Out of the night sky came an ominous, warbling whine, like bagpipes punctuated with cymbals. It was Buddhist funeral music – a dissonant dirge cascading from the darkness. Then a snatch of dialogue between a mother and child: “Mother, where is daddy?” “Don’t ask me questions. I am very worried about him.” “But I miss Daddy very much. Why is he gone so long?”
It was only one of many sights and sounds that the Viet Cong are greeted to every day, courtesy of JUSPAO – the Joint United States Public Affairs Office, which handles psychological warfare in South Viet Nam. Funeral dirges howl nightly over Viet Cong… along with the tape-recorded cries of little children, and weird, electronic cacophonies intended to raise terrifying images of forest demons among the superstitious terrorists.
Time Magazine, 29 October 1965
In Mirage Men I point to a number of different ways in which regional beliefs and folkore have been used as covers for covert operations by the British and American military and intelligence agencies.
Exploiting local superstition and belief was, and still is, a standard, if slightly unorthodox, practice for psychological warfare specialists, and UFOs are just one of many disguises that these teams would pull out of the dressing up box as and when it was appropriate.
One of my favourites is the ‘wandering soul’, deployed by the US Army 6th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam. The eerie, reverb-heavy sounds featuring recorded voices and traditional Vietnamese funeral music, tell the story of the lost soul of a man killed far away from home, speaking to his living daughter. The recording would be played via backpack or helicopter-mounted speakers and was so effective that US soldiers would regularly be freaked out when they heard it at night. It also had a reputation for always drawing enemy fire – so not a mission to be undertaken lightly.
You can read a lot more about the background to the recording, see relevant images and listen to the wandering soul itself, Ghost Tape #10, here.
Meanwhile folklorist-extraordinaire Jeremy Harte has emailed me with this review of a recent academic book on Vietnamese ghost traditions that ties directly into this discussion: War & Shadows: The Haunting of Vietnam.