by Shai Nir
In The Art of War (loosely translated from the Chinese, How to Kick Ass and Chew Bubble Tea), the ancient strategist Sun Tzu wrote, “All War is Deception.” This simple but powerful principle has been used throughout history to various degrees. For example, convincing your enemy that your nation is stronger than it actually is is a well-established military strategy.1 We here at Punch Bowl firmly believe that those who don’t study history can’t repeat it for their own gain. Therefore, for the benefit of Penn’s budding generals, what follows are a few of history’s biggest, ballsiest, and tastiest attempts at military deception:
A Chinese general during the Warring States, Hao Hu-Wai, instructed his soldiers to tie bunches of coconuts to the ends of their spears in order to simulate hordes of invisible cavalry in battle. Centuries later, Royal Navy Admiral Edward Long Ballhair attempted a similar ploy at sea, banging together pairs of coconut crabs to simulate the sounds of horseshoe crabs.
According to Greek legend, an ancient Achaean general besieging the city of Thebes once caught wind that a prince within the city was about to get married. He instructed his best men to construct a colossal wedding cake and placed it at the gates of the city overnight. The wary Thebans sent a full military complement to surround the cake, prodding it with spears and eventually digging their way in to ensure that no enemy soldiers were hidden inside, before finally allowing the cake to be pulled into the city. Meanwhile, the Achaeans broke into the city from the back and took it in short order.
Napoleon Bonaparte repeatedly confused his enemies by allowing them to capture impostors from various French insane asylums.
During World War II, the Allies employed a plethora operations intended to psych out their Axis counterparts. For example, U.S. and British navies in the Atlantic employed squads of elite soldiers whose daunting task was to swim up to German U-boats and stick pictures of battleships on their periscopes. Likewise, in the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union improvised entire fake tank armies out of heaps of useless garbage.2 Finally, in the later stages of the war, in order to scare the German population, the United States asked Orson Welles to broadcast science fiction stories over the German airwaves.
1 Convincing your own nation that the enemy has imaginary WMDs? That takes outright balls.
2 Mostly Soviet tanks.