The U.S. Army has come a long, long way from “Be All That You Can Be” — an odd and unsettling new recruitment video touts Army psyops, proclaims “All the world’s a stage,” and asks, “Who’s pulling the strings?” Apparently, if this video is to be believed, shadowy forces in the Army are. But it’s not at all clear what exactly the video is intended to accomplish, or what point it is trying to make.
The video, which is entitled “Ghosts in the Machine,” is apparently a production of Fort Bragg’s 4th Psychological Operations Group-Airborne, which posted it on YouTube. It starts out like a movie trailer (actually, it is very much like a movie trailer throughout), leading off with a quote from Sun Tzu in white type on a black field: “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.”
Is that some reference to the weakest president in U.S. history, Old Joe Biden, and to his opponent in the Kremlin? Are we supposed to be reassured that Biden’s manifest weakness is all part of some elaborate psy-op designed to lull America’s enemies into complacency? Your guess is as good as mine. The whole video is gnomic, elusive, and determinedly obscure, as if the Army were trying to appeal to millennial dweebs who spend their time reading dark graphic novels and figuring out ways to hack into corporate computer systems.
And maybe they are. The Charlotte Observer points out that “the video, posted May 2, starts innocently, with benign clips of cartoons and images of empty city streets and subways. But the vibe grows increasingly disturbing, with footage of a shadowy man, anxious stares at dark skies, violent riot scenes and soldiers being deployed. ‘Have you ever wondered who’s pulling the strings?’ the video asks. ‘You’ll find us in the shadows at the tip of the spear. … Anything we touch is a weapon. We can deceive, persuade, change, influence, inspire. We come in many forms. We are everywhere.’” So is the Army now boasting about lying to the American people and spreading propaganda in order to influence people into changing their views? Is that really a good look in this age of the Disinformation Governance Board and overwhelming media manipulation?
The video certainly gives the impression that the Army is proud of its power to “deceive, persuade, change, influence, inspire.” The Observer notes that “the 4th Psychological Operations Group, also known as PSYOP, defines itself as ‘Masters of Influence’ and practitioners of ‘information warfare,’ according to its website. That means the mere act of people debating its video is a sign of success.” The Group states: “We conduct influence activities to target psychological vulnerabilities and create or intensify fissures, confusion, and doubt in adversary organizations. We use all available means of dissemination – from sensitive and high tech, to low-tech, to no-tech, and methods from overt, to clandestine, to deception.”
But why is the 4th Psychological Operations Group telling us all this? If it really does all this, isn’t it more effective if it remains in the shadows? Why is it coming out now and boasting about its alleged activities and powers in front of the world? In a lengthy attempt to decipher all the symbolism in the video and discern its actual point, The Pipeline noted: “Here’s the odd thing — clandestine Army units like this DON’T make recruiting material, because that material brings unwanted attention. Have you ever seen an official Delta Force recruiting video? Exactly.”
But if it isn’t really a recruitment video, then what is it? It is certainly an announcement of this group’s presence, and a warning, as if we needed another at this point, that we cannot uncritically accept all that is reported and presented as fact.
That much is axiomatic, and then adding to the oddity of the whole thing is the fact that Col. Chris Stangle, who is the commander of the 4th Psychological Operations Group, on Friday gave the military website Task & Purpose a full explanation. He said that “the video was created in-house, both as a recruitment effort but also to literally show people what they can do — part of psychological operations is creating persuasive media. Stangle said that the artist behind the video tailored it a bit after iconic horror film JAWS, where the filmmakers showed restraint in actually showing the shark. Instead, viewers knew it was lurking just below the surface.”
Stangle added: “Drawing on this approach, we kind of sought to create a piece that doesn’t show what a PSYOP soldier does necessarily, because it’s so complicated and there’s so much about it — quite honestly. It’s just not incredibly sexy — but what it feels like to do our craft when we’re successful. And we think that kind of allows the audience to immerse into what our world is, and what our craft is.” Okay, but that’s still about as clear as mud as to what the video is all about and why the psy-ops unit was trying to say it. As the video says, “Anything we touch is a weapon.” Duly noted.