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Shock & Awe: The Ultimate Jedi Mind Trick
by Robert R. Eberle, Ph.D http://www.gopusa.com/
24 March 2003

This battle is being waged on the mind as much as it is on the battle field; control the heart and body, and you control the war...


After the first two days passed since the initial attack on Baghdad, many Americans were wondering, "Where is the 'shock and awe' that we were told to expect?" Sources at the Pentagon told the media, "If you have to ask, it's not 'shock and awe.'" On the third day, massive bombings were targeted on Baghdad locations, and Americans were told that "shock and awe" had begun. In reality, "shock and awe" began when the very first cruise missile hit its target.
 
"Shock and awe" is not simply a campaign of pummeling an enemy through relentless bombardment of missiles and bombs. "Shock and awe" is equally (or even more so) an attack on the mind -- a presentation of overwhelming force and an unwavering sense of inevitability. The message being sent to Iraq is loud and clear: Surrender or die, because we're coming.
 
Stepping back to the opening night of Operation Iraqi Freedom shows the psychological operations in action. Many psychological messages were sent to various factions in Iraq with the very first shot. In speech after speech, President Bush, and other administration officials, told the Iraqi people that this war was not about them, that it was not about destroying Iraq, but rather that the war was about Saddam Hussein and his evil regime. Saddam and his lieutenants were told that their time had come -- the end of the Saddam Hussein regime was at hand. The first strikes of the campaign emphasized those messages brilliantly.
 
In addressing the message to the Iraqi people, there is no better way to send that message than by targeting Saddam Hussein personally. Large Iraq military outposts were not hit first -- neither were other seemingly obvious military targets. Through old-fashioned, human intelligence, the location of Saddam Hussein, his sons, and other key leaders was learned, and the word was given to attack. Thus, "shock and awe" began by shocking and awing Saddam Hussein himself. The message was clearly sent that the regime itself was the target. If Saddam survived this initial attack, the psychological pressure on him must be overwhelming. If he is still alive, then there is one fact that cannot escape his mind: one of his closest advisors -- one of his closest confidants -- has sold him out.
 
With a single barrage of missiles, the "head" of Iraqi military control was cut off in an instant. The psychological operations then moved from the leaders to the Iraqi military. Message upon message has been delivered through airdrops over Iraq. Leaflets with slogans such as "watch your children grow" send the message to the Iraqi troops that it is in their best interest not to fight. The message sent through media reports is one of inevitability: the American Military is coming. With few bombs dropped, Iraqi forces have started surrendering in droves. This was before Friday's so-called "shock and awe" bombings. That heavy bombardment sends a strong message of the fire power of American and coalition forces, but equally impressive is the ongoing video coverage from the field of American tanks, Bradleys, and other vehicles on an unobstructed march to Baghdad. This reassures the Iraqi people that liberation is near, and it demonstrates to the Iraqi military around Baghdad that confrontation is coming.
 
The use of the media to deliver the words and images from the field is another important aspect of the psychological war. The embedding of journalists into actual combat units is a brilliant way to control those words and images. It may seem counterintuitive to most that the way to control the media is to actually have more media involved. Inviting the media to be "embedded" sends a good message to the media and to the American people.  This also allows the media to be dispersed and controlled.
 
As opposed to the first Gulf War, America is not looking at images from a large CNN contingent hanging out in Baghdad saying and reporting whatever they want. Now, the best footage is coming from the reporters in the field.  By being dispersed, they are much more likely to follow the rules when told to do so by the direct military commanders.  In addition, through the embedded journalists, the images of the ongoing march to Baghdad will lead to a much more accurate portrayal of what's going on.  The less speculation and distortion of actual combat events adds to the overall effectiveness of the coverage being sent to the Iraqi regime and the American people as well.
 
The entire Iraqi military will not surrender. There will be more fighting, some likely intense. Iraq's Republican Guard has yet to be engaged. However, the surrenders already being witnessed and the more that are surely to come show that this battle is being waged as much on the mind as it is on the battle field: control the mind, and you control the heart and body; control the heart and body, and you control the war.


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Bobby Eberle is President and CEO of GOPUSA (http://www.gopusa.com/), a news, information, and commentary company based in Houston, TX. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Rice University.