Operation Wandering Soul

The people of Vietnam are deeply spiritual, with the vast majority being Buddhists. During the Vietnam war the Americans attempted to use the beliefs of the Vietnamese to their advantage. The American forces had been using psy-ops, Psychological Operations, since World War I, but during the Cold War they became a far more frequently used weapon of the USA. One example is Operation Wandering Soul, perhaps the creepiest US operation from the war.

The Vietnamese believe that their dead must be buried in their homeland; if they are not their soul will wander the land, suffering all the while. The United States learnt of their beliefs, and of Vu Lan Festival, a special day to the Vietnamese when they believe wandering souls can return to their homes. This is a highly celebrated day for the Buddhist community. 

The Americans attempted to use these beliefs against the North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong in particular. The majority of the militia would be far away from their homes during the conflict, and so the Americans stated they were sure to become wandering souls, forming the basis for this creepy plan. US engineers who worked on psy-ops spent weeks recording eerie sounds and messages in Vietnamese, designed to be the sounds of the wandering souls of the VC who had not been buried properly (or at all). They recorded these sounds on tapes, the notorious ‘Ghost Tape No. 10’ can be found online today.  The messages called on their ‘descendents’ in the Viet Cong to defect from the force; the Americans designed the messages to incite fear in the enemy and to make them flee their position. They used speakers on helicopters to play the messages throughout the nights, sometimes in conjunction with other sounds; recordings of tigers roaring were often used to create more fear and panic in the enemy forces. They also dropped many leaflets depicting dead Viet Cong soldiers, thousands of kilometres away from their homes and without proper burial, to push the message further.

The success of Operation Wandering Soul is not known, in most cases it is said that when the tapes were played, the Viet Cong opened fire towards the source of it. Most did realise what they were hearing was simply being played from helicopters above them, but many could not help but fear they would end up a wandering soul too, especially the younger members of the militia. 

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this post! 


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