North Africa and the Making of American Psychological Warfare and Propaganda, 1942-1945
World War II
Heather J Sharkey
Defense and Security Studies
Near and Middle Eastern Studies
United States History
In 1942, the United States founded the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Tasked with preparing North Africa for the first major Allied invasion of World War II, the OSS conducted extensive preparations that drew on resistance groups for support, utilized radio propaganda to destroy morale, spread rumors to discredit the enemy, and produced leaflets and pamphlets that influenced local populations. Operation Torch, as it would be known, was instrumental in laying the foundation for U.S. intelligence operations in the World War II period and beyond. After Operation Torch, the OSS conducted numerous psychological operations in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. While the OSS faced challenges in conducting propaganda, stemming from jurisdictional battles with other U.S. wartime intelligence agencies, it was able to significantly improve its propaganda methods and tactics. In fact, by 1944, OSS radio programs had become so sophisticated that they fooled American military radio operators into believing they were enemy broadcasts. Other OSS psychological operations also showed great success, showcased by the thousands of soldiers who would surrender to Allied forces with OSS-made pamphlets in hand. Eventually, with the end of the War, President Truman abolished the OSS, instead replacing it with transitional intelligence agencies which culminated in the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency. This study utilizes a variety of recently declassified OSS documents to emphasize the importance of North Africa in the birth of modern American psychological warfare, which seems to stem from present day Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.