A Chinese proverb says: ‘The best victory is a victory without war’. It means that to win the war; one has to convince the enemy that it is impossible to defeat you. In this way, the enemy who understands that your army is much stronger than that of his own will surrender. This consideration reveals that since ancient times warlords, generals and strategists were aware of the fact that perception is much stronger than the reality itself. This proves the argument that decisions are taken according to the information or disinformation acquired by policy makers.
When we analyse the history of wars, there are a lot of examples where strategists try to use disinformation and misperception to reach their strategic aims. As it was discussed by Adam Watson, Assyrians were the first people in the ancient world who discovered the power of information, perception and misperception.
In contrast to many ancient rulers who were indifferent to what their subjects and their enemies thought, they took pains to extol the advantages of living under the overlordship of Asshur, and they deliberately encouraged stories of their ferocity in battle and the terrible punishments they meted out afterwards, especially to defeated rulers.[i]
The matter is to convince both your soldiers and enemies that your army is invincible. Most probably, the exaggerated number of troops historians often came across in their studies of battles can be the same tactic to frighten the enemy with the quantity of soldiers. In the battle, the side who lose their hope to the victory is destined to be defeated. Therefore, to break the courage of the enemy since ancient times, warlords try to present themselves more numerous than the reality. For example, in the decisive battle of Qadissiya between Muslim Arabs and Iranians, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, the commander of Muslim forces, ordered the complementary forces to join the main army group by group. This tactic gave the perception to Iranians as if the Arab Muslim forces are continuously increasing by number. In front of such scene, many Iranians lost their decisiveness to go to war which was one of the principal reasons for Arab Muslim victory.
The Mongol army of the Great Genghis was also master in utilising the misperception given to the enemy. The good example to illustrate this is Mongol tactic in the battle between Jalaluddin Mangiberdi, the prince of Khorezmshah State and Shege Qutlu, one of the prominent generals of Genghis Khan which took place in the mountainous area near modern Kabul. The number of Mongol soldiers was less than that of Khorezmians. Therefore, to give the misperception and convince the enemy to surrender Shege Qutlu Noyan ordered his men to make puppet soldiers from the plough and make them sit on the horses. Thus, Mongol army looked more numerous than their enemy. This was the decisive factor in the victory of the Mongol side.
When it came to the modern period, European states formed the tradition of military parades to demonstrate the power of their army. Beginning from 19th-century military parades became a tradition of almost all European powers. This was the way to give the message that the country is ready for the war. In other words, it was the tool to demonstrate the preparedness of the army. On the other hand, military parades became the means to foster the nationalistic feelings of the people. To paraphrase it, military parades were the instruments to consolidate domestic politics. But after the bloody First and the Second World Wars which devastated whole Europe, the European states abandoned the tradition of military parades. Military parades were associated with totalitarian regimes especially with Germany’s Nazism and Italy’s fascism.
During the Cold War, European states preferred to use Intelligence Services to reach their strategic aims. Beginning from the mid-twentieth century, Intelligence Services and the myth about their super operation became an important tool of perception management. Today it ‘s hard to separate the real power of such services, and the legends created about them. In this period, British Intelligence Service MI5 became a significant tool to create the image of “great power” of declining empire. There is no doubt that British decision makers were the first to realise the power of perception which now can be created by modern technologies. The specific example is the film about legendary British secret agent James Bond. The primary objective of the movie is not to demonstrate the super abilities of the agent but most importantly is to show the technological power of the Britain.
Concerning the creation of the myth American, Soviet and Israeli intelligence services can be regarded as successful. Especially Mossad was famous with its secret operations. Only the name itself triggers fear of the enemies of the Jewish state. No doubt that KGB was also one of the most powerful intelligence in the world. But taking into account the Cold War circumstances and rivalry between USSR and USA, one can argue that the myth about KGB with its hand everywhere in the world was necessary for Americans. In other words, the US decision makers to support their argument about so-called threat of Communism needed a powerful enemy. In this regard, the myth of Soviet super-secret intelligence service was used to convince and win the allies.
In conclusion, today military parades are still considered by many countries as one of the essential tools in perception management. Russian military parades annually organised on May 9, the day of the Victory over Nazi Germany and Chinese military parades are the best examples of such tradition. Military parades of India and Pakistan can also be classified as large organisations. Especially developing countries of the world pay attention to such parades. But what is interesting the most developed and the most advanced nations of the world have abandoned this tradition. The US, which no doubt has the most advanced military technology and the best-equipped army, do not demonstrate their power through military parades. The fact is that the US does not need to demonstrate its military power. Anyone who watches Hollywood films can see the power of American army. In fact, we every day watch military parades of the US military in our homes. This is the best example of perception management.
[i] Adam Watson, “Assyrıa: The First Near Eastern Empire”, The Evolution Of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis, Routledge, 1992, p. 34.