Updated June 11th, 2024 at 22:02 IST

How the US Military Employed Ghostly Recordings in Intricate PsyOps Campaign During the Vietnam War

Discontinued in the 1970s, its legacy underscores military's willingness to delve into the supernatural for an advantage.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
Marines moving through a landing zone in Vietnam. | Image:AP
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Hanoi, Vietnam: In the thick, unforgiving jungles of Vietnam during the war in 1955, the Americans deployed a chilling strategy of Psychological Warfare against the Vietcong. Dubbed Operation Wandering Soul, the opetaion was focused on invoking Vietnamese cultural beliefs of restless spirits haunting the living. The eerie audio recordings dubbed Ghost Tapes, a product of meticulous planning by the army's concept team, aimed to exploit Vietnamese folklore, where improperly buried souls were believed to wander.  

Vietnamese culture, steeped in traditions honouring the dead, holds that without a proper burial, souls remain trapped, wandering in perpetual agony. Leveraging this belief, the U.S. orchestrated a psychological warfare campaign, hoping to unnerve and disorient the Vietcong forces entrenched in the dense foliage.  

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The Haunting Tape: Deploying the Ghost Tapes

U.S. engineers meticulously crafted haunting audio recordings, featuring altered voices and eerie sounds, mimicking slain Vietcong soldiers' restless spirits. Collaborating with South Vietnamese soldiers for authenticity, the recordings included Buddhist funeral music interwoven with ghostly pleas and warnings, urging the living to return home to avoid a similar fate.

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Under the cover of darkness, American forces unleashed the ghostly recordings from helicopters, strategically positioned near Vietcong hideouts. The spectral voices echoed through the dense jungle, disrupting the enemy's rest and invoking fear of the supernatural, hoping to coax them into revealing their positions. 

How Successful was America’s PsyOps? 

The results of Operation Wandering Soul were mixed, as the Vietcong, though aware of the ruse, often responded with gunfire towards the source of the haunting sounds. Despite this, the operation was deemed a success by the Army Concept Team, citing increased desertions and defections among enemy ranks, though concrete evidence was lacking.

Ultimately, the United States discontinued the use of Operation Wandering Soul in the early 1970s, with similar tactics considered for deployment in other conflict zones like the Congo never seeing fruition. While the psychological impact of the ghost tapes remains debatable, their legacy underscores the lengths to which military strategists will go to gain an advantage, even if it means delving into the realm of the supernatural. 

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Published June 11th, 2024 at 22:02 IST