planets had aligned July 20 and were due to do the same August 18. Swami Rao explained the “conjunction of five planets was a rare and unusual event,” and doubly ominous was the occurrence of two such conjunctions in a single year. Appalling disaster was predicted for August 18, when Mars, the planet of aggression, and Rahu, the planet of violence, were in the “evil aspect known as papakarhariyoga which presages military and diplomatic catastrophes for the Axis powers.” The malevolent rays were to fall especially hard on military leaders, particularly naval commanders, Leo being in the house of the sun, the ruler of Japan.

Mr. Inbramunyum Rao was such a hit around the office that they decided to conjure up a genuinely Japanese Nostradamus: Tsunekichi Watanabe. He said: “Because the enemy has superior material and wealth, I predict that they will retake Guam by next October, and will send our fleet to home waters by a route that will never be reported to the Japanese press. Formosa will be bombed next fall from land and sea and, according to my calculations; the Americans will be able to build a fleet twenty times as large as the Imperial navy by next November. They will attack Japan with fleets of planes day and night by the end of this year.”

The classified “secret” U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Branch Special Military Plan for Psychological Warfare in Japan had some very strange theories about what motivated the Japanese and their psyche. The document says about superstition:

Play upon superstitions.

Superstition is an integral part of the fabric of every minute of existence of the Japanese. Superstitions are too many to enumerate here, but principal ones are:

1. Complete integration of date and time factor with good or evil fortune universally believed in by the Japanese. 1945, the Year of the Cock, is a year of bad omen and should be constantly harped on as the year of doom for Japan. It may be expected that they will make strenuous efforts to bring the war to some sort of conclusion before January 1945 because of this belief.

2. Hakku Ichiu, (the Eight Corners of the World under One Roof). The belief that the world is to be ruled by the Emperor under one beneficent government should be reversed to show that Japan is now being attacked from all eight corners of the world. This will have a terrific morale effect.

3. Women in traditional men‘s jobs, showing feminization of the men and reversal of women’s position. Highly insulting to the oriental mind.

Action recommended:

Carrying out foregoing with exact sense of timing, opportunism and correlation with military operations, including deception as and when necessary.

[Authors Note] Office of War Information leaflet 2008 follows exactly the concept espoused in paragraph 2. This leaflet is designed to convince the Japanese that they cannot win the war and to lower morale and encourage surrender. It reverses the Japanese phrase hakko ichiu (“A world ruled by Japan”) and shows instead that Japan is being attacked from the eight corners of the world. Some of the text is:

The war in Europe is virtually won. The Allied forces from eight corner of the world will be directed toward Japan’s military clique. From Alaska; from America, From the Central Pacific; from the South Pacific; from Australia; from India; from Europe and from the North Atlantic.

The American Office of Strategic Services was also busy using superstition against the Japanese. A black radio station called Hermit was beamed at Nanking and used astrology, phrenology, fortune-telling and other such devices to analyze the puppet rulers installed by the Japanese and to predict the downfall of the Co-Prosperity Sphere.

As long as we are talking about the Japanese and the pacific I feel I must add this story. Americans commanders were sometimes known to be superstitious. For instance, Admiral Halsey had a number of superstitions and was known to carry many talismans and good luck charms . He worried about the number thirteen and was apparently aghast at discovering on one occasion that he was to head Task Force 13 and was leaving port of Friday the 13th. According to his memoirs; Admiral Halsey’s Stories, he sent several officers to Pacific Headquarters to complain that he was being sent on a mission doomed to failure. Knowing the general superstition of sailors and wanting to keep their task force commander happy, headquarters changed the designation to Task Force 16 and the date of sortie to the fourteenth. I don’t know if this story is true, but I must admit that I love it.

The text on the back explained President Truman's demand for unconditional surrender. The leaflet explained that the United States did not want to hurt the Japanese people, but just those leaders who led them to war and were guilty of committing war crimes.

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The Kiri Leaf Leaflets

The United States prepared and dropped a very realistic looking "kiri" tree leaflet on the Japanese in 1943 and 1944. The early fall of the kiri tree leaves is considered a bad omen in Japan. The Americans hoped that by showering the enemy with such leaves they would lower their morale and give them the feeling that defeat was eminent.

The leaflets were dropped on the Japanese in several locations. A New Delhi newspaper commented:

Planes shower 'Leaf of Death' on Jap Troops. The 'leaf of death' is falling in North Burma, dropped by Allied planes. This is a reproduction of the kiri leaf, which appears in a famous Japanese drama as a symbol of death (Note: "The Kiri Leaves Fall" is the name of a famous Japanese play by Tsubouchi Shoyo. At the end of the play, kiri leaves fall, symbolizing the end of hopes of the main characters that had tried to seize power). With the 'leaf of death', the Allied planes are dropping imitations of Japanese newspapers reporting the fall of Japanese strongholds and the expulsion of the Japs from 1,000 square miles of Burmese territory. These 'leaves' are falling as the British open their attack on the Japs on the Imphal-Tiddim road, along which the main enemy effort against India is directed.

The kiri leaflet was also dropped on Japanese troops in the Aleutian Islands. In June 1942, Japanese forces occupied the islands of Attu, Agattu, and Kiska. Attu was recaptured by the U.S. Army Seventh Infantry Division in May 1943. The battle to reclaim Attu lasted three weeks. 60,000 of the kiri leaflets were dropped over Attu and Kiska before troops landed on Attu in May 1943.

The color of the leaflet is an autumn brown and the text is in a black or a white tablet surrounded by a green border in the center of the leaf. Text on the front of the leaflet is:

The kiri leaf falls. Its fall is the ill omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf come sadness and bad luck.

Text on the back of the leaflet is:

Before fall comes again the raining bombs of America, just like the kiri leave fluttering to the ground, will bring sad fate and misfortune.

The data sheet for the leaflet’s distribution in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations verifies all of what we have said and even goes into greater detail in some areas:

U. S. Office of War Information
Psychological Warfare Team
Attached to
U. S. Army Forces C.B.I.
APO 689

March 9 1944

Leaflet: Kiri Leaf
Language: Japanese
(Prepared in New York. Distributed by PWT, APO 689)

English Translation

Among the Japanese it is regarded as misfortune when the leaves of the kiri (the Paulownia Imperialis) tree fell prematurely.

This leaflet makes use of that superstition.

Form and color of the leaf have been checked by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

"The Kiri Leaf Falls" Is a famous play in Japan. At the end of the play a leaf does fall, a symbol of the end of the hopes of the characters who tried to seize power for themselves.

This leaflet plays on the superstitiousness of the Japanese.


In Large Letters:


Its fall is the ill omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf comes sadness and bad luck.

On reverse side:

Before spring comes again the raining bombs of America**, just like kiri leaves fluttering to the ground* will bring bad fate and misfortune.


** Furu Americano bakudan…a pun on "falling rain" (furu ame) and America, and is a line quoted from a well known Japanese poem.

* Flutter to the ground…a direct quote from the play.

Kiri hitoha, The Kiri Leaf Falls, is the title of a play by Tsubouchi foremost Japanese playwright of the Meiji era. It depicts the downfall of the house of Toyotomi immediately before the establishment of the Tokugawa regime of 1603.

The line under the big letters are connected with those characters and can be read as separate sentences or as a whole.

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Fall of Berlin, US Leaflet 28-J-1

The Japanese superstitious belief in the bad omen of the kiri leaf was used again in leaflet 28-J-1. The front of the leaflet depicts a large leaf marked "Berlin" falling from a Kiri tree. The leaf on the ground is marked "Rome" and a remaining leaf on the tree is marked "Tokyo".  The message of this leaflet was that Berlin has fallen and the German Army was all but defeated with Japan being next. Translation of the Japanese text on the back is:

The great German army which once overran the entire continent of Europe, has been pushed back by Allied forces until their capital city, Berlin, has now fallen. The European war is in its last days.

What is going to happen to Japan now left behind in isolation?

Even now, after the fall of Berlin, your military leaders continue to force the people to greater sacrifices and privations by saying that they must fight to the very last, even at the expense of scorching their beloved homeland.

Do you think your military leaders are following the wisest road?

A 22 March 1944 Office of Strategic Services letter entitled “Evil Omens,” suggests another plan to demoralize the Japanese public. It recommends that the OSS start a rumor campaign that the Sacred Horse of Japan had fallen sick. In addition, other rumors might say that “strange phenomenons had taken place in regards to the color of the rice, which are evil auguries and indicate that the Gods are angry.”

The letter points out that in the past the Japanese government had used such superstitions to encourage their people to fight on. Earlier pro-Japanese patriotic symbols were such things as strange fungi in the shape of a toad, snake or slug. Similar fungi had been seen during the Russo-Japanese war and after the Japanese victory were considered a happy and good omen.

