Mind Games From Above

Mind Games From Above:

The Use of Psychological Warfare and Direct Propaganda at the Turning Point of the Malayan Emergency, 1952-54

by Stephen J Fallon

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The Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) provides several interesting lessons for those interested in the separate, but related fields of political history and the psychology of war. This essay focuses on the latter as the success of the conflict for the British army, UK government and Malayan state (who will be referred to as the 'the authorities') is a direct reflection of the centrality of psychology in this war. This essay does not seek to provide a chronological narrative of the Emergency's progression, but will instead focus on the relatively unexplored branch of the conflict: the use of propaganda and the psychological methods employed the government and its agents. This essay will analyse the psychology behind the propaganda used during the conflict and the British army and UK government's adaptation of it to suit conditions in Malaya. While somewhat more has been written about the propaganda used, its use in conjunction with psychological warfare (psywar) techniques has received little attention in the past fifty years. In particular the psychological methodologies developed by the British army during the period 1951-53 for use against the communist insurgents in Malaya present a case study with lessons for a professional army to successfully combat irregular troops in a rural setting.

The term 'Emergency' was used at the time and remains in common usage today. The UK and Malayan governments at the time wished to avoid higher insurance premiums for companies operating in Malaya as a declaration of war would have negative effects on the UK economy which was still attempting to recover from WWII. As a result, there was a deliberate attempt to play down events in the UK and in the press to avoid drawing attention to the conflict. This began with the deliberate application of word 'emergency', which did not place it on par with a full-scale war and relegated it in people's mind to a minor hiccup in a far flung colony.

This essay will review the means by which the communist insurgency in Malaya was isolated from it logistical base among the people and subsequently picked apart by well thought out means. The Malayan Emergency is an example of the rise of non-set piece battles that have occurred with far greater frequency around the world since 1945 and is a prototype of the nature of warfare as it exists in the modern world. In particular this essay tracks the emergence and development of pre-meditated psychological warfare operations undertaken against communist insurgents in Malaya, while also tracking the use and adaption of new mediums for the distribution of propaganda, focusing in particular on the pivotal years of 1952-54.

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Stephen J Fallon is a student at Trinity College Dublin with a BA (Hons) History (Pending).

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