The 6 Greatest Battlefield Mindf*cks
The most powerful weapon in any army's arsenal isn't a nuke--not even one of those big nukes that shoots smaller nukes. No, no weapon or technology can stand up to the classic military mindfuck.
Strategists have been using it for millennia and perhaps none did it better than these guys:
Chuko Liang and the Lute of Death
Chuko "Sleeping Dragon" Liang was a brilliant Chinese strategist and possessor of one of the top 10 awesomest nicknames in history. A chancellor of Shu Han during the third century, his cunning is widely so celebrated that in China his name is synonymous with intelligence and tactics, which is way better than General Tso, who only wound up with a Chinese restaurant dish named after him.
"No, General Tso, it is your chicken that is weak and lacking in discipline."
Chuko was a master of the mindfuck. But he was still capable of making mistakes and it was his greatest miscalculation that required him to draw upon his greatest of mindfuck powers.
According to historians, during the War of the Three Kingdoms, accompanied by a consort of just 100 soldiers and the rest of his army miles away, Chuko saw an opposing army with over 100,000 men marching towards him. The opposing general, Sima Yi, was a veteran who had fought Chuko in multiple battles. Familiar with the Sleeping Dragon's clever ways and, deciding to take no chances, he led the massive army to capture Chuko.
Ordering his few men into hiding, Chuko commanded that the town gates be left wide open and, positioning himself atop the city wall, he proceeded to play the lute as the massive enemy army approached. Upon his arrival at the town gates, Sima Yi, who had fallen victim to many a Chuko-led ambush, halted his army and studied Chuko's calm manner as he ripped a solo on the chords.
Convinced it was a trap he could not yet comprehend, Sima commanded a hasty retreat, more than a 100,000 soldiers pulling back from one man and his musical instrument. Chuko thus earned an entire wing in the Bullshitter's Hall of Fame.
Cambyses II of Persia: Master of the Catfight
The Battle of Pelusium in 525 B.C. was a mindfuck of godly proportions. Literally.
Egypt was being invaded by the Persians, lead by Cambyses II. At the time, Egypt was at the zenith of their wealth and power. They also were at their most zealous for their religious beliefs, based around a variety of animals they considered holy. The Egyptians remained convinced that their gods would continue to shower good fortune upon them so long as they were treated with due respect and awe.
Cambyses knew this, so he brought along to Egypt a zoo's compendium of every animal they thought was holy. He also painted the image of the Egyptian feline goddess, Bastet, on the shields of his soldiers. The result was that during the battle, many of the Egyptian soldiers refused to fight back lest they strike the holy image, bringing the wrath of Bastet upon them.
After dealing the hesitant Egyptians a resounding defeat, Cambyses pursued them to the fortress of Pelusium. Unwilling to deal with a protracted siege, and to amuse himself, Cambyses decided to release a wave of cats to charge at the fort. This prevented the soldiers from shooting arrows at the advancing Persian army, for fear of hitting the sacred cats. The Egyptians were so concerned with the vengeful hands of their gods that they ignored the ones swinging scimitars right at their faces.
The victory ushered the end of Egyptian sovereignty for centuries to come. It was annexed to Persia and then tossed back and forth between different empires before ultimately falling into the hands of the Romans. As if all that wasn't enough, when he won Cambyses laughed and hurled cats at the faces of his defeated foes. No, Seriously.
Vo Nguyen Giap and the Tet Offensive
In 1967, the Vietnam War was in full swing. On the rare occasions that the American army had forced the Viet Cong into a direct engagement, Vietnamese asses were roundly kicked. The American public was keeping an eye on the world's first televised war, but because of the North Vietnamese guerrilla strategy, there wasn't much action to watch. Prior to the Tet Offensive, Americans largely supported the Vietnam War and, despite scattered peace protests, most believed the war to be coming to a close.
During the war, the North Vietnamese and Commander Vo Nguyen Giap took great pains to understand the American cultural scene. Having dissected Barbies and fed Big Macs to caged monkeys, they began to comprehend that the center of power in American politics wasn't congress or even the president, but with public perception and the news media.
So, Giap developed a plan to influence them directly: the Tet Offensive.
In one of the all-time dick moves, Giap broke the truce traditionally kept on Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year, bringing the war to the Americans, and more specifically the TV cameras. He attacked multiple locations of both strategic and symbolic importance, including the American embassy. Militarily it was a pretty shitty strategy. Outmatched and outgunned, there was no way the Vietnamese forces could capture and hold all the places they were attacking. In fact, after it was all said and done, the American and South Vietnamese forces had turned back the Viet Cong from every single spot they had attacked, and they suffered massive casualties.
It didn't matter. Though American combatants claimed a hard-earned victory in a battle that American General William Westmoreland likened to the Battle of the Bulge--the war began losing popularity with the American people. Having seen the scary ass Viet Cong up close on their TVs, the people were now certain that there was no end in sight to the war and wanted out.
Pretty soon, politicians who still supported the war were thought to be hawkish dicks, and history books would call it one of the darkest points in U.S. military history. The lesson was learned, and 40 years later America's enemies skip the whole Tet thing and just take the war right to the cameras.
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.
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?
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.