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The Fox as an Evil Spirit

There were many other American psychological campaigns that were intended to use their own superstitions against the Japanese. One is mentioned by Robert J. Kodosky in Psychological Operations American Style – The Joint United States Public Affairs Office, Vietnam and Beyond, Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2007. Kodosky says that the OSS believed that Shintoists in Japan saw the fox, when illuminated, as a harbinger of bad times. The plan was to first drop leaflets telling of the impending doom to follow. Agents would be issued reed whistles that sounded like foxes. Chemicals would be prepared that had a “fox odor.” Other agents would pretend to be possessed by the fox spirit. Finally, the actual glowing foxes would be loosed over Japan.   

We see mention of this operation in a 9 March 1943 letter entitled “Fox Pamphlets,” where the OSS has obtained recordings to find out what sounds a fox makes. A 19 March letter says:

Legend and belief disclose several manifestations in which the fox appears as an evil spirit…At the Shrine of the Fox soothsayers distribute prophecies allegedly emanating from the Fox spirit. We have prepared samples of such prophecies foreboding ill….

By 30 April the fox odors had been simulated by a pair of New York chemists. The fox sounds were being reproduced by a rubber whistle. A model of a fox with a glowing skull for a head that had a mouth that could open and close had been made and was ready for testing. The propaganda pamphlet text was written and the OSS was attempting to obtain the Japanese paper. By 12 May the OSS was looking into images of a fox that could be attached to a balloon and floated over Japan at night.

The Smithsonian Institute added in October 1943 that one of the most important Shinto Gods was Inari, God of rice, good crops, fertility and prosperity. His messengers were foxes:

By popular tradition, foxes have the power of bewitching the unwary by transforming themselves into beautiful women.

A January 1944 letter suggests that the American start a rumor that there was a tremendous rise in the number of people bewitched and changed into foxes. That would suggest evil things to come and the anger of the Gods. A February 1944 letter states that all of the “Fortune Teller” leaflets are ready for dissemination and the writer says that they would be excellent with or without the fox and Inari comments.

The OSS first experimented with fox-shaped balloons covered with luminous paint and later painted live foxes with a radiant chemical so they would glow in the dark. Thirty Glowing foxes were let loose in New York City’s Central Park as an experiment. Sightseers were terrified. The Sunday Tribune of 21 March 1948 said, “Horrified citizens, shocked by the sudden sight of the leaping ghostlike animals, fled from the dark recesses of the park with the ‘screaming jeemies’.” The war came to an end before “Operation Fantasia” could be put into operation. We don’t know if the foxes would have terrified the Japanese, but apparently they scared the hell out of New Yorkers.


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What does a Ghost look like?

Sometimes when we try to use fear and superstition against an enemy it is good to know if he will even recognize the image that we have selected. For instance, the Chinese apparently do not see “ghosts” the same way that Americans do. We found this out when we evaluated Korean War leaflet 7115, printed by the 1st Radio Broadcast and Leaflet Group in December 1951. This leaflet depicted a Chinese family of eight individuals sitting around a food-laden table that was not unlike an American Thanksgiving dinner. The bones show through one of the diners, and an American viewer would immediately know that there was a ghost at the dinner table. The text is on the front is:

Your place will be empty

The text on the back is:

Because Communists officials continue to stall at the Armistice talks – YOURS WILL BE THE EMPTY PLACE AT YOUR FAMILY’S NEW YEAR REUNION. Because Communist leaders compel you to continue this hopeless war – IN THE HEARTS OF YOUR FAMILY THERE IS GREAT EMPTINESS.

When Communist Chinese prisoners of war were interviewed they said that the leaflet was confusing. Who was the person with the bones showing through? This was not a traditional way to show a ghost in China.

The American propagandists knew exactly what they wanted to show and say in this leaflet, but the illustration completely confused and baffled the target audience.

We should also mention that the Communist Chinese were working very hard to end superstition among their population. For instance, in Gino Nebiolo’s book The People’s Comic Book, Anchor Press Edition, 1973 we find:

In Shanghai…There are puppet shows, feature and documentary films, and an exhibition hall (with free admission to children) dedicated to the combat against superstition. Here an explanation is given to the origin of dreams, to prove that they have no influence over reality; priests, witches, astrologers, diviners and taboos are mocked; the cosmos is described and a display of the human embryo at various stages, accompanied by recordings, reveals the mysteries of birth, conception and pregnancy.

So, even as the West attempts to use superstition and spirits against the Chinese, their government works to make the propaganda symbols and messages meaningless.


Magic spells and amulets have often been used in the wars of Africa. For centuries, a belief in magic has pervaded the continent of Africa, despite the tragic consequences of magical thinking. Warfare has been waged by soldiers trusting the supernatural protection bestowed on them by sorcerers and self-appointed prophets. In Zaire, dead corpses were identified as warriors who had their ears to the ground listening to the talk of the enemy. These dead tribesmen would return to their comrades with secrets from their enemy. They were protected by “Allah Water.” This water, sometimes called “Yakan Water,” was laced with a hallucinogen from the daffodil species which gave many African warriors feelings of elation, excitement, invincibility, and false courage.

In Uganda, an army of six thousand, called the Holy Spirit Movement smeared themselves with an ointment to grant them protection from bullets. The poorly armed warriors attacked well-armed militia and were killed by the thousands. The holy warriors believed that their rocks and sticks, when thrown at the enemy, would explode like grenades.

During the insurgency in Rhodesia, both sides used magic to further their causes. The Rhodesian Selous Scouts placed false spoor of hyena and lion, while the sounds of a laughing hyena and roaring lion were broadcast by loudspeaker. Both animals are highly esteemed in spiritual matters and purported to have magical charms. Leaflets were subsequently distributed stating that the spirits were offended at the insurgent presence. At the same time, African spirit mediums were moving across the north-eastern border with the insurgents. The government retaliated with leaflets purporting to come from local spirit mediums advising the local population against aid to insurgents. The text of one such leaflet is:

Mhondoro, your tribal spirit, has sent a message to say that your ancestral spirits are very dissatisfied with you. Besides, Chiwawa (an important spirit) has abandoned the man whom he used as his medium because this man has helped the terrorists.

As a result of this, there has been no rain, your crops have died and there could be great famine. It is only the Government which can help you, but you have to realize your obligation to help the Government also.

The Rhodesian 1st Psychological Operations Unit used a girl claiming to be possessed by the “head” of Nehanda (the high God of the Shona tribe) together with a medium claiming to be possessed by the spirit of Chaminuka (known as “the Prophet of Zimbabwe).

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Kikuyu Witch Doctor, Kenya, East Africa

The Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya were forced to take a “blood oath.” To the Kikuyu, the oath was magical and had the power to kill. When two Kikuyus had a dispute they were brought before a witch doctor who had them both take an oath that they were telling the truth. It was understood that if you lied while repeating the oath you would die.

The colonial secretary, Oliver Lyttelton, wrote in part:

The Mau Mau oath is the most bestial, filthy and nauseating incantation which perverted minds can ever have brewed. I have never felt the forces of evil to be so near and as strong as in Mau Mau. As I wrote memoranda or instruction, I would suddenly see a shadow fall across the page – the horned shadow of the Devil himself.

Other writers have stated that there were at least seven stages of oath-taking, which might take several days or weeks to complete and which could include the drinking of blood, eating portions of human flesh, cohabiting with animals, and ingesting bits of brains from disinterred corpses. After the seventh stage of the oath-taking had been reached, the members had to repeat the cycle and reinforce their vows by beginning again.

There may be some truth to the use of sex and perversion in the oath. Some experts believe it was a form of psychological warfare used by the leaders to assure that the soldiers could not fall under the control of their village elders and chiefs. Sexual perversion is taboo in all contexts so far as the Kikuyu tribe is concerned. By forcing the members of the Mau Mau to perform such sexual activities, they were filled with guilt and self-loathing and ashamed to return to their village. It tied the fighters to the insurgency forever.

The British realized that once the Mau Mau oath was taken, the terrorist would not willingly leave the group. Therefore, they used their own witch doctors to invent a counter-oath that would free the individual from membership in the group. The British oath when properly administered would protect the terrorist from the death decreed by his breaking the Mau Mau oath.

Magic was used to turn German bullets into water during the 1905 Maji-Maji rebellion in Tanganyika. The natives turned to magic to drive out the German colonizers. A spirit medium named Kinjikitile Ngwale claimed to be possessed by a snake spirit called Hongo. Ngwale began calling himself Bokero and developed a belief that the people of German East Africa had been called upon to eliminate the Germans. He gave his followers war medicine that would turn German bullets into water. This medicine was actually water mixed with castor oil and millet seeds. As might be expected, it did not work as promised.

The United States also looked carefully at the use of magic in Africa. In 1964, the United States Army commissioned an unusual classified paper titled Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Other Psychological Phenomena, and Their Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo. Authored by James R. Price and Paul Jureidini, the report is a treatise on paranormal combat, discussing “counter-magic” tactics to suppress rebels who are backed by witch doctors, charms, and magic potions.

