Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Friday, December 07, 2007

Huk Rebels and Vampire COIN

In listening to NPR today I happened upon an interview with Danger Room's Noah Shachtman. The essence of the interview was the application of non-military, social science scholars on the Afghani COIN initiative which might be better (and more concisely) described as "military anthropology." While the interview was interesting what struck me was a reference via Shachtman to an unusual and apparently effective strategy employed in the Philippines some five decades ago during the Huk Rebellion, a communist insurgency that seems to have been something of a residual movement from Japanese occupation but came to power during the US handover of Philippine independence. A pervasive American in this eight year long struggle was General Edward Lansdale and it is Lansdale's tactics during the Huk insurgency that are most intriguing . To wit: the 1950s, as part of his counterinsurgency campaign against the Huk rebels of the Philippines, he conducted research into local superstitions, which he exploited in "psywar": "One psywar operation played upon the popular dread of an asuang, or vampire.... When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol.... They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next...

Lansdale retired in 1963 and died in 1987 and proved some fuel to fire Oliver Stones movie, JFK, as he'd been "fingered" in JFK's assassination. One wonders what influence Lansdale might have had on the Vietnam War had he had either retired or been born later.


Ymarsakar said...

Grim phrases the same tactic this way. "Finding your enemy's myths and then breaking them".

This is analogous to actively seeking a decisive engagement, as Hannibal and Alexander did, so that you can destroy the enemy's army and thereby his means of resistance. Although in Alexander's case, that might have been more the case of trying to kill the king.

Breaking an enemy's myth, whether that myth is that we only have to deal with man made weapons instead of supernatural vampires, that Fallujah cannot be taken by American Marines, that our greater numbers will win us the battle, or any number of other beliefs that people have concerning why they are in a good situation. Shatter those myths convinces people that they are now in a bad situation, even though it might not be true. Their belief will make it true though.

Unknown said...

A fascinating story. I have heard of similar tactics being used, but on the insurgent side, during the Bougainville war in the early '90s. The poorly armed local rebels severely blunted the effectiveness of PNGDF patrols by playing on animist superstitions.

Jay@Soob said...


Interesting analysis and I especially like "Finding your enemy's myths and breaking them." Landsdale appears to have been an adept practitioner of 4GW before the term was coined.

Quite aptly referred to as the "Forgotten War" as I'd never heard of it. Any specific examples?

I really should know more about the goings on in the South Pacific. For whatever reason it's rarely on the radar of even the most ardent analysts. Were it not for you, Luke and Peter I'd likely imagine New Zealand as an island nation ruled by a conglomerate of incredibly liberal shepherds :)