“Actions are dictated by decisions, decisions are based on perceptions, and perceptions are subject to manipulation. That is the basis of the Perception Wars.”

Alex Hollings’ Perception Wars describes how foreign governments are trying to shape American public opinion by manipulating their perceptions. Hollings singles out Russia and China and their ongoing information operations (IO) on American society. Whereas Moscow is focused on shaping opinion through pseudo-accounts and unobjective journalism, China is purchasing its way toward the “stable, reasonable 21st century power.”

The book begins by introducing the concepts and historical background of IO. Articles on World War II and Cold War propaganda efforts provide a link to history and its continuity. Thereafter, Hollings enters the modern arena. He provides four sections (Russian, Chinese, North Korean, and American) that are brimming with colorful, informative, and entertaining articles on the ongoing battle for perceptions.

Hollings is essentially equating national propaganda and information operations to business marketing campaigns. He argues that the predominance of social media offers foreign governments the ideal platform to individually target Americans and shape their beliefs, perceptions, and subsequently their opinions. And it is a reasonable claim. It might seem simplistic, but, more often than not, people are motivated by the same incentives when it comes to buying a new iPhone or performing their citizen’s right (e.g., voting).

Whereas an insurgency is all about winning the hearts-and-minds of the local population, a modern Information Operation is all about winning the tweets and likes of people.

Alarmingly, Hollings asserts that the U.S. is losing the perception wars. Stuck in reactive mode, U.S. policymakers are too focused in ‘bad-actor’ narratives to be proactive in the perceptions and propaganda battlefield.  For example, by focusing too much on Vladimir Putin’s or Xi Jinping’s autocratic and corrupt regimes, the U.S. is not seeking to create original narratives that would resonate with the ever-interconnected world population. As in all battlefields, once you have lost the initiative, it’s tough to gain it back.

A short (155 pages) and thought-provoking read, Perception Wars will offer you both an introduction to modern information warfare and a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the ongoing battle between American and its adversaries.  Based on primary source research, the articles offer an original analysis of the unseen battle for your perceptions.

The book’s only shortfall is that it lacks a recommended bibliography section. Granted, however, not all readers will wish to go more in-depth.

After reading it, you will be in an optimal position to detect when you or your community is targeted by a foreign actor with a malign agenda. By understanding and recognizing the threat, you will be inoculated from it.

You can buy the book on Amazon.