After Blaming the Belgians for leaving the Congo unprepared for independence, the authors state that western civilization is to blame for many of the current witchcraft problems. For instance, they point out that in the old days the witches could be tested by the best method of tribal witch control, “the poison ordeal.” In addition, because execution is often prohibited in the western-style governments, the convicted witches and sorcerers are simply jailed for a few years and then released. As a result, the common African feels more in jeopardy from witches than ever before. We should point out that sorcery and witchcraft are quite different. Anyone can be taught to be a sorcerer and use charms and spells. Witches are born with the power to harm. The sorcerer needs charms and medicines, the witches can kill with a thought.

The authors warn the American military that charms and curses differ from tribe to tribe so one man’s charm might be another man’s poison. As a result American magical operations would be tactical (limited) rather than strategic (nation-wide). The military must be able to recognize tribes by various markings and body scarification, but with 200 tribes in the Congo that could be difficult. It would also be difficult to tell what magic works since most of the tribes magical beliefs are secret. There is also a danger that changing the beliefs of some of the tribes might be helpful in the short-term, but cause long-term political problems. The authors warn that if a movement can be brought down by magic, then legitimate governments could be brought down the same way in the future. The authors conclude that what are needed are competent officers, disciplined elite troops, modern weapons and marksmanship. This will defeat any insurgency that relies on magical amulets. The authors do not fall into the trap of playing the magical game by the insurgent’s rules. They say:

Unit morale and the confidence engendered by good training, knowledge of weaponry, and above all, dynamic and competent leadership, can go far to counteract superstitious fears.

Decades after I first wrote this story, there were further examples of this belief among African soldiers. On 2 May 2021, Sam Mednick wrote an article titled “Fighters put Faith in Spiritual Rituals, in the Orlando Sentinel. Some of his comments were:

Antoine Ouedraogo did not run when Islamic extremist fighters killed his colleague…he simply recited a secret work and became invisible.

Fighters in Burkina Faso were reluctant to divulge too much about the process…saying these are kept secret even from family members…One way to become bulletproof is to mix 13 plants, making a paste and eating it out of a hole in the ground. The meal is prepared with water used to soak a metal arrowhead for 72 hours. The arrowhead is metal so the person will be protected from a metal bullet.

Soumaila, a 19-year-old fighter has survived 10 clashes with Jihadis, and he attributes that to a custom made $90 jacket that repels bullets. The cotton jacket is made by a local tailor who studied the Koran in Mecca. It was soaked in water prepared with special leaves and has Arabic phrases from the Koran written on animal hide sewn into the material.

The “Troubles” - Ireland

The British rule in Ireland began with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. Most of Ireland (the South) seceded from Britain following the Anglo-Irish War and became a fully independent republic following the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1949. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. Liberation movements like the Irish Republican Army have fought to unite Ireland for hundreds of years. For instance, The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week in April 1916. That resulted in victory for the British and the unconditional surrender of the Irish rebel forces. The IRA never gave up and today is considered a terrorist organization by the British. The British have used various forms of psychological warfare in their battle against the Irish. In one case it was a claim of devil worship among the Guerrillas.

In the 1970s, stories about black masses and Devil-worship by the Irish paramilitary forces were leaked to the press. British military intelligence agents in Northern Ireland used fears about demonic possessions, black masses, and witchcraft as part of a psychological war against emerging the IRA in the “Troubles.”

Captain Colin Wallace, a military intelligence officer and head of the British Army’s “black operations” in Northern Ireland, spoke to Prof Richard Jenkins, from Sheffield University. Wallace told Jenkins that they deliberately stoked up a satanic panic from 1972 to 1974, even placing black candles and upside-down crucifixes in derelict buildings in some of Belfast’s war zones. Then, army press officers leaked stories to newspapers about black masses and satanic rituals taking place from republican Ardoyne in north Belfast to the loyalist-dominated east of the city.

In Jenkins’s book, Black Magic and Bogeymen,  Wallace admitted that the PSYOP branch of military intelligence exploited public fear of satanism stoked by films such as The Exorcist and The Devil Rides Out. Wallace told Jenkins that by whipping up devil-worshipping paranoia, they created the idea that the emerging paramilitary movements and the murder campaigns they were engaged in had unleashed evil forces across Northern Irish society. Wallace added that his Information Policy Group hit upon the idea of summoning the devil to discredit paramilitary organizations:

It was quite clear that the church, both the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant church, even for the paramilitaries, held a fair degree of influence and we were looking for something that would be regarded with abhorrence by the two communities, and at the same time would be something that paramilitaries couldn’t justify, and would be in many ways seen as a reason why some of the outrages were taking place.

India – Pakistan

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In the United States there was the operation depicted in the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats. Apparently the same battle erupted between India and Pakistan as mentioned by M. Aamer Sarfraz in an article titled “Psychological Operations” in the Daily Times, 8 April 2019:

PSYOP can take weird forms when they arrive in the subcontinent. India has been so jittery that they harass genuine tourists, captures stray pigeons, and even incarcerate very young children for being spies. They decided to take matters to a different level of absurdity by sending a few magicians into Pakistan to cast spells on leading government and military figures a few years ago. We would think that Pakistan authorities had laughed at this prank, and closed the file. However, we often underestimate how widespread ignorance and fool hardiness can be, and how they get frantically pursued in the name of national interest.

Our wise-guys apparently pondered over the matter endlessly, and then decided to counteract by producing our own set of Sufi warriors. The urgency of this undertaking was enhanced due to the perceived successful spells cast on some members of the ex-ruling family. What happened from there onwards reads like a badly written thriller or watching a horribly directed Bollywood film because the paranormal wars between both countries were then fought on different unseen fronts only to be evaluated by the commanders with suitable qualifications. The current word on this spooky-street is that Pakistan did not win the recent battle-in-the-sky because of superior skills and war-readiness, but due to the squadrons of Jinns fighting alongside them.


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A Pocket Guide to Vietnam

This small guide, Department of the Army Pamphlet 360-411, was issued to American troops assigned to Vietnam. It briefly tried to explain Vietnam, its policies and philosophies to new troops with no experience in that country. On the subject of superstition among the mountain tribes it says:

Despite many differences, some basic characteristics are shared by almost all the tribespeople.

First of all, superstitions and fear play a heavy role in their lives. Although Christian missionary efforts have made some changes, the great majority of tribespeople are animists or spirit believers. Followers of this ancient Southeast Asian religion believe that practically everything has its own spirit – a rock, for example, or a tree. Most of the spirits are unfriendly, and tribespeople take elaborate precautions to avoid antagonizing them.

Casting one’s shadow on a particular rock, for instance, may offend the spirit of the rock and cause it to take vengeance on the careless human. On the advice of a witch doctor, a tribesman will sacrifice a pig or even a water buffalo to appease an angry spirit. On a single day one Koho village near the town of Di Linh in Lam Dong Province sacrificed 42 water buffalo to make peace with the spirits.

There were a number of American PSYOP campaigns using the perceived superstitions of the Vietnamese people. Probably the most effective official campaign was the various forms of “Wandering Soul” leaflets and broadcasts that played on the need of the Vietnamese to be buried close to his ancestral home. Another unofficial campaign, the use of the infamous “death card,” was less effective, mainly because the symbol had no meaning to the average Vietnamese.

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Is this a grave?

The leaflet asks, “Is this a grave?” Text on the back is:

Unfortunately, it is not. But it is the final resting place, many, many kilometers from the graves of his ancestors. His body cannot be identified, his grave cannot be marked, and his soul will never find rest...

One of the more interesting superstitions of Vietnam is the belief in the wandering soul. It is the Vietnamese belief that the dead must be buried in their homeland, or their soul will wander aimlessly in pain and suffering. Vietnamese feel that if a person is improperly buried, then their soul wanders constantly. They can sometimes be contacted on the anniversary of their death and near where they died. Vietnamese honor these dead souls on a holiday when they return to the site where they passed away.

Ann Crawford says in Customs and Culture of Vietnam, Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, Vt., 1966:

Wandering Souls' Day is the second largest festival of the year. (Tet is the first.) Though it falls on the 15th day of the seventh month, it may be celebrated at any convenient time during the latter half of the month. It is not just a Buddhist holiday but also celebrated by all Vietnamese who believe in the existence of God, good and evil. They believe that sinful souls can be absolved of their punishment and delivered from hell through prayers said by the living on the first and 15th of every month. Wandering Soul's Day, however, is believed to be the best time for priests and relatives to secure general amnesty for all souls. On this day, the gates of hell are said to open at sunset and the souls fly out unclothed and hungry. Thus plenty of food is left at family altars.

During the American involvement in Vietnam, an attempt was made to use this belief against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Since it was clear that they would die far from home, their bodies probably never found or never properly buried, it was certain that they would become a wandering soul after death.

