Usually when I write these posts, the choice title is pretty obvious – someone’s name or a self-explanatory descriptor of the event. But today – whoo boy, ‘CIA Filipino Vampires’ sounds like a Cards Against Humanity-themed Mad Lib, but really only skims the surface. Let’s unravel a new spool of wonderful tales of American imperialism!
The background – the Philippines, post World War II. The Philippines had strongly resisted Japanese occupation during the war, but eventually succumbed to their superior forces and weaponry. After the war, a new government was installed consisting most of people who had originally folded to the Japanese because the United States didn’t really seem to give a shit who was left in charge. A national rebel force – the Hukbalahap – was vehemently anti-Japanese and embraced communism, which meant they were about to get heavily fucked with by the CIA due to the Philippines being a highly-strategic point. Was it actually a strategic point? Unlikely, beyond its general value as part of the Truman Doctrine wherein the US would oppose any form of communism anywhere in the world, hence the Korean and Vietnam War. But “lack of strategic value” has never stopped America from getting involved!
Anyway, the United States wanted to quell this rebellion with as little effort as possible – again, probably because it wasn’t THAT valuable as an asset, but fuck if the Soviets were going to have it. The CIA elected to deployed Air Force Brigadier General Edward G Lansdale to settle the conflict. Why Lansdale? Because he was a fierce believer in the idea of “psychological operations” – psyops at the time – and believed he could resolve this little tete a tete with a bit of mental brutality.
Lansdale sent in some locals to mingle around critical villages the CIA needed to push the rebels back. The locals returned to their towns with tales of an “aswang” – not a Google autofill of your last weird search, but Filipino vampires of lore – telling villagers and rebels alike they had seen the mythical creatures in the area, looking for victims to reap for blood. Aswangs are a somewhat ambiguous term, as some areas think of them as shape-shifting ghouls, others as evil spirits, and others as warlocks. Lansdale, seeing as he was part of the CIA in the 50’s, decided “fuck it – this aswag is gonna be a vampire.”
Lansdale sends these rumors swirling through villages, and had his forces sit back a few days to let these vampire stories take root in the rebels. Some indefinite point down the line, CIA forces hid along rebel patrol routes, and silently snatched the last man in the group. The patrol would end back in the village before realizing they had lost a man somewhere during the rotation. During this window, Lansdale’s men would puncture the poor sap’s neck, hang him upside to drain him of his blood, and then drop his body back near the patrol route so a rescue team looking for their missing comrade the next morning would stumble across it. Being superstitious (if you were a 1950s Filipino villager rebel) or an idiot (my term), these rebels would find a body mutilated in exactly the pattern heard in previous rumors. Being superstitious (1950s Filipino term) or cowards (my term), the Hukbalahap bailed the hell out of the area after only one incident of bloodletting, allowing the CIA-backed Filipino forces to casually takeover a tactically-useful hills.
While certainly the most historically entertaining tidbit (albeit in a Patrick Bateman-esque way), the aswang was not the end of Lansdale’s psyops in the Philippines. Lansdale had American aircraft buzz villages where suspected rebels were hiding, and blast the names of the rebels gained through counter-intelligence over loudspeakers, threatening death unless they immediately surrendered. If you were some poor Filipino rebel, I would imagine this a good indication to flee the town or surrender. This tactic proved to be a pretty effect means to rustling out rebels, but Lansdale preferred a more psychotic approach. Using the same tactics of eliciting the names of suspected rebels, the Filipino army would sneak into the village housing these rebels and paint an enormous eye on a wall facing the house of each suspected rebel. The “eye of God” was even more compelling than the loudspeakers; to quote Lansdale’s memoirs: “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect.” Rebels tended to disband immediately under the painted eyes rather than continue to fight.
Looking back on this tale of psychological warfare, my biggest question remains – were the rebels ACTUALLY terrified of these mythological attacks becoming reality, or were they frightened by the American operative who kidnapped and drained their comrades of blood in the jungle? A question as old as time!