Strategic Education and “The Indirect War” – to Include Psycho-Biological Warfare

Author’s Note: This 8 July 1998 text (7 pages) is part of my response to the personal invitation I received from the Commanding General of the U.S. Special Operations Command, General Peter Schoomaker. The contributory text focused on the desirably strategic education of the Special Operation Forces (SOF). The 2 October 1998 Annex (3 pages) is a brief and partial introduction and a further elaboration of psycho-biological warfare itself, especially in its various targeting, not only against hardened targets, but also in its infections of “soft targets.

General Schoomaker invited me to expand some of such biological-strategic matters for the Special Operations Command, after he had personally read a 15 November 1997 (22-page-long) paper that I had prepared for an earlier civilian conference and that was given to him shortly thereafter.

This post of 6 November 2020 is dedicated to Professor Josef Pieper, who died on this day in 1997 at 93 years of age.

Robert D. Hickson

U. S. Special Operations Command

MacDill AFB – Tampa, Florida

8 July 1998

SOF Strategic Education and “The Indirect War”:

Psycho-Biological Warfare (and Terrorism) in a Grand-Strategic Context1

How we respond to bio-terrorism and longer-range biological warfare – both the threat and its actuality – will be the test and measure of many things, many intimate and ultimate things – personally, professionally, sacrificially, in defense of the common good, hence the true good of our children. Much true virtue will be required to preserve and sustain the common good in this milieu of warfare and psycho-cultural disorder – camouflaged and subversive forms of direct and indirect warfare, sometimes known as “Low Intensity Conflict” (LIC). (Notice that I did not say the “public interest” or the “common interest,” but, rather, the “common good” – bonum commune. We only truly love what is good.)

In the face of promiscuous biological warfare, even more than promiscuous and lawless guerrilla warfare, so much of what is loved and beloved is vulnerable, and not just the little children and not just temporarily. As the boxer, Joe Louis, said about those who got into the ring with him, “they may run, but they can’t hide.” Likewise, from the issues of indirect and intimately subversive psycho-biological warfare, we, too, may run, but we can’t hide. It most inwardly touches the mind and man’s heart. The realities of human nature, combined with the cumulative history of revolutionary warfare and modern technology, have brought us to this point. The slow and painful death of our little children, and beloved, through maliciously (hence deliberately) induced plague, anthrax, and smallpox, or worse, will take us to the foundations of life, meaning, purpose, and hope – or to hate, revengeful rage, cynicism, and despair. The modern scientific revolutions in molecular biology, genetic engineering, and bio-technology will also be likely instruments in the hands of evil and malignancy, and they are difficult to limit and to contain. Do you believe it? Are you yet convinced? Will we still sustain hope and magnanimity? Will we be courageous? For we are only as courageous as we are convinced. But, what are we truly convinced about – especially as to the nature and new varieties of indirect camouflaged warfare, “La Guerre Indirect”, especially indirect psycho-biological warfare, which will attack life at its core, even the animating life of the soul?

It has been said that, when someone is at war with you, even if you don’t know it, you’re at war! Reality is that which does not go away even when you stop thinking about it. So, too, with the deeper war we are in: the psycho-cultural and psycho-biological war, actual or impending. One of Sun Tzu’s own profound statements about war is that “the acme of skill is to defeat your adversary without having to fight him.” That is to say, to deceive, to distract psychologically, to dislocate, and otherwise to obscure and confuse his mind, and thereby break his will. (Sixty years ago, Mao Tse-Tung further developed these themes of modern “command and control” warfare in his 1938 book, On the Protracted Conflict). Dim down his intelligence, fracture his indispensable language of thought, and equivocally obscure his clarity of meaning, and you will paralyze him and sap his will. This is true “command and control warfare,” true “information warfare” – disruption, destruction, and deception. Especially the psychological deception.2 Lure and trap. Mystify, mislead, surprise. Paralyze the nervous system, and the mind, as if with neuro-toxins!

Analogously, one of the most important insights of Carl von Clausewitz, in my view, is to be found in his statement that:

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment [an act of virtuous prudence, the first of the cardinal virtues] that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish … the kind of war on which they are embarking, neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature [i.e., its essence]. That is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive [emphasis added].3

In light of the concept and reality of bio-terrorism and biological warfare, I ask you, therefore, at the outset, what is the kind of war we are in? What is the most discerning and comprehensive way of understanding the kind of war we are in today, and have been protractedly in – maybe even when we did not know it, nor think of it as war, a real war that gnaws at the roots of our civilization and its sustainingly essential world-view and view of man (his nature and his purpose)?