The operation was code-named "Wandering Soul." Engineers spent weeks recording eerie sounds. They were similar to the sounds employed during a scary radio show or movie. Very creepy and designed to send shivers down the back. These cries and wails were intended to represent souls of the enemy dead who had failed to find the peace of a proper burial. The wailing soul cannot be put to rest until this proper burial takes place. The purpose of these sounds was to panic and disrupt the enemy and cause him to flee his position. Helicopters were used to broadcast Vietnamese voices pretending to be from beyond the grave. They called on their descendants in the Vietcong to defect, to cease fighting. This campaign played the sounds and messages all night in order to spook the superstitious enemy. Despite eventually realizing that they were hearing a recording beamed from a helicopter, the enemy gunners could not help but fear that their souls would someday end up moaning and wailing in a similar fashion after death.

Both the 6th PSYOP Battalion of the United States Army and some units of the United States Navy broadcast the messages.

In general, the messages were as follows:

Girl's voice:

Daddy, daddy, come home with me, come home. Daddy! Daddy!

Man's voice:

Ha! (his daughter's name). Who is that? Who is calling me? Oh, my daughter? My wife? Daddy is back home with you, my daughter! I am back home with you, my wife. But my body is gone. I am dead, my family.

I…..Tragic, how tragic.

My friends, I come back to let you know that I am dead! I am dead! It's Hell, Hell! It is a senseless death! How senseless! Senseless! But when I realized the truth, it was too late. Too late. Friends, while you are still alive, there is still a chance you will be reunited with your love ones. Do you hear what I say? Go home! Go home, my friends! Hurry! Hurry! If not, you will end up like me. Go home my friends before it is too late. Go home! Go home my friends!

Duane Yeager mentioned the operation is an article entitled “Winning Vietnamese minds was what the U.S. Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group was all about,” in Vietnam Magazine, December 1990. He says:

As with the leaflet catalog, PSYOP units also produced and maintained a library of audiotape propaganda messages for support of tactical operations. As one Viet Cong commander complained, these audio messages were hard to ignore, for the sound even penetrated through the earth to VC hidden in underground tunnels. One of the most effective such tapes was ‘The Wandering Soul,’ an eerie tape, played mostly at night, that constantly reminded NVA soldiers of the hardships they were enduring, home, and the loved ones they had left behind.

This use of propaganda and the afterlife as a theme is known in many cultures. I have heard of several similar cases. One veteran of the wars in Angola told me:

When I was in the army in South West Africa and Angola in the late 1970's, the air force used to drop leaflets which went along the lines of “You will be killed and a hyena will eat your bones.” They had a picture of a bat on them as well. Culturally upsetting to the Ovambos [a number of kindred Bantu ethnic groups] who made up most of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) ranks to have their bones eaten by a hyena as they believe if their bones are buried by the family they will become ancestors (most African cultures practice some form of ancestor worship) so to have their bones eaten by a hyena meant they would go to their version of hell. In most African cultures a hyena is a "bad" animal. Traditionally, the Ovambo people lived a life that was highly influenced by a combination of magic and religion. They believed in good and evil spirits.

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Death Awaits…

One soldier said in regard to the above card, “These were put on every dead Viet Cong to send ‘Charlie’ a message that US soldiers had been there. The top line reads: “Death awaits Viet Cong cadres.” The second line reads: “Return [to the south Vietnamese side] rather than being killed.” These seem to be the most prevalent type of death cards, one might almost say “the standard” death card. I have seen about three variations with slightly different fronts but always the same message on the back.

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 came to the conclusion 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.

Captain Blaine Revis was assigned to Military Assistance and Advisory Group Vietnam (MAAGV) from April 1963 to May 1964, and later commanded the 29th PSYOP Detachment attached to the 1st Air Cavalry Division at Anh Khe. At that time he was asked by the division commanding general about the use of the Ace of Spades for PSYOP. The 101st Airborne Division was already using the cards that had been sent to Vietnam in bulk by the Bicycle Playing Card Company. Revis told me:

I told him that it was a bad idea and a case of transposed symbolism. We Americans look at the ace of spades as the death card, but to the Vietnamese it is more like a phallic symbol and if anything might suggest that we were involved in necrophilia.

In War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1981; Robert W. Chandler says:

But not all such approaches were effective. One major misassumption occurred about 1966 when U.S. soldiers scattered fear-appeal leaflets with the ace of spades as an omen of death. In some cases actual playing cards were left along trails in Communist-controlled territory (American troops wrote to playing card manufacturers requesting numerous aces of spades to supplement the campaign). A subsequent review and evaluation by the United States Information Agency revealed, however, that the ace of spades was not included in the Vietnamese deck of cards. Thus, except for a few Montagnard hill tribesmen, they were unfamiliar with its meaning as a death omen. Despite these finding and a JUSPAO policy directive prohibiting the aces of spades practice, American soldiers began using the technique again in 1971. This repeated error was probably symptomatic of trying to maintain continuity and high-quality psychological operations with military persons being shuffled into and out of the country on one-year tours of duty.

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Ace of Spades Deck

So why was the ace of spades so popular that some individuals or units actually ordered them from playing card manufacturers to place on the bodies of dead Viet Cong and NVA? The answer seems to be, because the American troops just loved them. Although the cards were allegedly anti-Communist PSYOP, in fact they were really pro-American PSYOP. U.S. troops got a kick out of them and loved the idea of leaving them on bodies. Like wolves, it was a way to mark their territory. It proclaimed them the biggest and “baddest” varmints in the valley of death. The cards motivated and encouraged American troops far more than they terrified the enemy. Unfortunately, the cards were meaningless to the Vietnamese. It was as if we had placed aces and eights on them. Americans know that this is the hand held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot dead in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory on 2 August 1876. The Vietnamese would have been mystified.

The Evil Eye

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Lennea Mueller wrote an article titled Integrating Cultural Geography with Psychological Operations: Islamic Superstitions, in which she mentions the EVIL EYE.

The Koran tells Muslims:

The influence of an evil eye is a fact, if anything would precede the destiny it would be the influence of the evil eye.

The evil eye can be source of bad luck, disease, envy, and jealously. Many Muslims believe that if it is used against them, they must remove the alleged effects of the evil eye by, for instance, gargling with water, then washing their body with that same water, and then finally tossing that same water behind their back.

In Africa some regions are famous for their scorpion bead-work, worn not only to ward off scorpion bites but also to offer protection from the evil eye.

The Kabbalah tells the Jews that the evil eye can badly affect their health and the health of their loved ones, deter success, create distress in relationships and cause prolonged strips of bad luck. These processes can be found and stopped by the right amulet or a sequence of ritual activities targeted to bring evil eye protection. Both practices are directed at the bearer’s soul and cleanse it by bringing it closer to their Creator.

Vietnam War

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Leaflet 4-123-69

Most of these Vietnamese “Evil Eye” leaflets use red to terrify the finder. This one is green and perhaps not quite as scary, though if you are going to imply that the jungle has eyes, perhaps they should be green.

The text on the front is:


The text on the back is:


While hiding in the deep jungle you are being watched every second!

Sooner or later the path to your hiding place will be discovered. The deep jungle has true eyes to observe you regardless of when and where.

The deep jungle is no longer your safe hiding place. Your life is as fragile as a thin needle hanging a bell. You cannot escape danger and hopelessness.

Don't let yourself die in the deep jungle. Abandon your ranks in the night while you still have time and still can!

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Leaflet 4-124-69

This leaflet that features eyes was aimed at the North Vietnamese Army troops coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to fight the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam. This leaflet is coded from the 4th PSYOP Group but we know it was actually printed for them by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa. The text on the front is:


The text on the back is:


To friends in the rank and file of the North Vietnamese troops.

In the dark thick jungle, the jungle eyes are watching you. You were watched since your first steps down your infiltration path. Your prayers became hopeless. No place is so impenetrable that you can hide in it. The green jungle eyes are watching you.

Heaven's net casts wide. Though its meshes are coarse, nothing slips through. There will be more bombs and artillery rounds coming to you.

Go back! Return to the North while you still can!

Note: Note: The "Heaven's net" quotation is from Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching, chapter 73.

One Vietnamese whose grandfather had been a Viet Cong guerrilla told me:

My grandpa told me that he felt much safer being in the jungle. At least the jungle could hide them from bombardments, except from the B-52s. Talking about superstition, he told me that he often hoped if the jungle Gods had to choose who lived or died, they would choose to protect the locals rather than those strange white foreigners. Thus the proverb: JUNGLE COVERS US, JUNGLE SURROUNDS THE ENEMIES.

Another Vietnamese replied:

I am not sure that the Laotian and Cambodian jungle Gods would protect either side in the war, since both were foreign to the land. Remember, the Ho Chi Minh Trail lies mainly in Laos and Cambodia.

