From Psychological Warfare to Information Operations and Back Again

Authored by: Philip M. Taylor

The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Warfare

Print publication date:  February  2010
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754674108
eBook ISBN: 9781315613284
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042495


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The psychological dimension of warfare has been a key element of conflict throughout history. Successful military commanders in the ancient world from Alexander the Great to Hannibal to Julius Caesar instinctively factored into their decision-making certain actions or gestures that were designed to raise the morale of their own troops and undermine the will of their opponents. This front-line or combat propaganda was also extended beyond the battlefield to the ‘home front’ in order to sustain popular support for warfare amongst civilians, especially the families and friends of soldiers. As communications improved through the arrival of new technologies, especially from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, battlefields became much more public ‘spaces’, not just for those soldiers fighting on them or for those civilians caught up in them, but also for a distant reading and – later – viewing public. And what that public thought about the sacrifices or successes of its soldiers became more and more important in the wake of the spread of mass participatory democracy and the ability of voters to influence political decision-making. In short, in the age of mass communications, perceptions of war have moved from the periphery to the centre stage of conflict for soldiers and civilians alike, while the speed with which information passes from the battlefield to the home front, and vice versa, has been transformed from weeks and days to minutes and seconds. Now, war reports are often live (that is, in ‘real-time’). In other words, the ‘theatre of war’ has assumed a whole new meaning in which audience perceptions of, and reactions to, military performance have become a critical part of the outcome.

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