Psychological Warfare: An Instrument of Power

Psychological warfare is the main method of combat in the world today. The different powers, political and economic, fight to colonize people's minds. If they succeed, they're free to expand their power limitlessly.
Psychological Warfare: An Instrument of Power
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Psychological warfare is the name given to a set of actions aimed at morally, emotionally, or symbolically destroying an adversary in the context of a confrontation. It’s an ancient practice, which has been used ever since war first existed. Indeed, great warriors and combatants know that subjectively undermining the enemy produces strategic advantages.

The Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, proposed the idea of defeating the enemy in war without firing a weapon. He did so in his famous work, The Art of War, which has since become a classic manual for men of war. Genghis Khan also employed numerous psychological warfare tactics that proved highly effective.

Later, psychological warfare took the form of propaganda. Currently, this is used constantly and not always only in formal war conditions. In fact, it’s also used in areas of politics, religion, family, and interpersonal relationships.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting .”

-Sun Tzu-

coworkers arguing

The basics of psychological warfare

Hitler, a man of war, was an example of someone who resorted to psychological warfare on a systematic basis. He prophesied that the wars of the future would be fought before military action began. He claimed that it would be done “through mental confusion, conflicting feelings, indecision, and panic.”

Currently, the United States military doctrine comprises entire chapters devoted to psychological warfare. They point out that it has three main objectives:

  • Destroy the enemy’s will and ability to fight.
  • Deprive the adversary of the support of their allies.
  • Increase the morale of one’s own troops and their will to win.

Nowadays, as well as in Hitler’s time, a powerful propaganda system is required in order to achieve these goals. In Hitler’s day, the Nazis already exercised absolute control over the media, using it to promote their own interests. It’s claimed that democracy and freedom of the press prevail in the West today. However, in practice, this isn’t always the case.

The conquest of the mind

Various governments and numerous illegal groups have used terrorism as a means to achieve their goals. In both cases, the idea of a radically evil enemy, practically inhuman, is promoted. In fact, the United States tends to classify all enemy leaders as ‘crazy dictators’. These, in turn, refer to the US government as imperialist, ‘demonic’, and blinded by arrogance.

Several governments and illegal groups have also resorted to attacking the civilian populations as a means of psychological warfare. From a military point of view, this has been dubbed ‘fourth-generation warfare.’ It means that, in an irregular way, civilians are victimized so that they become frightened and side with the aggressor. With this strategy, the support that the adversary may have had is, effectively, withdrawn.

Recently, there were massive protests in Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia. In all three countries, there were certain days when a curfew was declared. In all three nations, at night, when there was no one on the streets, people began to receive messages on social media saying there were vandals breaking into houses to steal.

Citizens called the police, who didn’t initially respond. However, after much insistence, they answered the calls.

In many cases, they were greeted as heroes. It seems that people were so scared that they forgot the previous abuses of the police during the protests. Instead, they gave them their support.

person with mobile

War in everyday life

Psychological warfare also exists in everyday life. For example, when the poor are blamed for their poverty or the unemployed for their unemployment.  At these times, in the background, an authoritarian message resounds that aims to suffocate any possible protest by those in these situations of helplessness.

There’s also psychological gender warfare. This occurs when men or women decide to prejudicially disqualify the other sex to subject them to their own codes of behavior.

We live in times in which our minds are the main spoils of war. Indeed, dominating minds means dominating the world and having the freedom to carry out any kind of barbarity. Reading, reflection, and meditation can be effective shields against this kind of contamination.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Martín-Baró, I. (1990). De la guerra sucia a la guerra psicológica: el caso de El Salvador. Psicología social de la guerra. El Salvador: UCA.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.