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Leaflet 4-19-70

The 4th PSYOP Group in Vietnam printed a number of leaflets designed to use superstition to frighten the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops. The leaflet above uses the image of an all-seeing eye that watches every move the troops make as they march south. This same use of a watching pair of eyes is found again and again in later wars. The leaflet depicts a blood red pair of eyes watching the North Vietnamese troops and is designed to reinforce his fear of the unknown. The text is:


Text on the back is in part:


Cadre and troops in the North Vietnamese Army ranks:

We told you that you cannot escape the celestial net of the jungle. The jungle eyes see every move you make and will eventually destroy you…

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of December 1969 mentions the concept of the “you are being watched” leaflets.

The 4th Group has developed a series of leaflets supporting the message, “You are being watched.” This series is directed toward the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops to impress on them the fact that they are constantly subject to attack by the Government of Vietnam forces and that the jungle is no longer a safe hiding place.

Hanoi Fights back

The North Vietnamese knew they had a problem and tried to eliminate it. Their newspaper Nhan Dan of 19 January 1974 printed an article titled "Hanoi, Haiphong, and Hai Hung Eradicate Superstition."

The paper claimed that in 1958 Hanoi eradicated superstition and basically eliminated the disease from among the people. So, none of the American and South Vietnamese PSYOP plans using superstition should have had any effect. But according to the newspaper, Hanoi failed in its first attempt to end superstition and was working on the problem again:

But recently, several people who deal in gods and spirits have begun to operate secretly again, kindling anew superstition to the detriment of both the property and labor time of the people. To halt this depraved custom, Hanoi's culture, and information sector, with various groups and authorities of various echelons, is campaigning among the people to eradicate superstition everywhere in urban and rural Hanoi. Many fortune tellers, spirit mediums, people who sell golden votive paper and so forth have admitted their shortcomings before the authorities, voluntarily requested to give up their profession of superstition, switched. to a profession of social value, and so forth.

Nam Sach District is one of the districts in Hai Hung Province which has done well in eradicating superstition. The entire district had 52 soothsayers and rites masters. Some of them have given up their profession in the past, but others continued to work secretly, adversely affecting both the wealth and labor time of the people. The authorities and mass organizations in the townships, on the one hand explained and pointed out the dangers of superstition before crowds of people and on the other hand went from family to family of those who had a member engaged in a superstitious profession, persuading them to give up their profession and helping them to find an appropriate job.


Dousing for VC tunnels at Khe Sahn

This picture claims to show a Marine with devining sticks at Khe Sahn. In 1968, the Chicago Tribune carried a colorful account of Lance Corporal D. E. Isgris successfully dowsing for Viet Cong tunnels in Khe Sanh using a pair of brass rods. This picture might show Isgris.

This section on dowsing may not belong in this story because first it is not PSYOP, and second, it may not be superstition The people that believe in this, absolutely believe it works and some sort of science, even if unknown. I only add it because I have found it used in several military operations although I am certain we will not find it in any military manuals.

It is known that for centuries some dowsers have been used to find water deep underground. Some farmers will not dig a well without having the ground dowsed first. The dowser walks across the ground holding two “devining” sticks and can read their movement when they indicate that water is present below. To me, it makes no sense at all, but if it finds water somewhere out on the plains I am not going to argue with the result.

One prospector told me that he douses for gold. He says he has had some luck using that method.

General George Patton is said to have used dowsing to find fresh water for his advancing troops in North Africa during World War II. The Germans had blown up the water wells when they retreated to prevent the American troops from having water to sustain the army in the desert terrain.

After Mussolini was overthrown and arrested on 24 July 1943, Adolf Hitler demanded that he be found and rescued. One plan, devised by Himmler and called “Operation Mars”, was based on an occult mixture of seers, soothsayers, fortune-tellers, astrologers, mediums, clairvoyants and pendulum diviners taken from concentration camps to foretell Mussolini's location. One of Heinrich Himmler's pendulum diviners was given official credit and a reward for finding Mussolini. 

It has been stated that some Marines surrounded by the Viet Cong at Khe Sahn used dowsing sticks to try and find VC tunnels that might have been dug under their fortress. The website said that “Continually frustrated by the underground networks, the Pentagon made locating and destroying the subterranean passages a main goal in 1967.” The U.S. Army had failed to build a machine that could reliably detect the tunnels. A year later, defense contractor HRB Singer told the Office of Naval Research that dowsing might hold the answer. In 1968 some scientists reported told the Army:

Undoubtedly, any system that offers some promise of improving the odds above pure chance of discovering and locating the enemy is worth a try — if nothing else is available.

The Marine Corps Development and Educational Command put the leathernecks through a four-hour course in the practice. In March 1968, Associated Press reporters spotted the troops near their base at Khe Sanh using bent brass rods to find their subterranean foes.

Popular Mechanics adds:

In 1966, Louis Matacia, an operations analyst at the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, suggested that dowsing would be useful for finding booby traps and Viet Cong tunnels.

The Canadian Society of Dowsers says:

In 1967, 1967, U.S. Marine engineers used dowsing to help save American lives in Viet Nam. The Marines dowsed to locate tunnels, hidden ammunition, booby traps, and enemy food caches. American Society of Dowsers trustee, Louis Maticia, was the dowser who ran the program and taught the Marines to dowse.

A Korean said that Republic of Korea forces used dowsers trying to find North Korean tunnels under the DMZ in his country.

Lots of other armies used dowsers; the British Army Engineers relied on dowsing to locate water up until WWII, after which it was replaced by more scientific methods. The practice also appeared in Russian Army manuals during the 1930s as a method for finding water in uninhabited areas. In some places, dowsing for bombs has never gone out of fashion. When George W. Bush visited Estonia in 2006, the local security forces checked his route for bombs by dowsing.

If true, one would think the military would have a dowsing school at some base to teach this method of enemy detection. The Marines apparently concluded there was no “scientific basis” for the practice. I am a skeptic.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

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Soldier posting "Evil Eye" leaflet

During Operation Iraqi Freedom the Coalition printed an entire series of leaflets showing two eyes on the front and various text or scenes on the back. As the war went on, the eyes became more sinister. These leaflets were meant to terrify the insurgents and show them that they were under surveillance all the time by agents, snipers and satellites. According to a Rand National Defense Research Institute study entitled Enlisting Madison Avenue - The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation, this leaflet might have offended the general population more than it frightened the insurgents:

…A message that offended its recipients shows a coalition PSYOP leaflet dropped to intimidate insurgents in Iraq. However, this airdropped leaflet did not just reach insurgents; it also reached noncombatants. And, while its message implies that insurgents deserve to be brought to justice, in cultural fact, it gave everyone who picked it up the “Evil Eye.”

In the late consolidation stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the use of the eyes as a PSYOP theme became very popular. I have seen SEVEN such leafletsl, many in a rather stark red or green and black, many with different short messages on the front and various vignettes on the back such as the photograph of a wanted Iraqi terrorist, a cartoon depicting skeletons, and a group of 10 terrorists along with the reward for each. We depict several versions of the “evil eye” leaflets. The eyes appear in both red and green and sometimes the back is blank with cross-hatching. Some of the known code numbers are IZD-7525 and IZD-7527. The leaflets come in various sides like 5.5 x 3.5, 5.5 x 4, and 8.5 x 5.5-inches, and many have no code number at all.

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Version 1

This leaflet has at least two varieties and depicts Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and on the back of one and Abu Ayyub al-Masri on the back of the other. The text on the front is:

We will chase you and show you no mercy

The back of this variety depicts Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who became the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq after its former leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in June of 2006, and says:

Abu Ayyub al-Masri

You will be the next Takfir [unbeliever] leader coming to death

You will join al-Zarqawi in Hell

On 19 April 2010, the New York Times announced that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a joint raid between Iraqi and United States forces in Tikrit, near Saddam Hussein's hometown. He was found hiding in a hole in the ground. The security forces surrounded the hole, a gunfight ensued, and he was killed.

The back of this second variation depicts Sami Kareem and the same text as the leaflet above.

Sami Kareem

You will be the next Takfir [unbeliever] leader coming to death

You will join al-Zarqawi in Hell


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Version 2

This version of the “eye” leaflet exists in various sizes and at least two varieties. One variety depicts a cartoon of three skeletons holding rifles and standing over the bodies of dead children holding a black flag. A second variety bears the picture of a wanted Iraqi. The text on the front is:

Takferi there is no place to hide

“Takferi” indicates a person who believes that he is always correct and will go to Heaven while all the rest will rot in Hell.

