During the resistance war against the US, North Vietnamese soldiers only had to deal with American bombs and bullets, but also had to deal with the enemy’s grotesque psychological warfare tactics.
Operation Wandering Soul (OWS), is an American military psychological warfare campaign. The goal of this operation was to make North Vietnamese soldiers or villagers tremble, run out of the forest, thereby revealing their whereabouts.
In this campaign, the US military took advantage of superstitious psychology, fear of ghosts and worshiping the spirits of the dead. They produce pieces of music, dialogue … depicting ghostly sounds, to scare the enemy. The dialogues were recorded and edited to be scary, to be played at night in the woods.
There are a number of tapes that are still kept and circulated on the internet to this day. Almost after listening to it, everyone feels scared, tossing and turning with these barbaric sounds.
The US military did not record any evidence that North Vietnamese soldiers were affected by these recordings. None of the confidential data of MACV – US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, shows that the enemy had to come out of the forest because… afraid of ghosts.
The villages after hearing the recordings from the OWS Operation did not see any difference from before. The “greatest feat” achieved by this operation was from the 6th Psychological Warfare Squadron.
This unit broadcast a tape recording the sound of tigers on Ba Den mountain and scared many people in the area to death. But when questioned by MACV about the authenticity of this information through intelligence data and photographs, the 6th Squadron had no concrete evidence.
In contrast, it is the US military that is most affected by this campaign. It was the American soldiers who learned about the contents of the OWS tapes that thought it seemed to be about their own lives, not those of the Liberation soldiers.
The image of Vietnamese people and soldiers dying in battle made them think of themselves. The OWS campaign was popularly deployed from 1968 to 1970, a time when the anti-war movement in the US increased, the number of American soldiers killed in the Vietnam battlefield peaked with about 5000 – 6000 soldiers/ year.
In addition, the implementation of the OWS campaign is very problematic. When the US military used helicopters or trailers with high-powered loudspeakers, broadcast at midnight, dawn or late evening, this naturally made it easier for the Liberation Army to detect the location of American soldiers and very strong response.
Think about it, in the middle of the night in the jungle, the enemy reveals its location openly. When the recording was played, the North Vietnamese Army’s firepower responded to the enemy.
Another factor that caused this campaign to fail was that the US seemed to have misunderstood the spiritual culture of the Vietnamese people. A famous comment on the Reddit forum said about this campaign: “Vietnamese were not as stupid as the Americans thought. Any soldier who walked through the forest for more than 1,000 kilometers to the front, they were not afraid at all.”
In fact, the North Vietnamese soldiers witnessed sounds far scarier than that. For example, the sound of the B-52 bombing, the sound of Napalm bombs, the sound of diving bombers, … And the Liberation soldiers have forged from fear and turned it into an iron will to fight.
Operation Wandering Soul at first glance sounds good. But Americans do not understand the Vietnamese, do not understand the spiritual culture of this country, making this campaign a clumsy, costly show.
Operation OWS became one of the most failed psychological warfare operations in US military history. To date, this is still the largest “ghost scare” campaign that the US has ever carried out. And of course with its disastrous results, no one would dare to think of doing this campaign again anywhere.