E-mail feedback


Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


Interactive timeline, image gallery

Recall key dates, browse defining photos from six weeks of combat in Iraq. (Requires Flash)


Recent headlines

General: Iraqi troops improve

January 26, 2005

Parties waging a polite battle to control Najaf

January 25, 2005

In Iraq, the question is: To vote or not to vote

January 25, 2005

Politics popular in Shiite areas

January 20, 2005


Also on the Web

Dispatches from Iraq

Special coverage and photo galleries of American troops serving in Iraq from The Honolulu Advertiser.

Iraq In-Depth

Take an interactive tour of Saddam's hide-out and capture at USATODAY.com's Iraq home page.


GNS Archive

Click here to browse more than 1,000 Iraq war news stories from the front lines and the home front.



Tuesday, March 18

Military strategist Harlan Ullman, 61, of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former distinguished fellow of the National Defense University, who co-authored "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance," has schooled several U.S. military generals, including Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Gannett News Service, Heather Martin Morrissey)

Unofficial name for war meant to take maximum psychological toll

By Greg Barrett

WASHINGTON - It sounds like the call of a carnival barker, a phrase so full of itself it seems to mock the gravity of war:

"Operation Shock and Awe."

Yet, military pundits and planners have adopted the phrase as the unofficial nickname of an impending war although the Pentagon says it has not chosen an official name for a battle plan.

For the time being, any fight with Iraq would fall under the heading "Operation Enduring Freedom," the 2001 nickname given to President’s Bush’s war on terrorism, said public affairs officer Megan Fox at the Pentagon.

"Until the secretary of defense briefs the world on what this (Iraq) phase of Enduring Freedom entails," Fox said Monday, "we will continue to refer to it as Operation Enduring Freedom."

Behind the scenes, however, the term Operation Shock and Awe is familiar to war planners. The phrase is more than hyperbole. It denotes the physical and psychological posturing of a superpower, say war planners, civilian and military.

Think of it as a schoolyard tough delivering a threat, then stepping back to give the smaller opponent a chance to reconsider.

"We want them to quit," said military strategist Harlan Ullman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former distinguished fellow at the Pentagon’s National Defense University. "We want them to choose not to fight."

After CBS Evening News quoted the "shock and awe" phrase Jan. 24 to describe the battle plan outlined by Pentagon sources, the intention to quickly overwhelm Iraq’s forces was repeated by dozens of international news outlets, including CNN, a favorite of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"There is a tremendous effort in psychological warfare that is going on," said Ullman, 61, who co-authored the book "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance" and has schooled several U.S. military generals, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Shock and awe would be intended to expedite Iraq’s surrender and ultimately save lives that could be lost during a long full-scale war, Ullman said.

"Will they be scared witless in Baghdad?" he said. "You bet."

More than 100 major military operations from Guam to Qatar have been nicknamed since 1989, when the U.S. military removed Panamanian leader Gen. Manuel Noriega in an action publicized by the Pentagon as "Operation Just Cause."

Those deployments included missions such as "Operation Desert Storm," which drove Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, and humanitarian aid such as "Operation Fiery Relief," the airlifting of volcano victims in the Philippines three years ago.

Military monikers are intended to bolster troop morale and shape public opinion, Naval War College graduate Gregory Sieminski wrote in 1995 in Parameters, a quarterly published by the U.S. Army War College.

In the case of Iraq, Ullman said, "No attempt will be made to understate America’s military capability. If this notion of shock and awe works perfectly, there would not be a shot fired."

If the threat of military might doesn’t inspire shock and awe among Iraq’s military commanders, the application of it should, Ullman predicted.

The United States is expected to drop several thousand bombs on Iraq in the first few days of an invasion - many times more than were dropped during the first two days of Desert Storm.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon wants a "short, short" conflict.

"The best way to do that is to have a shock on the system," he said during a breakfast meeting with reporters in March. "The Iraqi regime would have to assume early on the end is inevitable."

Myers rolled his eyes when discussing the presence of peace activists and others in Baghdad, as if to underscore their naivete.

''For anyone who thinks this would be anything like Baghdad during the beginning of the gulf war, I would caution otherwise,'' he said. ''If this happens, it will be very different.''

U.S. peace activists in Baghdad say the Pentagon is using the idea of "shock and awe" to dress up acts that amount to terrorism. Better to name it "Operation Orphans and Widows," they say.

"What is Operation Shock and Awe other than terrorism?" asked Vietnam War hero Charlie Liteky, 72, a Medal of Honor recipient and a member of the Chicago-based Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad.

The United States, he said, "is trying to terrify the Iraqis into shock and submission."

Ullman hopes Iraq’s leaders immediately would react to an intense show of military force much the way Japan reacted to the atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and ultimately killed about 200,000 people.

"But I’m not saying we should incinerate Baghdad," Ullman stressed. "What we want to do is apply as much psychological pressure as well as physical pressure to change the minds of the Iraqi leadership and cause them to quit at the lowest possible level of violence."

The Japanese ultimately surrendered and became a pacifist nation.

"What caused Japan to go from suicidal resistance to passive surrender?" Ullman asked rhetorically. "The answer is shock and awe."

(Contributing: John Yaukey, GNS)