The skeleton image is also found on regular leaflets without the eyes. The text on this “evil eye” leaflet is:

The True Arm Behind al-Qaida

The skeletons are labeled with the names, code-names, or nicknames of terrorists. They are:

The Egyptian
Sheikh Hamed Rasheed

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Version 3

This leaflet depicts in at least two varieties, each showing a different wanted Iraqi and the text on the front:

He speaks on your behalf

The Coalition is saying that when you passively accept the actions of the terrorists it is as if you have accepted their leadership and allowed them to speak for you. This leaflet depicts the captured Baath Party chairman Rasheed Taan Khazim on the back with the text:

We arrested Rasheed Taan Khazim Al Azawi

Version 4

This version is a bit different with the background almost being a gold color. The text is:

He is talking about you

The Coalition implies that although the terrorist is hiding and thinks he is protected by his people, others know about him and will talk about him and the Coalition has microphones and listening devices and agents everywhere and hear everything. This handout has 10 wanted Iraqis on the back along with the reward paid for their capture.

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Version 5 - IZD7527

In this case the leaflet is green instead of red. The back is blank and bears cross-hatching so the insurgents cannot use it. The text on the front is:

No matter where you run, no matter where you hide,
Coalition Special Operations Forces will find you and bring you to justice.


This also appears as a larger Task Force 20 handout coded IZG7527. The handout as the face in a natural color rather than in green as is the leaflet. The text is identical

No matter where you run, no matter where you hide,
Coalition Special Operations Forces will find you and bring you to justice.


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Leaflet EF3C14L1

Once again this leaflet depicts two eyes staring out at the viewer. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar and a close-up of his automobile license plate are on the back, both in the sights of a rifle. The message is that we not only see you, we can identify your car from anywhere.The text is so obvious that I almost did not bother to have it translated, but I did use an Army translator just in case and as I suspected it is:


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Nguyen Binh Khiem called Trang Trinh

Nguyen Binh Khiem (1491-1585), usually called Trang Trinh, was a Vietnamese administrator, educator, poet, sage and is a saint of the Cao Dai religion as well as a poet and prophet who published collections of prophecies in Viet Nam. He is best known for his book Sam Trang (predicts of Trang), written about 1564. Trang Trinh used Thai At Astrology, an ancient book from India. His reputation for prediction spread to China where many scholars considered him as the greatest master of ly hoc (the science of fortune telling and other mystical arts).

His predictions were the Vietnamese equivalent of the Nostradamus quatrains. They are suggestive, believed to predict future events, and very mysterious. The Vietnamese people extol Trang Trinh as the Number One Oracle of Vietnam because he made a series of predictions which were referred to as “Divinations of Trang.”

A Vietnamese friend told me:

His prophecies were somewhat correct vis-a-vis the events. He predicted the start of the WWII and its aftermath. Every Vietnamese understands the phrase Sam Tr?ng Trình (Trang Trình's prophecy) when you say it. During the partition of Vietnam, Trang Trình's prophecy was well utilized by Saigon Military Mission in 1954-1955 by Edward Lansdale and Lou Conein.

Is it any wonder that during the Vietnam War, the Americans, knowing the great regard of the Vietnamese people for the respected prophet, used Trang Trinh on many propaganda leaflets having him predict the fall of North Vietnam and the Victory of the Republic of Vietnam.

So far I have seen 4th PSYOP Group leaflets mentioning the prophet Trang Trinh with the code numbers: 4-22-70, 4-23-70, 4-24-70, 4-39-70, and 4-40-70

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Leaflet 4-23-70

The 4th PSYOP continued with a series of Trang Trinh prophecy leaflets, all of which warned of death and disaster about to befall the troops from the North.

Leaflet 4-22-70 tells of an alleged prophecy of Trang Trinh. The leaflet depicts an incense burner and an open book and some of the following text:

According to Trang Trinh’s prophecy, “God did not entrust Ho Chi Minh with founding a nation.”

Being against God and the people, Communism will be destroyed.

Trang Trinh foresaw it in the following prophecies: “Never were there such extraordinary things. People are suddenly the victims of accusations. To have security why not encourage people to plough and till? Alas, the destiny of the country has not yet come true. The South gate is not shut, but the North gate is opened [to China].

Leaflet 4-23-70 depicts a sign of the Zodiac and the text in part:


Trang Trinh (16th Century) gained supernatural power after he received a book from a great Chinese man. It interpreted the evolution of the Earth so he knew what was to take place in coming years. Trang Trinh’s prophecy states that peace will begin to return in 1970. The day of peace will appear in the stars as foretold by Trang Trinh about 1970. There is no reason for you or your comrades to die in battle. Find a way to return home to your family.

The PSYOP Group followed with another leaflet coded 4-24-70 that depicted a symbol of harmony between positive and negative. Some of the text is:


…When will the road from North to South be cleared?

The whales [warships] float in a bloody sea.

When the cock crows, the tree of pearls [Ho Chi Minh] falls in the North...

This poem is one of several hundred prophecies of Trang Trinh; a North Vietnamese native well known for his talents in astrology for over 400 years…Trang Trinh also predicted many things about Vietnam, especially the beginning of the collapse of the North Vietnamese regime after Ho’s death in the year of the rooster (1969).

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Leaflet 4-39-70

The 4th PSYOP Group next mentioned Trang Trinh in a leaflet coded 4-39-70 that featured two Vietnamese looking at the stars on one side and a bowl of rice an tablets on the other. Some of the text is:


The following of his prophecies have been fulfilled:

The defeat of the French in 1954.
The death of Ho Chi Minh in 1969.
The North has been divided internally sine Ho’s death and will fall.

Leaflet 4-40-79 also used the prophecies of Trang Trinh. It says in part:


…Ho hides in the mountains, Mao sees white
The whale rises to the surface of the bloody waters
The cock crows in the pearl tree
And the sky inclines to the North…

In the poem above he said that after the death of Ho Chi Minh the Northern regime would begin to collapse in the year of the rooster [1969].

In almost every war we find that fortune telling is used as a form of superstition propaganda. Allen B. Clark mentions such an operations in Valor in Vietnam: Chronicles of Honor, Courage, and Sacrifice: 1963-1977, Casemate Publishers, Kindle Edition. He mentions Ron Humphries (USIA psychological operations advisor) and a woman named Kim who was used to gather information from Viet Cong members who had gone over to the Vietnamese government:

There was a Chieu Hoi center in the province where Humphrey took his teams to perform as a part of the reeducation program to indoctrinate the defectors. The center was so successful that in 1969 and through much of 1970 his province led South Vietnam in defections. Ron felt good about the part he played in helping to win the hearts and minds of the local population. The very talented Kim was a fortune-teller in the ancient Vietnamese tradition and she began a rather unusual activity at the Chieu Hoi center that proved to be invaluable in gathering intelligence for the province. She would play cards with the former VC and then pull out her fortune-telling kit; it was much like a child’s Pick-Up-Sticks game in America. Kim would shake the can and then spill the sticks into a pile. Each stick had a special marking. She would start at the top and carefully remove each stick, explaining the meaning to the defector. Soon, she would reach a solid black Death Stick, which suggested grave difficulties or even death were on the horizon for the man. Then she would note that the stick immediately below the Death Stick would cancel it out, but it required the man to provide worthwhile information to the government in order to be effective. The ploy worked! Defectors who had resisted trained government interrogators were soon telling everything they knew about VC activities in the province, all because of Kim’s trick Death Stick.

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200,400 copies of this leaflet were produced by the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office in November 1967 as part of the Tet (New Year’s) and the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) campaigns. It is not an attractive leaflet, both sides are full text. Still, some of the comments are interesting. The leaflet says in part:


You might be unlucky in the near future. We suggest you consult the Tet Fortune-Teller.

The “Fortune-Teller Card” has nine items that are important to you. Mark X to the right of the items that are true or you believe to be true. If you have the right number of marks you might have good luck for Tet.

1. I want to enjoy Tet with my family
2. I would like to have better food.
3. The VC will be defeated.
4. I am sorry that I joined the VC.
5. Chieu Hoi is a way to be reunited with one's family.
6. I would like to have better medical treatment.
7. ARVN and Allied Forces have better weapons than the VC.
8. I would like to be free from air and artillery attacks.
9. The people of Vietnam have selected a new government.

If you have more than 4 X's you are urged to turn the leaflet over.

The back of the card lists 11 lucky benefits you will receive if you come back to the government of Vietnam. Some of them are: Good treatment; Full citizenship in the RVN; Medical treatment in the Chieu Hoi Center and Permanent reunion with your family.

Max Boot mentions the use of the fortunetellers in The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, Liverright Publishing Corporation, New York, 2018:

The Saigon Military Mission even hired a soothsayer to produce an almanac that predicted good fortune for the South and calamitous tidings for the North. So popular did this eight-page publication become that the CIA made a profit on it that was used to fund refugee resettlement… Lansdale produced a series of lengthy memoranda. One memo on “Vietnamese Soothsaying” included a classified annex with the names of “certain soothsayers,” which had been omitted from the main report, “in case there is ever a desire for some clandestine operational use of these persons.” Who but Ed Lansdale would ever think to make “operational use” of soothsayers?

