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How Psychological Warfare Moved From Battlefields To Politics

Science Friday

11-06-2024 • 18 mins

When you think about connections between science and war, the obvious links are in technology—advanced radar, spy satellites, more powerful explosives—and in medical innovations that seek to heal the wounds caused by conflict. But in a new book, Stories are Weapons: Psychological Warfare and the American Mind, author Annalee Newitz says that stories and narrative can be weapons too, used in battle on a psychological battlefield.

Ira talks with Newitz about the history of psychological warfare, from Sun Tzu to Benjamin Franklin, and its modern American incarnation under the guidance of Paul Linebarger, who was also a science fiction author known by the pen name Cordwainer Smith. They discuss the characteristics of a psyop, how techniques of psychological warfare have been co-opted into modern politics, and whether there’s a route toward “psychological disarmament.”

Read an excerpt from Stories are Weapons: Psychological Warfare and the American Mind.

Transcript for this segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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