US military's use of mythical monster for psy-ops

In the 1950s, did the American military in the Philippines use local tales of a vampire, called the Asuang, to scare the crap out of Communist Huk rebels? Over at Mania, Fortean author Nick Redfern tells the tale of this strange bit of psyops. (Above, textbandit's photo of a spread from Juan and the Asuangs, by Jose Aruego.)
The operation was a truly ingenious one that was coordinated by a certain Major General Edward G. Lansdale. Born in 1908, Lansdale served with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War. Then, in 1945, he was transferred to HQ Air Forces Western Pacific in the Philippines; and, in 1957, he received a posting to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, working as Deputy Assistant to the SoD for what were vaguely termed as “Special Operations...."

In his own words, Lansdale would later say that: “To the superstitious, the Huk battleground was a haunted place filled with ghosts and eerie creatures. A combat psy-war squad was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of an Asuang living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along the trail used by the Huks.”  

Lansdale continued: “When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the Asuang had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on that hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.”

  "Lair of the Beasts: The Military and Monsters" (via The Anomalist)


  1. When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me to get home before dark before the aswang were out. I got psy-warefare’d!

    Now they tell me sky santa will be angry if I don’t go to church on Sunday. Fool me twice…

  2. Article 17 of the Geneva conventions:

    Parties to the conflict […] shall further ensure that the dead are honourably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged, that their graves are respected, grouped if possible according to the nationality of the deceased, properly maintained and marked so that they may always be found.

    1. Eh, the dead guy in question was essentially returned to his comrades, who presumably buried him properly. This ploy was basically a combat action anyway, of which there are many that don’t leave a body behind at all.

      In related news, am I a bad person for wanting to see this kind of thing in a videogame? Getting the artificial intelligence working for it would be difficult. If I recall, Crysis allows you to mess with enemy soldiers a bit this way, since you can turn invisible. Stealth games lean in this direction a little bit, but usually the enemies just turn hostile.

  3. “Born in 1908, Lansdale served with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War.”

    They were a strange bunch in the OSS and their Psychological Warfare division. Paul Myron Linebarger (better known as Cordwainer Smith) wrote the book on psychological warfare (literally) and most psy ops operations still follow his principles.

  4. The team achieved their objective with only one fatality – that’s a win.

    @Volker: you are off-topic – their actions were post-mortem but pre-internment.

  5. Now I have more ammunition for my latest conspiracy theory: that the leprechaun was made up to cover Irish peasants who sabotaged the Vikings!

    “Faith, Vidkun, I dinna know who took yer broadsword: must have been a leprechaun, b’gorra.”

  6. Wow, I guess this has been SOP since WW2: here’s a link on the use of fox legends in Japan.

    Now I’m wondering what the hell the chupacabra and cattle mutilations are being used to cover up.

      1. Thanks, David!

        If you liked those links, you’ll love this:

        Rand Corporation’s 1950 masterpiece, “The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare.”

        Among other gems: the US airdropped foreboding horoscopes over Germany, the Brits used a giant robo-scarecrow to scare the shit out of Italian peasants, and US soothsayers broadcast phrenological analyses to foretell the fall of Japan.

    1. –Sounds like a war crime to me. We were not at war with the Philippines or anyone in the Philippines. —

      Duh, we sure weren’t. I guess we shouldn’t have been fighting the Huks, what with them being Filipino and us bein’ American and all.

      -Darren MacLennan

      1. Interesting wikipedia article. But anyone who defends the people against the wealthy and powerful sounds like a real hero to me.
        “An important movement in the campaign against the Huks was the deployment of hunter-killer counter guerilla special units. The “Nenita” unit (1946–1949) was the first of such special forces whose main mission was to eliminate the Huks. The Nenita Force was commanded by Major Napoleon Valeriano. The Nenita terror tactics which were not only committed against dissidents but also towards law-abiding people sometimes helped the Huks gain supporters as a consequence.”

        1. You mean, against the depredations of the wealthy and powerful, don’t you?
          For simply being wealthy and powerful, alone, ought not to be enough to gain enmity…

    2. Sounds like a war crime to me.

      I hadn’t thought of that. I’m not arguing, but I wouldn’t have thought that anything one could do to a dead body could be a war crime — it’s an inanimate object at that point. I guess I can see how it would be seen that way though.

  7. There’s an excellent asuang subplot in Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, which just so happens to be the best novel written on Earth in 2007

  8. Those of you eager to term this a war crime should take into account that the alternative would have been a conventional assault which would have killed more people in an undoubtedly more horrific fashion. This is one of those cases where what could, strictly defined, be a war crime resulted in less loss of life than a conventional approach would have.

    And don’t tell me that leaving them alone was an option, to the people doing this it was not, that particular decision is for the policy makers.

  9. “simply being wealthy and powerful, alone, ought not to be enough to gain enmity…”

    No! because most people who are wealthy AND powerful got that way by emulating Mother Theresa! AND putting out lots of bird feeders!!

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