#3. Hernan Cortes Sinks the Boats... His Own
In 1519, Hernan Cortes led an exploratory expedition from Cuba into Mexico, which was largely unexplored at the time. But what Cortes did know was that the mainland supported a gold-rich empire responsible for the disappearance of many of their previous expeditions. This was because of the Aztecs who, as they would soon find out, were cannibalistic warriors who wore the skins of their defeated enemies as trophies. And there were a shitload of Aztecs--about half a million.
But Cortes intended to conquer them... with 500 men.
Hernan Cortes. Not pictured: his balls. But just barely.
The fact that this plan was probably suicide did not escape his men once they were in Mexico. Rumors swirled that Cortes had gone insane, and the men were already content with the gold they had gathered from local tribes. They were very much ready to go back home, and when Cortes refused, some of the men even tried to steal one of the boats and head to Cuba.
Cortes, in a mindfuck played on his own men that in retrospect probably did little to quell the rumors of insanity, sank his own boats, trapping himself and his men in an Aztec-infested wilderness.
"Yes, I sank your boats. You're welcome."
Once it became obvious that their only means of escape was sitting on the ocean floor, Cortes called all his men together for a meeting. Addressing his now-mutinous soldiers, Cortes admitted that he had sunk the boats on purpose, but he asked the angry mob to do what mobs do best: be rational.
They were all stranded now, and regardless of whose fault it was (his), the only way to survive was to conquer the Aztecs and become the lords of Mexico. Besides, with such a small force, the share of plunder for each soldier would be huge.
One boat remained in working condition, and he offered it up freely to any cowards who did not want to join him. Having been totally called out, his men ran down the remaining boat and sunk it themselves.
Cortes and his men plunged into Mexico and pretty much mindfucked the Aztecs into oblivion with a series of brazen acts too numerous for us to recount here. In the course of this, Cortes first somehow managed to convince thousands of Native Americans to join him against the Aztecs.
"Join me, and you too can sink your own boats with reckless abandon."
He was also peacefully invited to meet the Aztec emperor, and soon took the man hostage right there in his own palace. He also may or may not have convinced the Aztecs that he was the serpent god Quetzalcoatl, which we like to imagine involved Cortes and his men building a huge paper mache snake costume.
#2. Haile Selassie Wins a War the Rasta Way
Haile Selassie was an inspirational Ethiopian leader of the early and mid-20th century, a brilliant strategist and--depending on who you're asking--God. Also known as Ras Tafari, Selassie was such a powerful and motivational figure that he became a legend in his own lifetime, unwittingly inspiring Rastafarianism, a religion based on marijuana as a spiritual tool and the belief that mild-mannered Selassie was Jesus reincarnated as the black messiah.
Not everybody was a fan, however, and one warlord, Balcha Safo, stood in Selassie's way. Balcha amassed an army in a show of strength and marched it to the capital, waiting outside the city for Selassie's next move.
Knowing that Balcha was testing his resolve, and that he'd be on the lookout for any manner of deception, Selassie devised his mindfuck. Acting deferentially, he invited Balcha to a banquet in his honor. Now Balcha knew something was up, the whole fake banquet thing was a common method of deception in tribal Ethiopia, where many an inebriated and well-fed warlord was murdered or imprisoned as soon as he let his guard down.
So Balcha accepted the invitation, but brought 600 of his best-trained and most loyal men with him, warning them to avoid drinking and to stay on high alert. Playing the perfect host, Selassie was deferential and polite to Balcha, playing songs in his honor and in general making it appear he was trying his best to appease Balcha. Meanwhile, Balcha played the role of a complete asshole to perfection. While this was somewhat understandable given the circumstances, Selassie's act of prolonged passive aggression worked to perfection. By the end of the banquet, Balcha's own men were sneaking around behind his back just to apologize for his behavior.
The evening ended and Balcha left the city amid gun salutes and cheers. No trap had been sprung, and he felt certain that Selassie was an easily conquerable pushover quivering in fear. He returned to where his army of 10,000 men were waiting.
They were gone.
Balcha had been the victim of the legendary double-mindfuck. While Balcha kept his guard up in the presence of Selassie, Selassie's army had approached Balcha's 10,000 men with baskets of gold and cash. They bought the soldiers' weapons and the army disbanded to go buy themselves some whores.
Balcha was greeted instead by an opposing army blocking his way home and another covering his retreat. Shamed and with no other options, Balcha agreed to enter a monastery. Check-mother-fucking-mate.
It was that classic battlefield mindfuck: the kind that's so sublimely perfect, that nobody even has to fire a shot. Who could possibly top that?
#1. Mahatma Gandhi, That's Who
Everybody knows the name Gandhi, even though at the sound of the name most of you are picturing Ben Kingsley.
The British had held India as a colony since 1857. Gandhi came onto the scene in 1921, and was chosen to lead a civil disobedience campaign by the Indian National Congress. The British prepared themselves for mobs, rowdy demonstrations and, possibly, revolt. Losing nearby Afghanistan in 1919 was still fresh in British minds, and they weren't keen on losing a colony as rich as India. They were ready for a fight.
But, a pacifist by nature, Gandhi was also someone who was very familiar with the British. He knew that above all else, they considered themselves to be highly civilized people, and that they believed they were improving the world by Anglicizing it. So instead of instigating a fight that the British could ultimately blame them for, Gandhi promoted a completely non-violent resistance method, beginning with a protest against the British salt tax.
Britain, taxing basic commodities to their own detriment since 1773.
In May of 1930, Gandhi's raid of the Dharasana Salt Works took the British completely by surprise. Mostly because none of the invaders were armed. Hundreds of defenseless men willingly walked up to be clubbed and beaten down by the soldiers protecting the entrance, an occurrence later described by the clueless Viceroy of India in a letter to King George, as "severe battles" from which "a good many people suffered minor injuries in consequence."
Gandhi's plan worked to perfection. When international attention was given to the Indian independence movement, the British were painted as the bad guys. The British people, themselves liberals at heart, now felt paralyzed with ambivalence. With the underlying threat of violence from which their rule took its legitimacy brutally exposed, their ideas of what "civilizing" lesser cultures entailed was now called into question.
When World War II broke out and the British were trying to rally everyone to stand up for the cause of Democracy and freedom, Gandhi was there to helpfully remind everyone that the British were saying this while keeping a boot on India's neck.
In 1947, India was granted it independence.
Gandhi's strategy of non-violent confrontation worked so well that it went on to influence Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. It proved once and for all that as far as battlefield mindfuckery goes, it doesn't get any better than showing up to every battle without a gun and still winning the war.
For straight ass-whoopings, check out Underdogs of War: 6 Tiny Nations That Kicked Ass. And then check out the songs that were inspired by further ass-whoopings, in 6 National Anthems That Will Make You Tremble With Fear.
And check out our Internet mindfuck at our Top Picks section.