In a battle, it’s not just all blood and steel. Making the enemy think that they are about to lose and die, regardless of whether it’s true or not, is also just as important. A human mind is a powerful tool that could either make or break you, depending on how you utilize it. Throughout history, there were various ways and techniques used to crush adversaries’ hopes, even before the first bullet was fired. Here are some of the psychological warfare tactics employed in the history of warfare:

Frozen Scarecrows

Body of frozen Soviet soldier propped up by Finnish fighters to intimidate Soviet troops, 1939. ()

During the Winter War from  1939 to 1940, the Soviet Union found out in a hard way that the Finnish were no remorseful enemies, nor should they be underestimated. The Finnish were greatly outnumbered at that time, and they knew they had to be smarter than the Soviets, so they opted to fight guerilla-style. One advantage that they had that time was that they were prepared to fight in the harsh cold of the snow, even with temperatures reaching up to -22 degrees Fahrenheit. They also suffered losses due to frostbite but not as much as the Red Army, who was more used to the steppes of Russia. To intimidate the enemies, the Finnish soldiers would sometimes prop up frozen Soviet soldiers’ bodies in an area for other Soviets to see.

Cat Shields

The ancient Egyptians had high regard for all living things. Among their popular pets were cats that were closely associated with their goddess Bastet, depicted with a body of a woman and the head of a cat or as a sitting cat in a regal pose. She was their goddess of the home, domesticity, women’s secrets, cats, fertility, childbirth, and protecting homes from evil spirits. They believed that hurting cats would offend Bastet that the punishment for killing one was death. If a cat died in a household, they would shave their eyebrows to mourn.

Ancient Egypt Silver Bastet Cat
Ancient Egypt Silver Bastet Cat. Ancient Egypt Gallery, Louvre Museum, Paris, France (Gary Todd from Xinzheng, China, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In The Battle of Pelusium between the Persian Emperor Cambyses II and Psametik III of Egypt, Cambyses II took advantage of his knowledge about the Egyptians’ high regard for Goddess Bastet and her cats. Cambyses II ordered his men to paint Bastet’s image on their shields. As a result, the Egyptians balked at doing harm to the image of Bastet and refused to fight, being massacred in the field by the Persians, while those who survived tried to flee to Memphis.  Cambyses II even hurled cats on the faces of the captured Egyptians, mocking them for allowing themselves to be captured for the safety of what the Persians considered a household pet.

Death Whistle

Would you still push forward in a battle if you hear the hair-raising shrieks of your allies? You could only imagine what made them scream that way and hope that doesn’t happen to you. That’s what the Aztec warriors’ death whistle was for. They would blow these tiny whistles to terrify the enemies and get in their head-space. They would also use this during the day of the dead celebration outside the war. You might be wondering how these simple whistles could induce fear in their enemies’ hearts. To us, they sound like a terrifying human scream, but you be the judge:

Tokyo Rose

JOAK microphone and Iva Toguri D’Aquino (dubbed “Tokyo Rose” by some), National Museum of American History. (Sagie from New York, United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

To demoralize the Allied forces abroad and their families at home during World War II, Japan hired English-speaking broadcasters in their propaganda effort to broadcast in the South Pacific and North America, highlighting the troops’ wartime difficulties and military losses and the great victories of the Axis powers. Several women worked for this propagandist effort throughout the Japanese Empire, including those from Tokyo, Manila, and Shanghai. In 1945, an American citizen and the daughter of Japanese immigrants named Iva Toguri was detained after being suspected to be “Tokyo Rose” after flying to Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor to tend for her ill aunt. While there, she was recruited to work for The Zero Hour, a 75-minute propagandist program featuring Allied prisoners of war who would send messages to their families back home, as well as the Allied soldiers, with an appeal to surrender or sabotage the Allied war effort. Due to lack of evidence, Iva Toguri was later on released.

These are just a few of the psychological warfare tactics used throughout history. Share some with us if you know more. We’d love to hear them.