Learn how to defend yourself from the psychological terror that war brings.
In today's world, you never know what you might see when you
pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV. Disturbing images of terror can
trigger a visceral response no matter how close or far away from home the event
Kris Oser, 37, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., is an email fiend. A single
mother and director of communications for a market research company, she has to
be immediately accessible to executives and the news media.
That means Oser is often on the phone and messaging several people at the
same time -- and that can lead to trouble. In one recent gaffe, she mistakenly
emailed a reporter at The Wall Street Journal instead of her best
friend, asking her to pick up Oser’s daughter from school.
Throughout history, every military conflict has involved
psychological warfare in one way or another as the enemy sought to break the
morale of their opponent. But thanks to advances in technology, the popularity
of the Internet, and proliferation of news coverage, the rules of engagement in
this type of mental battle have changed.
Whether it's a massive attack or a single horrific act, the
effects of psychological warfare aren't limited to the physical damage
inflicted. Instead, the goal of these attacks is to instill a sense of fear
that is much greater than the actual threat itself.
Therefore, the impact of psychological terror depends largely
on how the acts are publicized and interpreted. But that also means there are
ways to defend yourself and your loved ones by putting these fears into
perspective and protecting your children from horrific images.
What Is Psychological Terror?
"The use of terrorism as a tactic is predicated upon
inducing a climate of fear that is incommensurate with the actual threat,"
says Middle Eastern historian Richard Bulliet of Columbia University.
"Every time you have an act of violence, publicizing that violence becomes
an important part of the act itself."
"There are various ways to have your impact. You can have
your impact by the magnitude of what you do, by the symbolic character of
target, or the horrific quality of what you do to a single person," Bulliet
tells WebMD. "The point is that it isn't what you do, but it's how it's
covered that determines the effect."
For example, Bulliet says the Iranian hostage crisis, which
began in 1979 and lasted for 444 days, was actually one of the most harmless
things that happened in the Middle East in the last 25 years. All of the U.S.
hostages were eventually released unharmed, but the event remains a
psychological scar for many Americans who watched helplessly as each evening's
newscast counted the days the hostages were being held captive.
Bulliet says terrorists frequently exploit images of a group of
masked individuals exerting total power over their captives to send the message
that the act is a collective demonstration of the group's power rather than an
individual criminal act.
"You don't have the notion that a certain person has taken
a hostage. It's an image of group power, and the force becomes generalized
rather than personalized," says Bulliet. "The randomness and the
ubiquity of the threat give the impression of vastly greater