Small Wars Journal

Hearts and Minds

Sun, 10/21/2007 - 10:25am
Yesterday morning I was participating in an e-mail discussion when, in passing, the term "hearts and minds" came up. As these counterinsurgency (COIN) components are oft misunderstood or misrepresented -- here are several notations on what hearts and minds actually means.

First up, from the very subjective and politically influenced Wikipedia, a hyperbole misrepresentation:

Hearts and Minds was a euphemism for a campaign by the United States military during the Vietnam War, intended to win the popular support of the Vietnamese people.

Many feel that this was no more than pro-war propaganda, and rang hollow compared to anti-war publicity efforts. Over the years, "Hearts and Minds" became a shorthand reference for disingenuous and misguided attempts to use a military to make a subjugated population behave more like its conquerors. The 1974 film Hearts and Minds showed the potential contradictions of the term, and for some the term "Hearts and Minds" remains symbolic of the fictional nature of militarist propaganda.

Counterinsurgency: FM 3024 / MCWP 3.33.5 defines the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds as the two components in building trusted networks in the conduct of COIN operations:

"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.

I think Dr. David Kilcullen defined hearts and minds as two components of COIN operations quite nicely during a COIN seminar at Quantico, Virginia, several weeks ago.

In addressing the reality of hearts and minds Kilcullen explained how the following 1952 statement by General Sir Gerald Templer, Director of Operations and High Commissioner for Malaya, has been misinterpreted:

"The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan People"

General Templer did not mean (or say) that we must "be nice to the population" or make them like us. What he meant, and his subsequent actions played out, was that success in COIN rests on the popular perception and this perception has an emotive ("hearts") component and a cognitive ("minds") component.

Kilculen continued - what is essential here is making the population choose. The gratitude theory -- "be nice to the people, meet their needs and they will feel grateful and stop supporting the insurgents" -- does not work. The enemy simply intimidates the population when COIN forces / government are not present resulting in lip-service as the population sees COIN forces / government as weak and easily manipulated. In time, this leads to hatred of COIN forces / government by the population. On the other hand, the choice theory -- "enable (persuade, coerce, co-opt) the population to make an irrevocable choice to support COIN forces / government usually works better. The population typically desires to "sit on the fence" and not commit to supporting any side in an insurgency / COIN environment. COIN forces / government need to get the population off that fence and keep them there. This requires persuading the population, then protecting them, where they live. While this cannot be done everywhere, it must be done where it politically counts.

The components of "Hearts" and "Minds":

Hearts: The population must be convinced that our success is in their long-term interests.

Minds: The population must be convinced that we actually are going to win, and we (or a transition force) will permanently protect their interests.

Essential to these two components is the perceived self-interest of the population, not about whether the population likes COIN forces / government. The principle emotive content is respect, not affection. Support based on liking does not survive when the enemy applies fear, intimidation trumps affection. Disappointment, unreliability, failure and defeat are deadly -- preserving prestige and popular respect through proven reliability, honoring promises and following through, is key. Smacking the enemy hard (kinetic operations), publicly, when feasible (and no innocents are targeted) is also key. The enemy's two key assets are cultural understanding of the target population, and longevity (he will be around when we leave). Close cooperation with the host nation -- to design messages and demonstrate long-term reliability -- are critical.



The Strong Horse in Counterinsurgency - The Captain's Journal