May I propose now, perhaps provocatively, my own brief formulation of the deeper war we are in, and, at the outset, before specifically considering some of the lesser included strategic manifestations of this deeper war, in and through biological warfare (and bio-terrorism) and their varieties of grave consequence and implication? I propose to you that the most adequate way of naming the truly grand-strategic revolutionary war that we in Western Civilization have been protractedly in is to call it La Guerre Indirect, Psycho-Culturelle – indirect, psycho-cultural (revolutionary) warfare. Intending to break the most intimate forms of trust, this form of warfare is intrinsically deceptive, deceitful, camouflaged, and deeply subversive of life and love. Love is the willingness to sacrifice, to suffer, for the beloved, with the beloved, and – most painfully – from the beloved – and thus our own fellow man at arms.

I hope that, after my specific discussion of potentially strategic psycho-biological warfare today, as seen in the longer light of military history, you may then also see a little more of what I mean and imply by indirect psycho-cultural warfare, and why, therefore, SOF especially needs to foster its own strategic education and its longer-range strategic intelligence, along with its already very demanding operational and tactical training and preparatory foreign area studies.

Now let us look at biological cultures and their weaponization – a terrible thing to think upon.

The concept of “culture” itself always means a “cultivated vital medium,” not only the cultivation of the soil (as in agriculture), but also in the cultivation of the soul (as in a person’s distinctive literary or musical or philosophical culture). Even in a medical sense, as in the culture of a virus or bio-toxin, culture means a vital medium, even when, paradoxically, it is a vital medium of something virulent and lethal – at least lethal to man, also by contaminating his livestock, soils, food, and water. And, hence, today we properly hear about spreading “narco-cultures,” as well as destructive “narco-democracies,” which some people insidiously enjoy, like opiates, while it is destroying them. The promotion of drug cultures may, in itself, also be understood as a form of chemical warfare, and not only when it is directed by an “outside” hostile power, but also when done subversively from within, and the consequences are grave and more and more manifest, even to the “dim-bulbed” optimists. But, the potentialities and consequences of biological warfare are, alas, even worse – for example, as a form of venereal pandemic or contagion of public ill-health, or, as a form of economical warfare, psychological warfare, or even spiritual warfare, in order to break the human spirit into despair, final despair. Why did the Soviet Union have such a large and varied and genetically engineered offensive BW program which was, as we discovered only in 1992, according to the State Department’s Gary Crocker (of I and R), twelve times larger than our intelligence community had known? And their underground programs (and maybe also China’s) are still, apparently, continuing – with unsettling strategic implications in the current milieu of disorder, especially in the Caspian Sea area, where so many strategic thresholds and vulnerabilities interact.

And, yet, part of SOF’s own strategic mission is counter-“bio-terrorism”, a formidable challenge against those who may try to use biological warfare (and bio-terrorism) as low-cost, low-risk, strategies intended to exploit American weaknesses, and maybe also American virtues, as in the Oriental “judo principle,” whereby somebody’s own virtue – or force – is deceitfully used against him, to throw him and down him. Consequently, and deterrently (or preventively), how do we create “a fearful doubt in the mind of a potential aggressor [using biological weapons] that any likely gain is simply not worth the inevitable risks”? (These words are the essence of British Fleet Admiral Peter Hill-Norton’s own 1978 definition of “deterrence,” which he originally used in the context of nuclear, not biological, weapons.4)

There will, however, be no deterrence, no integrated defense in depth, no effective counter-strategy against the growing threat of bio-terrorism and biological warfare, unless we are very honest about our own vulnerabilities and limitations – unless we are unflinchingly truthful and unless we refuse to live the lie. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Bukovsky have courageously and eloquently said, we must “come out from under the rubble” and “refuse in any way to participate in the lie” – to include the crippling self-censorship inflicted by “political correctness” and other “democratic” deceptive forms of “newspeak” and protracted disinformation, which corrupt our own public discourse as well as our personal exercise of reasoned judgment based on true and properly proportioned facts – not “factoids.” Lies and deceptive half-truths may, for a while, seduce, but they cumulatively conduce to the breaking of trust, which, once broken, is so difficult to repair. We, as a nation, may even be dissolving because of the pervasive and intimate and cumulative breaking of trust, on many fronts, public and private, secular and religious. Like an unexercised arm or leg inside a cast, the higher faculties of man – and, finally, his soul – also wither from atrophying self-censorship which fears the demanding truth and its consequences, and which knowingly participates in the lie.

