War is ultimately a psychological affair. Why defeat an enemy when you can make them believe that their fight is already done? The Zulu and Maori performed fearsome chants before combat or competition, crashing their weapons together or slapping themselves with their fists. And as the Mongols flew south into China’s cities, defenders hurled firecrackers and into their midst. The explosion and thunder would startle both horses and men. Even today, modern militaries preach the “Shock and Awe” doctrine of combat, which crushes the enemies willpower with tremendous displays of superior firepower, tactics, and technology. But one of the easiest ways to demoralize an enemy is to prey upon their superstitions.
Throughout World War II, the Japanese and Americans had engaged in a long campaign of propaganda and psychological attacks. Japan broadcast the seductive voice of Tokyo Rose throughout the south Pacific, trying to intimidate American soldiers with what seemed like oddly clairvoyant threats and promises. The Americans responded in turn, dropping thousands of leaflets onto mainland Japan, warning them of their impending doom. Hundreds of other tactics were also employed by each side, to varying success. But one of the oddest ways that the Americans planned to attack Japanese morale was through foxes.
These OSS documents show Edgar Salinger’s proposal to use foxes or images of foxes to instill a sense of misfortune and ill-luck in Japan’s general population. Salinger’s Proposal, Fox Legends, Fox Images. Foxes are a complex figure in Shinto religion. Shapeshifters, they can be benevolent, tricksy, or outright malicious and are often treated as messengers of Inari, the goddess of rice. An auspicious symbol to any and all involved.
According to Psychological Operations American Style, the idea was, originally, to fly fluorescent fox-shaped balloons over populated areas while sleeper agents would stalk the streets using “reed whistles that simulated a fox-like ‘cry of the damned'” and acting possessed. The agents would scare the population while the glowing balloons would simulate kitsune-bi or fox-fire, a spiritual glow often associated with the spirits. This operation was known as Project Fantasia.
Ultimately the balloon plan was scrapped for a much more direct approach. Instead of using balloons, the OSS would paint live foxes with glow-in-the-dark paint and release them throughout “the entire field of combat”. The plan was even tested within America. Thirty foxes were released in Central Park, terrifying and embarrassing many New Yorkers. Even so, the plan was given the green light and operatives started rounding up foxes from China and Australia in preparation. Soon the Americans would see whether the Japanese were as superstitious as the OSS believed.
However, the efficacy of the plan was never actually tested. Like so many other off-the-wall ideas (see Bat Bombs) it was blasted apart in an instant by the success of the Manhattan Project. The horrific use of nuclear weaponry provided all the shock and awe that the Americans needed to end the war. The Japanese surrendered before the first coat of paint was applied.