Winning hearts and minds

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A United States Army soldier greeting Iraqi children while on patrol during the occupation of Iraq in 2009

Winning hearts and minds is a concept occasionally expressed in the resolution of war, insurgency, and other conflicts, in which one side seeks to prevail not by the use of superior force, but by making emotional or intellectual appeals to sway supporters of the other side.

The term "hearts and minds" was first used by French general Hubert Lyautey.

The use of the term "hearts and minds" to reference a method of bringing a subjugated population on side, was first used by French general and colonial administrator Hubert Lyautey as part of his strategy to counter the Black Flags rebellion during the Tonkin campaign in 1895.[1] The term has also been attributed to Gerald Templer's strategy during the Malayan Emergency.[2]

The efficacy of "hearts and minds" as a counterinsurgency strategy has been debated.[3]


United Kingdom[edit]

The term was used during the Malayan Emergency by the British who employed practices to keep the Malayans' trust and reduce a tendency to side with the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), in this case, by giving medical and food aid to the Malays and indigenous tribes.[4][5] Gerald Templer stated shortly after his arrival in Malaya that:

The shooting side of this business is only twenty-five percent of the trouble. The other seventy-five percent is getting the people of this country behind us. The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle but in the hearts and minds of the people.[6]

A criticism levied against the British "hearts and minds" concept was that "[t]here is much talk of fighting for "the hearts and minds" of Malayans, but only blind obedience is demanded of them".[7]

In the early 1990s, historian challenged the notion that the British relied on hearts and minds counterinsurgency strategies; he argued that the existing literature minimized or obscured the extent to which the British used force.[8] Other scholars, such as David French, Ashley Jackson, Hew Strachan, Paul Dixon, Alex Marshall, Brendon Piers and Caroline Elkins, have subsequently echoed Newsinger's arguments.[9][2][8] Historian David French writes,[10]

The notion that the British conducted their post-war counter-insurgency campaigns by employing kindness, and by trying to secure the ‘hearts and minds’ of the civilians among whom the security forces were operating, has gained wide currency in the literature. It has done so because it supported a Whiggish view of decolonisation that portrayed the way in which the British left their empire as having been an orderly and dignified process of planned withdrawal. But it is misleading. It rested upon a highly selective range of sources, the accounts of senior officers and officials who were intent on sanitising the experience of fighting wars of decolonisation. It failed to take account of the many and varied forms of coercion that the British employed. The foundations of British counter-insurgency doctrine and practice were coercion not kindness.

According to historian Caroline Elkins, the British systematically hid evidence of their violent counterinsurgency campaigns.[11][2] The archival evidence she uncovered in Kenya became key evidence in lawsuits filed against the British government in the late 2000s and 2010s.[12][13]


According to an assessment by University of Michigan political scientist Yuri Zhukov, Russia has responded to insurgent movements and large-scale insurrections since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 with a counterinsurgency model diametrically opposed to the "hearts and minds" approach. Zhukov concluded that "Despite serious setbacks in Afghanistan and the first Chechen War, Russia has one of the most successful track records of any modern counterinsurgent."[14]

United States[edit]

American use of the phrase is most likely based on a quote of John Adams, the American Revolutionary War patriot and second president of the United States, who wrote in a letter dated 13 February 1818: "The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in the religious sentiments of their duties and obligations…. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution."[15]

During the Vietnam War, the United States engaged in a "Hearts and Minds" campaign. The program was inspired by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. One of his most well known uses of the phrase was from the speech "Remarks at a Dinner Meeting of the Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc." on 4 May 1965. On that evening he said, "So we must be ready to fight in Viet-Nam, but the ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there. By helping to bring them hope and electricity you are also striking a very important blow for the cause of freedom throughout the world."[16]

A similar "Hearts and Minds" campaign in Iraq was carried out during the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.[17]

One way of looking at the concept is reflected in the phrase, "If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow".[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Porch, "Bugeaud, Gallieni, Lyautey: The Development of French Colonial Warfare", in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed Peter Paret (Princeton University Press, USA, 1986), 394.
  2. ^ a b c Elkins, Caroline (2022). Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire. Knopf Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-593-32008-2.
  3. ^ Hazelton, Jacqueline L. (2021). Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-5478-4. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctv16zjztj.
  4. ^ Bartlett, Vernon (1955). "Report from Malaya". p. 109. One impressive result of this campaign has been the extent to which Malay women are now taking part in political and social affairs — something still very uncommon among a Moslem people. So much for official measures to encourage racial unity. But both General Templer and his successor, Sir Donald MacGillivray, have insisted time after time that Malayan patriotism cannot be imposed from without or from above; it must develop in the hearts and minds of the Malayans themselves.
  5. ^ Hembry, Boris (2011). Malayan Spymaster: Memoirs of a Rubber Planter, Bandit Fighter, and Spy. Singapore: Monsoon Books. p. 414. ISBN 978-981-08-5442-3. Although many believe the Americans to have coined the phrase [winning hearts and minds] in Vietnam .., I maintain that those words were first used simply as a throw-away remark by [Officer Administering Malaya] Del Tufoe (sic) while we were chatting informally prior to a Federal War Council meeting he chaired in November 1951 ... I repeated the phrase during the ensuing meeting{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ Kilcullen, David (2010). Counterinsurgency. Oxford University Press. p. 212.
  7. ^ John Eber, Malaya's Freedom is Vital to Britain (1954), p. 14.
  8. ^ a b French, David (2011). The British Way in Counter-Insurgency, 1945-1967. Oxford University Press. p. 5.
  9. ^ Brendon, Piers (2010). The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997. Random House. p. 457. ISBN 9781409077961.
  10. ^ French, David (2012). "Nasty not nice: British counter-insurgency doctrine and practice, 1945–1967". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 23 (4–5): 744–761. doi:10.1080/09592318.2012.709763. ISSN 0959-2318. S2CID 144218212.
  11. ^ Elkins, Caroline (2005). Imperial reckoning : the untold story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7653-0. OCLC 55884905.
  12. ^ "Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire | Marc Parry". the Guardian. 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  13. ^ "A Reckoning". June 2016. Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  14. ^ Zhukov, Yuri M. (2012). "Counterinsurgency in a non- democratic state: the Russian example". The Routledge Handbook of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency. Routledge. pp. 293–307. doi:10.4324/9780203132609-32. ISBN 978-0-203-13260-9.
  15. ^ Bernard Bailyn (1992). The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard University Press. p. 160. ISBN 9780674443020. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  16. ^ "Remarks at a Dinner Meeting of the Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. | The American Presidency Project". Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  17. ^ ‘Hearts and minds’ key to US Iraq strategy, Andrew Koch.
  18. ^ Moorcraft, Paul L.; McLaughlin, Peter (2010). The Rhodesian War: A Military History. Stackpole Books. pp. 66, 196. ISBN 978-0-8117-0725-1.
  19. ^ "If you've got them by the balls... - phrase meaning and origin". 27 May 2007. Retrieved 2022-01-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)