5 Devious Tricks Armies Used to Look Bigger
If you can’t truly make yourself stronger than an opponent, you can at least convince them you’ve got them beat in terms of numbers. Let’s say you have 600 people, and you want the enemy to think there are 5,000 of you. You could trick them by having the entire lot of you walk in circles around a large fort. From a limited view, it will look like you’re an endless number of fighters walking in a straight line.
Granted, it helps if your opponent is an idiot. But idiot or not, a little misinformation robbed of context will make them think whatever you like.
SEAL Team Six Should Have Been SEAL Team Three
Most of us never heard of SEAL Team Six until May 2011. It was then that the world caught news of the elite fighting group that had raided Osama bin Laden’s compound, and some people assumed it was a group of six, much like how Fox Force Five was a group of five. It wasn’t. In 2001, SEAL Team Six contained hundreds of sailors from the Navy’s Special Warfare Command — though, of course, not all of them participated in the bin Laden raid.
There wasn’t enough room for all of them.
So, what does the “Six” in SEAL Team Six mean then? The next most reasonable guess is it’s the sixth team of SEALs the Navy has, but that’s not right either. The Navy created the teams in 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis, and SEAL Team Six was the third of the teams. That means it should be “SEAL Team Three” using any traditional number system. The military instead named them SEAL Team Six. They reasoned (correctly) that the Soviets had spies in the U.S. government, and if word reached Moscow about a SEAL Team Six, the Soviets would have to conclude America had at least twice as many SEAL teams as it did.
It sounds silly today. Surely any spy who ferreted out the name of this then-secret squad would also be privy to other information about them, including just how many teams existed. On the other hand, you yourself have been thoroughly familiar with the name “SEAL Team Six” for years, and you had no idea how many teams there were, did you?
The Nazis Tried the Same Trick with Their Numbers
Some of you will be deeply confused and angry to hear us claim the Navy used the same tactics as the Nazis, but we’re talking about just one specific tactic, regarding their numbering system. Also, we’re not talking about the Nazis per se but the precursor to the Nazis, the German Workers’ Party.
Adolf Hitler joined the party in 1919, having been sent in by the military as a spy to infiltrate the group and investigate them. He soon discovered that he loved their ideas but the party lacked ambition, so he abandoned his spy role, joined their central committee and transformed them from a debate society to a group with real goals. Here’s Hitler’s membership card, showing he’s member number 7:
That number referred to his spot on the central committee. In the party overall, they assigned numbers based on where each member’s name popped up alphabetically, and Hitler got number 55. This revealed that the party really did not have a great many people at the time, which didn’t reflect well on them. So, they decided to add 500 to everyone’s membership number. Hitler became member 555, and anyone who heard that fact might conclude the party was 10 times as big as it really was.
The moral of the story here was that in the 1920s, everyone really overestimated the true danger posed by the Nazis. Wait, no, that’s definitely not the lesson here. How about we go with “Nazis are all desperately overcompensating for something”? Yeah, that one makes more sense.
Kansas Filled a Stadium to Fool a Producer
Let’s turn now to the most bloody battlefield of all: the music business. In the 1970s, only the very most famous bands had big followings on TikTok. With everyone else, if you wanted to convince a record producer that people were into you, you had to show that you could fill a concert hall, in person.
The band Kansas, from the state of Kansas, could not fill a concert house in person. They played bars, for people who came to drink and who tolerated whatever music happened to be playing. The music wasn’t really there to entertain anyone but to drown out their conversation, so they had nothing to do but sip from their glass, and then buy another round.
When a record company sent producer Wally Gold to the town of Ellinwood to scope out Kansas, the band rented out the tiny town’s opera house. They put on a free show (Gold did not realize it was free). And they drew people in, not by promising the free music but by serving free beer (Gold did not realize they served free beer). This packed the house, naturally. And then, when those people got a taste of the band’s music...
Well, they didn’t hear that specific song, which hadn’t been written yet, but when they heard the song the band did perform...
Nope, Kansas hadn’t written that one yet, either. But whatever played, they cheered, because they had their beer, and so, Kansas landed their deal.
Fake News Ended a War
We started this article by mentioning the true story of how the Shawnee marched 600 people around Fort Detroit during the War of 1812, giving the appearance of an army of 5,000. Later, in the 20th century, an even more effective way emerged of conjuring an army of 5,000 from a couple hundred people.
During the 1971 India-Pakistan War (or the end of the Bangladesh Liberation War — wars are complicated), the BBC reported on a major airdrop by India. India was dropping 5,000 Indian soldiers by air into the district of Tangail in Bangladesh. That was a whole lot of parachuters. No one had done an operation quite like that with those numbers since World War II, and after facing a few raids and suffering a few hundred casualties, Pakistan surrendered. There were about 8,000 people on the Pakistan side, but they figured this fight wasn’t worth the cost.
“What are we even fighting for? Poongli Bridge? That bridge was lame anyway.”
However, the Indian Air Force never had really dropped 5,000 people. They’d dropped fewer than 400. BBC had reported the news wrong. As for whether this was a plain old mistake or a carefully coordinated campaign to deceive Pakistan, we tried contacting Buckingham Palace for comment, but no one answered our calls.
Wolves Do It All the Time
Sometimes, these strategies aren’t something anyone devises. They’re driven by pure instinct, honed by generations of evolution.
When one wolf howls, the rest of the pack join in. The other animals don’t chime in with the same note as the original howl. They harmonize with it. This makes it obvious to any rival animal who might sweep in to steal the pack’s kill that there are multiple wolves here, and intruders should steer clear. In fact, the harmonizing does more than that — thanks to weird ways sound waves work, these harmonizing howls make it sound like there are even more wolves than there really are.
“There are dozens of us. Dozens!”
Now that you know this, you can roam through the wilderness with confidence. Think you hear 13 angry wolves? Maybe there are just six. Go ahead. You can take them on. We have faith in you.