Operation Wandering Soul Cover Photo

Operation Wandering Soul was a creepy USA propaganda experiment orchestrated to frighten the superstitious instincts of Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Propaganda has a variety of purposes to misinform, but a predominant one is to elicit fear: demoralize and route the enemy. Operation Wandering Soul was an audacious plan seeking to manipulate the Vietnamese’s fear of ghosts, ingrained culturally from a belief of ‘Wandering Souls’ in the event a deceased individual isn’t properly appeased in burial. War is rife of such misgivings and so is the wilderness in which it was mainly fought. The US military would play recordings imitating deceased Viet Cong’s ghostly wails, accompanied with haunting noises as potent psychological warfare inspired from more supernatural horrors.

Helicopter equipped with loud speakers

Helicopters and soldiers would also blare these haunting noises, foreboding phrases occasionally mimicking the Viet Kong’s fallen comrades as returning spirits, “My friends, I have come back to let you know that I am dead … I am dead!”, “Don’t end up like me. Go home, friends, before it’s too late!”! Buddhist death mantras would also play, evoking an idea of a future funeral. In the loneliness of night amongst heavy foliage of rural jungle, where shapes and shadows are contorted from underbrush everywhere, it is easy to imagine the surreal impact of such disconcerting sounds from supernatural motifs- all calm in the wilderness abruptly ceased (along with normal sense of reality); tension would already be high from the fact it is a perilous warzone. Camping in the wilderness, one may easily feel vulnerability and relate to the idea of being spooked from such an abrupt, unexplained audio.

Ghost Tape Number Ten is is an available excerpt of such broadcast from the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion – embedded underneath – which was echoed around the perimeter of American forward operating bases to any observers: distorted cries, uncanny screams and incoherent pleading. The Viet Cong, however, reportedly seemed unaffected and casually shot at the speakers emitting these ‘horrifying’ recordings, weakening support for such unconventional schemes more resembling absurd CIA ideas such as their interrogation technique of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (inducing surreal conditions to trip a subject into speaking up from disorientation). No Viet Cong veterans have documented their reaction, however, to such a bizarre tactic, but the tactic of twisting dark folklore into theatrical trickery would undoubtedly have universal application.

Viet Cong forces were a paramilitary strongly comprised of farmers and other less educated people of villages, still firmly rooted in ancestral beliefs and practices due to no mainstream education as an alternative. This characteristic of their composition caused them to be viewed as ‘backwards’ for susceptibility to these presumptuous pressures, but America failed to consider their fearless determination and mentality of accepting death. It would interestingly, however, be the Americans more prone to anxiety, fears and confusion.

The Vietnam War was a contentious time of American history in which their military occupied a foreign land they barely understood and become embroiled in another country’s internal issues of little concern to citizens of either soldiers or citizens of the USA. The land was culturally far from the USA and their involvement was regarded tantamount to an invasion – they didn’t belong on distant soils of dense jungles in the tropics as at odds to any idea of ‘home’ in the USA. The experiment was concluded as ineffective due to communism discouraging superstitious thinking – evidence of the arrogance in trying to patronisingly leverage native beliefs – and had ironic effects as well. Isolated and without a definitive purpose, it was natural for soldiers to have frail mental health and these eerie effects inadvertently unsettled (along with annoyed) American soldiers in equal measure – the creepy noises rebounding into their own camps as well .

“I am in Hell… just Hell. It was a senseless death.”

Accessible records, however, are scarce and likely classified, but it does have me wonder – what other ‘horror scenarios’ have military forces concocted to demoralise enemy troops? Will such tales also emerge from Afghanistan and Iraq? Are they taking the logic of a ‘haunted house’ setup and utilizing this in the field in the manner of a weaponized stage production? How would a soldier remain composed, too, on a patrol while encountering an experience mirroring their worst fears?
If you were in the woods at night, tense and nervous, when suddenly a hologram of Sadako manifested, crawling down from a nearby tree, how rational could you be in that exact moment? Would you uphold your beliefs of reality or surrender to imagination?