Throughout centuries of fighting, the fundamental basis of warfare remains the ideological or militaristic conflict between two opposing sides. While the means, methods and strategies of warfare have changed dramatically in the last four hundred years, governments and militaries have always needed to find a way to ensure that morale remains on their side and encourage antipathy towards their opponents. Influencing activities have been important in warfare throughtout history, with military leaders and campaigns requiring the moral and material support of the people in order to succeed. When looking at the strategies of Napoleon Boneaparte, Clausewitz’s trinity, and the Allied and German propaganda of World War I, wartime influence has remained an incredibly valuable component of earning loyalty among the peoples directly affected by military conflicts.
Some of the earliest, most prominent examples of European wartime influencing include Napoleon’s efforts at building up public support for his campaign throughout Europe. Napoleon’s methods were particularly innovative; while he utilized the press and other normal avenues of influence to extol the virtues of his cause, Napoleon capitalized on his own image to create a cult of personality around himself, “[strengthening] his always precarious legitimacy by the continued invocation of patriotic-revolutionary symbols”. One way in which this was done was through medallions, which he commissioned to commemorate many of his battles (such as the Five Battles Series) – by wearing them, in inflated his sense of success and prestige, which thus made him more admirable as a leader. Even in these early forms of influence, war leaders knew to attract the public using innovative and varied methods to catch their attention and earn their loyalty.
Utilizing influence as an important and vital military tool became particularly useful following the French Revolution, in which “ideological loyalties to the nation and to the army that served itwere suddenly heightened.” However, Napoleon used these and other strategies to change this outlook; one way by which this was facilitated was by making his regiments larger. Napoleon used multi-echelon strategic organization, a strategy he innovated, by reorganizing the French military into a top-down hierarchical structure that created huge formations whose influence ended with him. With these and other military strategies, Napoleon not only allowed his military successes to gain ground in the campaign, but his successes also permitted him to gain influence among the French people. In essence, because he was succeeding so much, the French people became more likely to support him. This level of direct influence through innovative military strategy was the cornerstone of Napoleon’s campaigns, and an important barometer for the success of his leadership.
Another way in which military elements utilize influence to gain ground within the realm of war is the Clausewitzian trinity – a method of influencing the population to maintain support over the people. According to Clausewitz, there is a “trinity” of forces that facilitate how war works out in the real world, which is: “composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.”
As such the three forces at hand roughly translate to the conflux of violent emotions, the capitalization of probability and chance, and how calculated strategies can capitalize on both of those.
This first element of Clausewitz’s theory is inextricable from the passions of the people toward their enemies, which is an important tool in wartime influence. In many ways, militaries influence their people based on the emotional antipathy they tend to carry for the people their leaders have marked as ‘enemies’ – effective military leaders can leverage this passion, in combination with effective chances for support and their own strategies into positive dividends down the line in terms of warfare. In order to gain the public’s support in wartime, the people must not just wish for their soldiers to survive, but for their enemies to fall; this offers the emotional base in which commanders (like Napoleon) can manipulate the people to influence them to provide public support and resources for the cause. From this theoretical perspective, wartime influencing of public support can be seen as an inextricable element of the very nature of conflict itself. This further cements the idea that influencing of citizens during wartime is a mainstay throughout the history of human conflict.
While these efforts were important and noteworthy, influencing in the state it is known today began in earnest around the time of World War I. The forces on both sides of the conflict constructed incredibly large and intricate influence operations to involve the people in their support of their pet side of the war. Influence was also used to deliberately obfuscate any gaining or loss of ground – “in the war of position, nations magnified any loss of terrain for propaganda purposes” during the First World War, as the relationship between public morale and practical progress in the war was very strong. At the same time, German withdrawals were capitalized on by Allied propaganda, allowing them to exaggerate those movements as defeats. From that point on, influence itself became a double-edged sword, known for obfuscating facts as much as it was inspiring its people to help its nation win a conflict, and inspiring resentment of citizens toward its host countries for getting them involved in wars using it.
Throughout the history of warfare, nations have always used influence to convince their people of the righteous nature of their cause. As Clausewitz notes in his military theories, the antipathy of the people is an essential component that militaries should capitalize on to maintain their sense of momentum, increase chances, and influence wartime policy. Even today, influence remains a useful tool for warfare, with many new technologies providing even more varied ways or governments and militaries to advertise the righteousness of their cause. Along the way, various methods and media have been used as the canvas to ensure that citizens side with them against their enemy, and provide material and emotional support for the fight.
Influence has been shown to be extremely effective in inspiring troops and citizens to fight for their cause, becoming an integral part of many famous conflicts and central strategies of noted military leaders, from Napoleon onwards. From the early days of Napoleon’s campaigns, to the essential theories of Clausewitz, to the propaganda machine of WWI Germany and beyond, the art of influence has long been a powerful tool in allowing leaders and armies to maintain support in their respective conflicts.
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