Especially as military guardians of the patria and the common good, let us therefore help each other resist the culture of the lie, the culture of sophistry, the culture of death. Let us come out “from under the rubble” of much strategic disinformation, even if it means taking only one step at a time – but always refusing the asphyxiation of what the Russians call “utter bullshitsky.” Otherwise we are not likely to resist the deeper evils of biological warfare and bio-terrorism – and its profound psychological effects of distrust – which are unmistakably rooted in the ambiguous and equivocal revolutions of modern biological science, bio-technology itself, and engineering. All of this – to include the ethics of human bio-technology – will cause even the most unreflective of men to consider what it means to be a man, and what man, finally, is for. What is man and what is man for, or is he just a “sophisticated beast” to be materially manipulated and re-engineered? When we truly realize that biological agents and their weaponization can affect the genetics of our own offspring and leave our posterity intimately mutilated and distorted, our attentiveness shall be mightily concentrated.

When, as a new second lieutenant, back in 1964, I was first “read in” to some parts of our own then existing offensive biological warfare program, I was deeply shaken – very profoundly shaken by what was even then intentionally possible to do to man and to the most intimate things that sustain his life. Now, almost forty years later, these capacities have, through modern science and its applied

technologies, increased many-fold, perhaps exponentially. We need only consider the manipulative work that has already been done on our endocrine and immunological systems, and, especially, on the neuro-physiology of the brain. It is for such reasons as this that I wish to discuss this issue of bio-terrorism and bio-warfare, strategically, with a longer view – and to keep certain questions in mind – and constantly before your minds – for you to consider subsequently – and abidingly – so that they may eventually be more fruitful of good, and even productive of a “course correction” that is strategically helpful to the missions of our Special Operations Forces.

First, a few questions in brief, and then some elaborations and expansions upon them. These are questions of the “what,” of the “why,” and of the “how”:

1. What does it mean to be strategic? Does it not, at least, mean to become “master of the communications,” after securing and preserving one’s own vulnerable “base” (and “culture”)? Is not part of the essence of strategy to meet the enemy under advantageous conditions, thus without fragmentation or “Cultural Balkanization or Lebanonization”?

2. Why, if at all, should Special Operations Forces (SOF) – especially their leadership – have strategic education? And, if not, why not?

3. How, given its already “warp-speed operational tempo,” should SOF receive adequate strategic education, lest, losing sight of the adversary’s strategic psycho-revolutionary aim, they merely redouble their effort? (Recall George Santayana’s definition of a “fanatic”: “a fanatic is he who, losing sight of his aim, redoubles his effort.”)

More elaborately, I ask you to consider:

4. What does it mean to be strategic in the specific context of counter “bio-terrorism,” as a form of psychological and political warfare, given the additional need for SOF to understand foreign “strategic cultures” such as China, Israel, and Great Britain, who will also likely try to penetrate and to manipulate us?

5. Why should Special Operations Forces (SOF), as strategic assets of U. S. policy, foster their own strategic education and their own strategic intelligence assets, to include reliable sources of strategic medical intelligence?

6. Why, in the longer light of history – especially the history of revolutionary, cultural, and religious indirect warfare – should SOF cultivate their own strategic psycho-cultural studies of deceitful, camouflaged warfare and their own formative education concerning alien and immiscible cultures – “cultural viruses,” as well as biological viruses? Or, is this too impractical and etherealized and repellantly utopian? Can SOF – should SOF – resist being “useful idiots” in the ongoing cultural and psychological war, at home and abroad, on the “inner front,” as well as on the “outer fronts,” on “interior lines,” as well as “exterior lines”? Is this not part of the grand-strategic context of bio-warfare, too?

7. How should SOF practically and adequately foster such strategic cultural and psychological education amidst their often “warp speed,” if not dissipative and fragmenting, operational tempo? Is not such preparatory education indispensable, if only to aid our economy of effort, and our distinctions between the essential and the inessential, which capacity is itself the hallmark of intelligence?

8. To what extent will the threat of strategic psycho-biological warfare (and terrorism) itself, as a form of “command and control” or “information” warfare, not be a very fitting and vivid test of the above implicit recommendations about the need for SOF strategic education, lest SOF be psychologically dislocated and vulnerably over-extended, especially under the challenge of China – a graciously deceptive, biologically and culturally cohesive nation and subtle strategic culture?

I wish now to turn to some recent trenchant examples, in order to bring my series of tendentious questions and suggestions into sharper focus and “punchability,” so that they may be more easily counter-argued and validly refuted, or improved upon:

1. The recent concatenation of biological misfortunes in the Republic of China on Taiwan – suspect and consequential diseases in their livestock, soybean crops, and a deadly and epidemically spreading virus that is killing their new-born children.