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Palm Readers

Harry Wagner mentions Vietnamese superstition in The Headless Snake, self-published, 2018. Wagner was involved in PSYOP in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968 as the Director of Psychological Operations in II Corps. He tells of visiting Gia Nghia on the Cambodian border. The Vietnamese Province Chief’s fiancée was a palm reader and fortune teller. She forecast that due to the very long lifeline on his left hand he was almost immortal. It would be practically impossible for him to die. This quickly got around to all the Vietnamese upper crust that now saw Wagner as a lucky charm. It gave him introduction into their homes and allowed him to make contacts with top officials and military.

Not long afterwards the town got overrun by a Viet Cong battalion. The Province chief asked Harry to stop by his house and they were soon in a jeep with two bodyguards. The chief drove into the town past 60 of the Viet Cong guerrillas who were performing a political lecture and then out again. Wagner was very uncomfortable but the province chief firmly believed that with Wagner in the jeep no harm could come to him.

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The Shadow of Death

Before we leave Vietnam we should mention that the Australian 1st Psychological Operations Unit printed a leaflet coded ATF-074-71 and entitled “Ghosts” on 25 January 1971. The leaflet depicted a ghost standing over a Viet Cong sleeping on a grave site on the front with the names of eight of his dead comrades floating over his body, and text and a Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) symbol on the back. The leaflet is aimed at the North Vietnamese D445 Battalion. This leaflet was taped down in a file in the Australian War Memorial and that is the reason that the left side is discolored. The text on the front is:

The shadow of death continues to seek more of your brave compatriots.

The shadow of death is looking for you.

Text on the back is:

The shadow of death is searching for more members of D445. Many of your brave compatriots have been killed by the Government of Vietnam forces recently. You have been told that such missing people have been given other tasks. This is not true. These people are dead. Each day the task of getting enough food and supplies becomes more difficult. You labor hard to achieve victory but the Government of Vietnam forces destroy your effort. Chieu Hoi before the shadow of death reaches out for you.

The ghosts of Vietnam are mentioned in Vietnamese Beliefs in Spirits and Trees, Fact Sheet Number 7, United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Saigon, dated 1 December 1969:

The supernatural beings most commonly discussed among the villagers are the ma, phantoms or ghosts, and they command fear, although their degree of wickedness varies. Among the least malevolent are those, which once were living animals – ma heo (pig ghost), ma cho (dog ghost), and ma meo (cat ghost). Villagers believe they swarm over fields after sunset, often getting tangled in the legs of those who tarry too long on the paths. Ma dung is the collective term for ghosts associated with horses, oxen, and buffalo, but unlike the other animal ma, they are harmful, and strange occurrences in a village are often attributed to the ma dung. Ma Than Vong is a specific ghost, the ‘tightening- knot ghost’ which goads people into suicide by muttering ‘co co’ (neck, neck) into their ears. Ma A Phien is the opium ghost, related to addiction and eventual ‘death in the pleasures’. Yeu and quy are capricious, often wicked supernatural beings, capable of doing unguarded humans great harm. Of all these beings, however, none is so malevolent as the tinh who villagers claim use a variety of tricks to induce their intended victims to open their mouths, whereupon the tinh draw out their souls, leaving them insane. Villagers believe that the yeu and tinh inhabit great trees, often appearing as human shadows.

Operation Enduring Freedom

On 11 September 2001, terrorists of the al-Qaida (the Base) group, some trained and financed by Saudi Arabian exile-in-hiding Osama bin Laden, attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC. President Bush immediately demanded that the ruling fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement of Afghanistan turn over Mr. bin Laden for trial. They refused. The bombing of Afghanistan began on 7 October. Aerial propaganda leaflets were not dropped the first week due to high winds. The first leaflet drop took place on October 15. Although the great majority of leaflets had to do with surrender and the overwhelming might of the Coalition forces, at least one leaflet played on the perceived superstitious fear of the Afghan people. It was dropped on 8 December 2001 and featured the magical Jinn.

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Leaflet AFD56b

This leaflet shows four members of al-Qaida or the Taliban. The individual at the far left is identified as “Muttawakil,” and is believed to represent the Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil. The next figure is Osama bin Laden. The third figure is identified as “Haggani,” and would appear to be Jalaluddin Haggani, a senior Taliban commander who was quoted as saying “We are eagerly awaiting the American troops to land on our soil, where we will deal with them in our own way.” The fourth individual wears the black Taliban turban, but is otherwise unidentified. Three Afghans are seen hanging from a gallows in the background. The text on the leaflet is “The Taliban reign of fear...” At the left and right of the leaflet, we can just make out the fearful face of snarling Jinn. The Koran identifies the jinn as creatures created from a smokeless fire. They lie and practice deceit to fulfill their own desire for evil. Showing them with the Taliban implies that the leaders have been deceived and turned toward evil by the supernatural creatures.

When turned over, the back of the leaflet shows the four faces altered slightly to resemble skulls, an American bit of trickery that was practiced during WWII when Adolf Hitler’s face was changed to a skull-like countenance in an attempt to say that he represented death. In place of the gallows, an explosion is shown with debris thrown into the air. The text goes on to say “ about to end!”

Almost two decades later a group of PSYOP troops talked about how the superstitions of the Afghan people could cause interesting problems for PSYOP specialists. One trooper said that he got a call asking for an EOD specialist to come to a house because there was a landmine out in the field. When the team got there, the homeowner pointed at a vase of the mantle and told his interpreter that he made up the story of a landmine just to get the Americans to come and rid his house of an evil spirit that was haunting the place. The ashes of his dead father were in the vase and his ghost was cursing his house and his fields. The Afghan believed that the Americans with all their cell phones, iPads and science and technology could rid the house of the ghost, a scientific and military exorcism. The troops asked the homeowner how important that vase was to him? “Not important at all.” They then took the “haunted” vase outside into the field, placed a 40-pound cratering charge next to it, and blew the Hell out of it. They went back to the house, gave the homeowner a Mountain Dew, some Halal jerky, a glow stick, and a little pin depicting the flags of the U.S. and Afghanistan, and told him that the ghost has been forever exorcized

Another PSYOP specialist said that he was assigned to Paktika province in Afghanistan. He was part of a team sent to a local house with two people inside. He first saw an AK-47 against the wall, and when his Afghan National Army team members shook the blankets and pillows two grenades onto the floor. Five Americans immediately ran out of the room expecting an explosion. There was no explosion. The Afghan residents explained that the rifle and grenades were for their personal protection because the prayer room in the compound was haunted by “Jinn’s” (an intelligent spirit able to appear in human or animal forms and to possess humans). The two Afghans were terrorized by them. They said they had been haunted by those Jinn’s for years.

A third PSYOP soldier thought that this could be an impact indicator for how superstitious the Afghans are, particularly in rural regions. He said that most of the Americans that lived among them knew that. He thought that at some point the PSYOP experts should have tried something along the line of the Vietnam War “Wandering Soul” campaign where the Americans played eerie music and the voice of dead Vietnamese Communist troops who would walk the Earth forever because they had been buried in an unmarked grave instead of in their home ground.

On the website Afghanistan Online, Abdullah Qazi wrote a report titled "Superstitions and Popular Myths." He mentioned 33 popular beliefs. Some of the more interesting ones are:

It’s not good to let someone compliment your child or other loved one too much, because they may become jinxed and bad luck may fall on them. For example, if you say a child is beautiful, the child may become sick. You can ward this off by either saying “Nazar Nakona”, or by reciting a surah from the Quran.

Water is thrown on the floor where the person just walked, when a person leaves the front door (While also walking under the Quran) to go on a long trip. This is done so the person will have a safe and pleasant trip and return unharmed.

After praying, you should fold a side of the prayer mat or the devil will come and pray on it.

After reading the Quran, you should close it immediately, or the devil will come and read from it.

Do not look in the mirror at night, because someone will tell a lie about you.

The smoke from burning incense will keep bad luck and bad spirits away.

When a newborn is brought into the house and placed into his or her bed, hanging something (jewelry etc..) with the name of Allah on it will help keep the baby safe from harm when they sleep.

Strange and Exotic Psychological Operations

During the history of warfare there have been some extremely strange psychological operations. These have been passed down through word of mouth and may or may not be true. These stories are the kind that I would normally exclude in an academic report, but since this is a very informal look at all the areas of Superstition PSYOP, I elect to add them. These stories are anecdotes that are entertaining and none, some, or the entire story might be true.

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The Battle for Pelusium
The Reverence of the early Egyptians for Cats

In Ancient Egypt it was believed that cats captured the glow of the setting sun in their eyes and kept it safe until morning. This made it unlawful for cats to be killed except in ritual sacrifice by priests. When Cambyses II led the Persian Army against the Egyptians in the battle of Pelusium they tied cats to their shields and won a staggering victory.

