Posted by: Footler PJ17 MAR 2011
The expression “winning hearts and minds” is often used when seeking support for changes that are claimed to be beneficial even though there may be doubts about the motives behind them.
Although often used in politics and business, it is most prevalent, and perhaps used most cynically, in the military context of gaining civilian co-operation in war and gathering local intelligence.
But where did the expression originate? Although “hearts and minds” appears in the Bible (Philippians 4:7), “winning hearts and minds” came into common usage only 60 years ago during the Malayan emergency.
The number of colonies and people governed within the British Empire peaked in the 1920s but just 25 years later an almost bankrupt post-war Britain decided on a policy of peaceful disengagement from colonies where stable pro-British governments could be established. However, a communist guerrilla insurgency threatened the process in Malaya.
The campaign began in 1948 and initially the communists gained the upper hand by focusing on sabotage and infiltrating trade unions. Then in 1951 the Governor, Sir Henry Gurney, was assassinated. Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally appointed his replacement, General Sir Gerald Templer, telling him: “You must have power — absolute power — civil and military power. And when you’ve got it grasp it, grasp it firmly. And then never use it. Be cunning — very cunning.”
Templer set out his plans under the banner of “winning the battle for Malayan hearts and minds” but, although informers and defectors were rewarded and some social improvements made, he relied heavily on coercion. He had few scruples about jungle warfare — even employing chemical weapons and defoliants.
Templer visited Saigon in 1960 to explain his philosophy to senior American officers. They adopted it for use in Vietnam, although some of the front-line military preferred the more explicit: “Grab them by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.”