2. The spread of the neuro-toxin, pfisteria, in the seacoast waters of North Carolina and beyond.

3. The Mossad’s attempted assassination, in Jordan, of the political head of Hamas, employing the bio-toxin, ricin – and some of its immediate consequences and further implications.

4. The operational challenges for SOF leaders in preparing their units for deployment on missions of counter-bio-terrorism, and for their return – for example, the medical intelligence needed, the problems of vaccination and medical logistics, and the contamination and de-contamination of aircraft and other equipment, and of the personnel themselves.

And, there is more to be explored, time permitting and when, and if, there be interest, especially about effective and subversive “hoaxes” (deceptions and long-range disinformation) in this subtle and un-nerving realm of psycho-biological warfare; most especially when it is considered in proper proportion and thus with a greater sense of the whole: the strategic and grand-strategic context of war and flourishing peace, of the sustaining life of civilization and its more intimate (and important) cultural order – the inner order of the soul, as well as the external order of the commonwealth (or, the common good of the Republic). The bonum commune of the res publica is, once again, primary, but often vulnerable.

As our country, however – if not our military and its own culture – seems to be, more and more, becoming a “centrifugal” and “confused” multi-national state, partially kept together by arrangements among somewhat publicly unaccountable oligarchies and “chaos managers” who are “cosmopolitan” and “globalizing” in outlook, if not also “imperial,” “de-racinating,” and “multi-culturally (or religiously) syncretistic” – and hence deeply destructive of the spiritual and cultural life of historical nations – the Special Operations Forces, as guardians of the long-term (and strategic) common good of our patria itself, must especially resist the alluring revolutionary “dialectic of dissolution” (solve et coagula)5and not only in the subtly deceptive and easily feverish (or panicking) realm of psycho-biological warfare (and terrorism), but in the larger cultural war for the mind. Such an insidious realm of psychological warfare is fertile for new forms of “perception management,” and for the manipulative incitements of a new “permanent crisis.” Much discernment and wisdom will be required, and true wisdom always requires patient cultivation and is marked by slow fruitfulness, not frenzy. “An integrated defense in depth” against bio-terrorism and biological warfare will also require love – true love of our nation and of our citizens, and of the helplessly vulnerable. The more defenseless someone is, the more that person calls out for our defense. That is the mark of true military chivalry, which must be rendered with true prudence – hence with strategic providence, or far-sightedness – the first of the cardinal virtues. And, the virtue of prudence itself soberly requires the attentive and strategic transformation from the prerequisite knowledge of reality (i.e., truth) to the realization of the good – to include the common good, for whose patient cultivation sacrifice – noble suffering – is also and unmistakably indispensable. Such a vision of virtue, and of gratitude for noble sacrifice, will help sustain a truly strategic culture in our Special Operations Forces, which will be severely tested by the cultural and psycho-biological threats we face in an increasingly faithless, hopeless, and loveless world marked by cynicism and reckless abandon. But, I believe, we shall finally be judged by how we have loved – and have selflessly sacrificed for that love. Do we agree?


Robert D. Hickson

2 October 1998

Visiting Professor

William Simon Center for Strategic Studies

United States Air Force Academy

The Phenomenon of Psycho-Biological Warfare (Direct and Indirect) in Grand-Strategic Context and the Light of History

Some Lessons for the U. S. Military and for Our Growing Culture of Broken Trust and Intimately Uprooted Hope


The suggestive analogies and counterpoint between information warfare and biological warfare, as well as between “info-technology” and “bio-technology” (such as genetic engineering), will illuminate our understanding of strategic reality and of the current Kulturkampf, which implies competing views of man and of his purpose. An analogy is a well-proportioned relationship and comparative understanding between two things whose similarities are relative and whose dissimilarities are absolute. And so, too, is it the case in the proportional comparison, for example, between an indirect strategy of biological warfare and an indirect strategy of information warfare both of which intelligently attack less defended and surprisingly vulnerable “soft targets” while intending to effect disruption, destruction, or, most insidiously, deception – or some subversive and psychologically dislocating or paralyzing combination of all three.

Analogous to the hostile, indirect strategy of effectively infecting soft targets in biological warfare (or bio-terrorism), there is also an important, reinforcing, sobering lesson to be learned from recent “red team” operations against U. S. assets (the “blue team”) during several war games focused on “information warfare,” in which the greatest strategic surprises and disruptions, and sapping psychological dislocations, were caused by the effective targeting of “soft” targets in the critical information infrastructure, namely: the pay systems; food logistics; medical supplies; the transportation nodes for fuel and repair parts; and many other conveniences on which personnel inordinately depend. So, too, would it be the case – and, likely, even moreso – with indirect, gradual, and insidious biological-weapons attacks on domestic seed sources and storage, on concentrations of animal breeding stock, on blood supplies and vaccines.