In 525 B.C. the Persian and Egyptian armies were engaged in a fierce battle for the city of Pelusium. It is said that the inhabitants of Pelusium worshiped cats as gods. Their enemy knew of this belief and took advantage of it. The Persians deployed their forces to the villages and towns of the surrounding countryside, capturing as many cats as they could lay their hands upon. Once satisfied with the number of animals they'd collected, the Persian army returned to the city of Pelusium. The Egyptians immediately attacked, but were frozen in their tracks as hundreds of panic-stricken cats were released onto the battlefield. Confusion spread through the Egyptian ranks. The Persian forces then advanced, each of the Persian soldiers holding a cat. The Egyptian soldiers dared not engage the enemy or shoot their arrows, fearing that to do so might endanger the lives of the cats. The Persians quickly scattered their enemy and their city defenses as Cambyses hurled cats over the walls of the city. After the taking of the city Cambyses showed his contempt of the Egyptians by carrying a cage of cats in front of him upon his horse, and hurling them with insulting taunts and laughter, into the faces of his foes.

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Holographic Projection of God or Demons

Perhaps the most exotic of all the Superstition PSYOP campaigns is the alleged use of holographic projection to place images of Gods and Demons before an enemy to terrify them and bend them to the will of the propagandist. In fact, there is so much rumor and silliness surrounding this entire subject that it is difficult to take any of it seriously. I will discuss some of what is known but the reader must understand that the entire story could be a hoax.

The story first broke about the time of Operation Desert Storm in late 1990. Allegedly there was discussion of an Operation Blue Beam that would project a holographic image of Allah floating over Baghdad urging the Iraqi people and Army to revolt against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The scientists studied the project and stated that they probably could project large, three-dimensional objects that appeared to float in the air. But, to project such a hologram over Baghdad several hundred feet high would take a mirror more than a mile square in space, as well as huge projectors and power sources. And besides, the scientists asked, what does Allah look like? Furthermore, since such divine portrayals of any kind are strictly forbidden in Islam, the hologram would more likely infuriate the Iraqis than terrify them.

The story reappears in 1994 when allegedly a secret program was established to pursue the technology for PSYOPS applications. The holographic projector now supposedly described in a classified Air Force document as a system to project information power from space and for Special Operations deception missions. Various unverified reports claim that the Pentagon listed the holographic projections as part of its non-lethal weapons program. It is claimed that Defense Week wrote that the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School was looking to develop a PSYOPS Hologram System with a capability to project persuasive messages and three-dimensional pictures. Airborne Holographic Projector data even appears on the Internet:

Displays a three-dimensional visual image in a desired location, removed from the display generator. The projector can be used for psychological operations and strategic perception management. It is also useful for optical deception and cloaking, providing a momentary distraction when engaging an unsophisticated adversary.

Do I believe any of this? No. I don’t doubt that the U.S. Government looked into holographs for PSYOP applications, but I suspect that the expense and uncertainty of such an operation would quickly make it untenable.

Why do I suspect that the government looked into this concept? Lee Richards of told me of a WWII Foreign Office document entitled:




RUSES DE GUERRE: Projection of Messages and images by searchlights on clouds.

Mr. Shaw reported…that in regard to the suggestion of an apparatus for projecting messages and images on clouds Brigadier Penney had kindly put him in touch with the principal producers of apparatus of this kind. It had not been possible to provide a comprehensive technical report for this meeting but he could state that it was possible with a special projector to throw messages or images on to clouds, though the messages must be short and the image simple. The cloud conditions required are cumulous at 2,000 to 3,000 feet and the visibility from one to four miles according to weather conditions. With these conditions operations can start half-an-hour after sunset at a distance of half-a-mile from the front line, when the letters of images would be projected on to the clouds over the enemy lines the right way up for the enemy troops to read or see. One five foot projector costing £2,500 - £3,000 can throw up to twenty letters. It would take three months to produce a projector. Trials could be arranged. If the Committee considered that the idea was practicable its possibilities could be further investigated and information supplied to the D.M.I. France.

It was agreed that the suggestion for apparatus to project messages and images on clouds should be pursued. Trials should be arranged by Sir Campbell Stuart’s Department, and, if successful, the suggestion should be taken up through Colonel Brooks with the D.M.I. at G.H.Q. France.

There is no record of this operation ever taking place, so perhaps the cost of the projectors or the inability to project a clear picture was the downfall of the plan. 

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Searchlight message projection in Vietnam

There were experiments in Vietnam in 1968 where C-47 aircraft were used to project messages on the underside of clouds. Bill Tyner, former S3 (Operations) Air Liaison officer of the 10th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam told me:

Everyone remembers the old Batman TV show from around the mid-1960s. Someone in our Propaganda Development Center thought that the idea of a “bat signal” was a good one that could be used in psychological operations. He thought that we might be able to take a transparency and place it into a projector, turn on the intense illumination and manipulate the focusing lens, and then project an image out great distances. He envisioned using such symbols as “Chieu Hoi” (open Arms) or the flag of the Republic of Vietnam.

Once the projector and transparencies were prepared and ready I had to obtain a power source to run to run the high-wattage projector lamp. An Army 3.5 kilowatt generator set was obtained and placed in our loudspeaker (Gabby) C-47 aircraft. The commander of the 5th Special Operations Squadron was unhappy about that extra power source in his aircraft, but eventually he went along with the experiment.

The ideal clouds would be a low-hanging “mattress” blanket cloud cover, but in the Delta they were not all that common. On a less than ideal night Gabby took off and flew a mission provided by our S3 shop. We usually targeted large Viet Cong formations and I believe this was a suspected VC battalion. The illumination unit worked and the image was projected, but there was no way of determining how well it was seen without a prisoner to interview.

The next mission was over Vinh Long and our field team witnessed the projection and reported that it was blurry and not very effective. The problem was the transparency of the cloud cover. It was not dense enough, and on that particular mission the cloud cover was so low that it was extremely dangerous for the aircraft and the safety of the crew. “Angels 3” was considered the nominal altitude for safe operation and the low cloud cover would bring Gabby within 1500 feet of the Viet Cong muzzles. That was simply not going to happen.  

Still, even under those poor conditions there was an image. We had proven that the system should work under perfect conditions and had proven that messages could be projected onto low-floating clouds with the use of a projector and portable generator.

The operation itself proved a failure. After the second mission, some members of our staunch allies, the Army of Vietnam (ARVN's) were seen running off with our generator set from what had once been a locked storage shed at Binh Thuy Vietnamese Air Force Base. Without the power source all further missions were cancelled. Those spotlight missions were innovative and showed a great deal of originality and imagination, but unfortunately it would take a lot more to defeat the Viet Cong insurgency.

It seems that there were attempts at placing propaganda images in the skies over Laos too. The plan was to show Buddha and various religious images and warn the Pathet Lao that they had angered Buddha and the spirits. As far as I know this plan was never put into action.

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The Phi Kasu, with its floating head and viscera.

Speaking of Laos, Retired PSYOP Major Ray Ambrozak told me about his 1961 leaflet missions in Laos. On one occasion experts from the United States Information Service and Central Intelligence Agency determined that there were evil spirits that the Lao people called Phi that might be used for propaganda purposes. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different types of these phi documented in Lao folktales and other sources. Some of the more common ones include the Phi Ban who are the village spirits. The Phi Taihong are spirits of the violently killed and very dangerous. The Phi Borisat are nameless evil spirits. Ray told me about an operation he was involved with:

The Phi were invisible mystical spirits that were revered and feared by the Lao. We stuffed leaflets into bottles which when dropped from an aircraft would make the strange whistling sound of the Phi. The pilot would throttle back the engine and glide almost silently over a village as the bottles were thrown out. The bottles would break open upon hitting the ground and the leaflets would scatter over the ground. The leaflets told the Lao to break away from the Pathet Lao as the Phi imprisoned in the bottles had done.\

Loudspeakers were also used, calling the communists as atheistic and godless, one of the few messages hard to refute. For ethnic groups practicing animistic and spiritual beliefs, the use of phi (spirits) and ghosts of ancestors was prevalent in loudspeaker operations when these “ghosts” and “spirits” talked from the sky.

It appears that the Americans might have tried a little bit of Psychological magic in Thailand. During WWII, Thailand collaborated with the Japanese, probably as a way of keeping its independence. Many of the Thais worked in factories that supported the Japanese armed forces. I do not have a time or place or even a code number, but a miniature cardboard leaflet was dropped that featured an American B-17 Flying Fortress dropping bombs on one side, and folded in such a way (accordion style) to make a small square with a hole punched in so that a string could be placed through it and it could be worn as an amulet. The colors were red, white and blue; colors used by both the flag of the United States and Thailand. If the leaflet is fully opens the following four messages appear:


If you don’t want to lose your good luck then
Leave this industrial area before it is bombed

If you die you will lose everything

Leave this factory

As always, this is just a quick look at the subject. There are certainly many more cases of psychological operations featuring superstition as a theme. You are invited to write the author at with additional suggestions.