Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The OSS schemed to terrify Japan by introducing glowing, radioactive foxes (and tested the plan on Americans)

Smithsonian:

Operation Fantasia, he pitched the organization in 1943, would destroy Japanese morale by exposing soldiers and civilians to a Shinto portent of doom: kitsune, fox-shaped spirits with magical abilities.

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When it came to the question of how to create fake kitsune, the OSS dreamt up a gaggle of ideas. First, OSS personnel fashioned fox-shaped balloons to fly over Japanese villages and scare the citizens below. They also asked a whistle company to create an instrument that simulated fox sounds. In a memo to the OSS Planning Staff, Salinger said, “These whistles can be used in combat and a sufficient number of these should create an eerie sound of the kind calculated to meet the Japanese superstition.” In addition to the balloons and whistles, the OSS hired another company to create artificial fox odors. Salinger thought that Japanese citizens would somehow recognize this scent—just as he thought that they would recognize a rare fox sound—and cower in fear. But despite Salinger’s best efforts, the balloons, whistles, and odors were abandoned as impractical before being deployed. Instead, the OSS reverted to Salinger’s original plan: Catch live foxes in China and Australia, spray-paint them with glowing paint, and release them throughout Japanese villages.

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This scheme presented a number of logistical hurdles.

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To find out whether the faux-supernatural foxes would actually frighten the Japanese, the OSS decided to release 30 glowing foxes in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park to gauge the reactions of the locals. If the foxes spooked Americans, the logic went, certainly they would scare the Japanese even more.

On a summer night in 1945, OSS personnel released the foxes in the park, and the creatures scampered along the trails with promising results.

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But then another barrage of procedural questions surfaced.

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Salinger’s off-the-wall idea got even stranger.

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As early as September 24, 1943, Stanley Lovell, the head of the OSS Research and Development Branch responsible for overseeing Fantasia, recommended in a meeting that they abandon the operation. He couldn’t understand why nobody else questioned its logic, feasibility or rationality. He told his colleagues, “I trust that this will serve as a critique to us in the field of pure reason.” Lovell had established his reputation in the OSS by pursuing eccentric ideas himself, such as trying to make Adolf Hitler’s mustache fall out by slipping female sex hormones into his vegetables—Lovell’s nickname was “Professor Moriarty”—but Operation Fantasia went beyond his tolerance for absurdity.