The following, intentionally formatted, set of essential questions, drawn in progressive sequence from the following chapter, will not only focus our attention for a further consideration of that chapter, but will also frame an important set of issues which will be examined, or alluded to, throughout this monograph:


Biological Weapons and Fabian Forms of Indirect Grand Strategy

The Essential Questions Posed in the Paper, in Sequence and Purposive Order

1. “What if adversaries now understood and applied on a higher strategic plane the deep insights of Liddell Hart, in order to produce, both in Israel and in the United States, strategic surprise, shock trauma, psychological dislocation, and paralysis, especially by manipulating the fearfully imagined or actual effects of bio-terrorism and longer-range biological warfare?” (p. 3)

2. “[Is it not] the aim to discover and pierce the Achilles’ heel of the U. S. government’s power to carry out its suspiciously undefined, provocatively overbearing, and increasingly resented “policy of engagement and enlargement” abroad?” (p. 3)

3. “Such a growing perception of our overweening strategic policy is likely indeed, as against other great powers in history, to provoke “asymmetrical” “political jujitsu”, and Fabian forms of indirect grand strategy against us, is it not?” (p. 3)

4. “To what extent will the United States, as well as Israel, also now have to face Periclean, Hannibalic, or Fabian forms of the indirect approach – and insidious forms of this “asymmetrical” indirection which also use biological agents to achieve an even more devastating psychological effect of subversion and dislocation upon the citizenry, as well as the soldiery?” (p. 5)

5. “To what extent will biological warfare (and bio-terrorism) on our own home front now be – or be perceived to be – the USA’s “Achilles’ heel” and, perhaps, become an asymmetrical form of retribution for our obtrusive policy of “engagement and enlargement,” which is, often enough, seen as overweening and always suspiciously vague (except perhaps in the Middle East, where our alignment and commitment are more obviously one-sided)?” (p. 6)

6. “Given our current form of “liberal democracy” in its Constitutional provisions, how may we, therefore, reliably discern and counteract a strategic-minded adversary with biological weapons who also possesses strategic “interior lines” on the “inner front” of our homeland, so as to infect such vulnerably soft targets as vaccines, water, food and blood supplies?” (p. 6)

7. “How will our own defense of the homeland – our bases – counter such subtle penetration and indirection assembled against our “communications” (to include our fevered and inciting “mass media”)?” (p. 6)

8. “What is our own strategic freedom of action today in the United States, both psychologically and militarily, against the foreign and domestic threats of bio-terrorism and longer-range psycho-biological warfare?” (p. 7).

9. “And, how might our adversaries, at home and abroad, be preparing to distract and dislocate us, physically and psychologically?” (p. 9)

10. “Who is the enemy, what (or whom) are we trying to protect, and why?” (p. 9)

11. In the face of biological weapons today, how would we ourselves now decide and answer this strategic priority: ‘to decide how great the freedom of action is for oneself and what is available to the enemy’?” (p. 9)

12. “But, as to our own responsive strategic policy, should U.S. counter-initiatives resort to immediate, though proportionate, reprisals similar to the actions and well-known policy of the Israelis? Or, would such a U. S. orientation be self-defeating, or at least exacerbating and dissipating?” (p. 11)

13. “But, ‘how is the strategic [or grand strategic] dislocation produced’…?” (p. 15)


1 “SOF” is the common abbreviation for the U. S. Special Operations Forces, a strategic asset of U. S. National Security.

2 In the memorable words of a British SAS officer, spoken to me as a visiting cadet many years ago, the most succinctly stated principle of deception is, as follows: “find out what someone wants to be deceived in, and then set about deceiving him in it.” Nations and people, too. Vulgus vult decipi, as the Latin motto and aphorism put it – “the people want (will) to be deceived” – also in a “democracy” (and have their pride especially flattered!). That is to say, the principle of deception implies the manipulation of someone’s self-deception (actual or potential), or his propensity to embrace illusion. The artful deceiver may practice such manipulative deception promptly or gradually – tactically or strategically, at once or by slow and cumulative disinformation.

3 Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Vom Kriege), translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 596.

4 See Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton, No Soft Options: The Politics-Military Realities of NATO (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1978), p. 27.

5 Solve et Coagula is a Latin formula, using two imperative verbs, which means “dissolve (or fragment) and coagulate (or re-aggregate),” itself an intrinsic process of destruction and manipulation. It always implies the breaking of bonds – usually intimate and indispensable bonds.


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