Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2001/ 18 Tishrei 5762

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How to break hearts and bend minds -- PSY-WAR is back, but so far we're using it mostly on ourselves.

Psychological warfare, or the art of using fear to demoralize and neutralize an enemy, is older than bombs, bullets or even boiling oil, and in a war on terrorism, it's likely to be the most effective weapon available to the civilized side.

As awful as the atrocities of September 11 were, the most effective weapon Osama bin Laden unsheathed was fear - fear of the unknown, fear of the unexpected, fear of what next.

"The modern terrorists have at their disposal what amounts to a nearly unstoppable weapon, in some ways the ultimate weapon," says Stephen Ambrose, the pre-eminent historian of World War II, in the Wall Street Journal. "It is the man willing to give up his life for his cause. In World War II, the U.S. Navy took its most severe losses not at Pearl Harbor or in the Atlantic, but in the Philippines and at Okinawa. What sank more American ships and killed more sailors than any other weapon was the kamikaze. There was no machine then, and no computer now, that can respond as fast or as accurately as the human eye and brain. Kamikaze pilots are relatively easy to train, darn near impossible to stop."

But just when we began to breathe a little easier as the FBI, the CIA and local cops began to identify the terrorists among us and to close in on Osama bin Laden's cells abroad, we're told that breathing could be riskiest of all - that the terrorists could dwarf the carnage at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with bio-terror, the spreading of deadly germs and chemicals. The possibility of this actually happening, bio-terror experts concede, ranges from unlikely to remote, but you wouldn't know that if you listen to the hype and gory in the media. A lot of us are properly scared.

This only demonstrates how effective psy-war can be, and suggests infinite possibilities, if not exactly infinite justice. The Islamist fruitcakes (we're not talking about peaceful Muslims) are likely to be far more susceptible to psy-war than we are.

There's something about the untutored Arab imagination that responds to hyperbole, rendering it especially vulnerable to suggestion and manipulation. Osama bin Laden's followers are obsessed with the promise of an afterlife in paradise and the 74 virgins who wait there to serve them. (The fanatics apparently have not considered the grim fact that for every waiting virgin there's a prospective mother-in-law). They're peculiarly vulnerable to psy-war.

Devout Muslims may not fear death, but they are terrified of pork, with or without beans. Many believe that even martyrs will be denied entrance to paradise and the virgins if they are contaminated by the flesh of pigs. The British learned this the hard way in 1857, when their sepoys, or native Muslim soldiers in the Bengal army of the East India Co., went crazy when gossip spread through the barracks that a new shipment of cartridges, with greased paper to survive the heat and dust, were soiled with grease made from the fat of pigs. (The mutiny spread to Hindu troops when provocateurs said no, it was grease from the fat of cows.) Thousands died before the British put down the Sepoy Rebellion a year later.

So here's a helpful suggestion. We learned only yesterday that U.S. and British commanders intend to drop leaflets on Taliban territory in advance of precision attacks on Osama bin Laden's hideouts and training camps, assuring Taliban soldiers and sympathetic tribesmen that the West means them no harm. This is nice, and it might even persuade a Taliban warrior or two.

The leaflets would be far more effective if they relate the story of how Gen. John J. "Blackjack" Pershing dealt with Islamist terror in the Philippines in 1911. Pershing detailed a patrol to bring in six known terrorists who had slain women and children in a backwoods village. The terrorists were required to dig their own graves, and then were lashed to stakes to await the firing squad. Several pigs were brought before them for slaughter.

"When you are buried," the officer of the detail told the terrorists, "we will bury the pig offal with you. You'll never see paradise." And no virgins, either.

One of the terrorists was allowed to "escape" to return to his fellows to tell the awful story, as Pershing knew he would. There was no more trouble in the neighborhood for years, for long after Pershing was long gone to France to command American doughboys in the Great War.

This was the kind of punishment a society like ours would never countenance today, of course, even for Osama bin Laden's evildoers. But merely telling the story would tell the Taliban warriors, loud and clear, just how mean the infidels are prepared to be.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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