Friday, October 23, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name – Do we need to change the PSYOP name?

Lately there is a great deal of discussion about changing the name of PSYOP because of the perception of its negative connotation and conjuring up images of evil propaganda rendered by the likes of Herr Goebbels himself.

The argument goes that ‘the winning of hearts and minds’ is a core effort on the world stage and is being waged from the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of many nations around the world and that this global effort is being hampered in part due to the negatives associated with “PSYOP”.
While I wouldn’t argue that propaganda has a negative connotation or that the media and others will never miss an opportunity to trumpet the negative, I don’t believe that a name change is in the best interests of our national defense or the PSYOP community.

The notion of influencing behavior as a warfighting system is often a hard sell. Combat CDRs are used to measuring success in body counts and the “kill’em all, let God sort them out” philosophy. While PSYOP has been an important element in past wars, it is front and center today.

The quagmire that is Afghanistan has underscored the need to win the confidence of the local population as a condition precedent (sorry for the legal term) to stability and a foundation to dominating counter insurgency operations (COIN) and stabilizing the security of the country. I think it is fair to say that the “PSYOP guys” (even though many are women) enjoy a very positive reputation at the tactical level.

The challenge for PSYOP has generally not been at the bottom of the command pyramid, rather at the senior levels. Changing the name doesn’t alter this premise and in fact may make the challenge even more difficult since it takes time for a new brand name to gain recognition and acceptance.

It strikes me that Military Intelligence (MI) and the longevity of that Branch name is a good case in point. MI has not always enjoyed a positive image. Colonel Sam Flagg the paranoid MI officer on MASH was the embodiment of all that was wrong with MI and a recurring (6 times) visitor. The Viet Nam era didn’t help burnish the MI image – yet the name and the proud legacy that went with it remains.

While I am against a change of the name PSYOP, I believe we should adapt to the situation in naming organizations that perform PSYOP. If it makes sense to name the deployed organization a Military Information Support Team or a Combined Joint Military Information Campaign Task Force then let’s do so, but let’s not upend all that we have gained under the PSYOP banner with a name change.

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