January 18

1941: The term, “psychological warfare” was a Nazi concept adapted and “Americanized”

The phrase “psychological warfare” is reported to have first entered English in 1941 as a translated mutation of the Nazi term Weltanschauungskrieg, (meaning world view warfare). It was first embraced by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, a prominent Wall Street lawyer whom President Franklin Roosevelt appointed as Director of the new U.S. intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, forerunner of the CIA) who saw “psychological warfare” as a tool for “engineering of consent.”

Donovan viewed an understanding of Nazi psychological tactics as a vital source of ideas for “Americanized’’ versions of many of the same stratagems. Use of the new term quickly became widespread throughout the U.S. intelligence community. . . Donovan was among the first in the US to articulate a more or less unified theory of psychological warfare. . . As he saw it, the “engineering of consent” techniques used in peacetime propaganda campaigns could be quite effectively adapted to open warfare. Pro-Allied propaganda was essential to reorganizing the U.S. economy for war and for creating public support at home for intervention in Europe, Donovan believed. Fifth-column movements could be employed abroad as sources of intelligence and as morale-builders for populations under Axis control. He saw “special operations” — meaning sabotage, subversion, commando raids, and guerrilla movements — as useful for softening up targets prior to conventional military assaults. (Simpson. Science of Coercion, 1994, p. 24)


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