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Screams from the Shadows: The Legacy of Operation Wandering Soul

In the spooky depths of Vietnam's jungles during the war, something bizarre would happen to Viet Cong forces and North Vietnamese soldiers as they tried to catch some rest. In the dead of night, instead of the sound of nature surrounding them, they'd hear a voice. But not just any voice - it was eerie, ghostly even. And absolutely terrifying.

This voice didn't belong to any living person. The voice mimicked their comrades who screamed with anguish, pleading with the soldiers to reconsider their choices. "My body's gone. I am dead, my family. Tragic, how tragic! My friends, I come back to let you know that I am dead. I am dead...I'm in hell. Friends," it'd cry out, "while you are still alive...go home! Go home, my friends it is too late! "sending shivers down spines and sending those within earshot into an existential crisis. The tape also included dissonant music and a little girl screaming "Come home, Daddy!"

But, this wasn't some paranormal phenomenon. It was the brainchild of crafty U.S. soldiers playing mind games with loudspeakers.

They called it Ghost Tape Number 10, and it was like a horror movie soundtrack come to life. Its goal? To mess with the heads of the North Vietnamese soldiers, to make them doubt, to make them afraid.

This psychological operations (psyops) tactic wasn't just about scaring the men It's difficult to fully grasp the fear that this recording could evoke in the Vietnamese, who still hold strong beliefs in ancestor worship, the afterlife, and even ghosts. Despite Vietnam being officially secular, Buddhist traditions are deeply ingrained, with nearly every household having a shrine. According to local beliefs, when someone passes away without receiving a traditional burial, their spirit is believed to roam among the living, haunted by unresolved emotions and suffering for eternity.

Creating Ghost Tape Number 10 was no simple task. U.S. military engineers embarked on a chilling mission, recording the voice of a male South Vietnamese national through an echo chamber, aiming to evoke the essence of the departed. But that was just the beginning. They dedicated weeks to capturing eerie, distorted sounds and creating a weapon that would torment the enemy-often long after the conflict was over.

These tactics were employed broadly, not only affecting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, but shocking civilians and South Vietnam soldiers as well.

In conjunction with the Ghost Tape, The US Army outfitted Huey helicopters and tactical vehicles with colossal speakers, blaring out nerve-wracking audio that could make even the bravest combatants tremble. U.S. troops cranked up rock-and-roll music to maximum volume, sending Viet Cong soldiers fleeing from their hiding spots in agony, only to fall prey to waiting U.S. troops.

But the chopper and truck-mounted speakers weren't just instruments of terror. They also played softer tunes, like Vietnamese love songs and religious melodies, designed to further break the spirits of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. Meanwhile, leaflets promising medical assistance to the families of Viet Cong fighters were designed to appeal to their code of obligation. In some cases even offering medical aid to the families of captured fighters.

In another cunning move, the CIA ran a radio station dubbed “Mother Vietnam.” Here, two or three Vietnamese women delivered heart-rending messages to enemy forces, often weaving in personal details gleaned from the letters of deceased Viet Cong soldiers. It was a psychological ploy that cut deep, exploiting emotions to weaken the resolve of those on the opposing side.

Psyops has been used for decades, with a beginning in the "Ghost Army" recordings of WWII to make the Germans believe that the Allies had a much bigger force. But in Vietnam, it appealed directly to their culture's sense of ancestral spirits and cut close to home. Even when the Viet Cong and NVA realized that the techniques were being employed, it frayed their nerves.

Often, these psyops tactics are discussed as a matter of ethics. Is it right to use such techniques against combatants? After all, innocent civilians are also susceptible to the tactics. Is it a violation of human rights to use these techniques or is nothing fair war? I'll leave it up to you as you listen to the tape:


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