WASHINGTON, May 21, 2013 — Tonight at 8 p.m. PBS is airing the documentary The Ghost Army. Long before the term performance art became a familiar term, the 1,100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops saved allied lives by applying this concept to the battlefield. This intrepid group of soldiers turned con artists pulled off a series of performances that were so secret the details of their exploits were hidden for over 50 years.
In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of G.I.s landed in France with truckloads of inflatable tanks, a massive collection of sound effects records, and more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Included in The Ghost Army were future fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly and Great Day in Harlem photographer, Art Kane, just to name a few.
By utilizing artwork, elaborate props, sound effects and staged leaks, The Ghost Army convinced German intelligence that Allied forces were mobilized in places they really weren’t.
The goal of these series of deceptions was to prompt the Germans to divert their own forces to stop this ghost enemy, leaving the real battlefields more lightly defended. Although it is hard to determine how many Allied lives were saved by the efforts of The Ghost Army, there is no doubt the purposeful confusion was effective.
As details of the exploits of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops continue to emerge all these years later, it is particularly satisfying to learn that although Wile E. Coyote’s bag of tricks never fooled the roadrunner, the Germans fell for them hook, line and sinker.
Today, similar military undertakings fall under the general head of psychological operations, or Psy Ops, for short. Sounds a little like contemporary South Korean pop music.
Speaking of music, one of the more hilarious Psy Ops operations over the last 25 years or so involved the U.S. Armed Forces dislodging Panamanian dictator and drug figure Manuel Noriega from his refuge in the Vatican Embassy on December 24, 1989. Psy Ops encouraged him to surrender by setting up an armada of gigantic loudspeakers and blaring the loudest hard rock music they could find in his direction 24/7, including Van Halen’s hit song, Panama, and The Howard Stern Show for several days.
Noriega ultimately begged to surrender just over a week later without a single shot being fired. It was like a Ghost Army operation on steroids, and just as effective.
Now if we could only figure out a way to fight all wars by deploying a bag of Ghost Army or Psy Ops tricks rather than the blood of our youth, life for all of us would indeed be good.
All times are EDT:
ABC: The Bachelor’s Funniest Moments: (New) Hilarious moments — on-screen and off — from past seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” include spontaneous gaffes and faux pas.
CBS: NCIS: Los Angeles: (Repeat) A woman from Deeks’ past becomes the target of an international car-stealing operation that is linked to a global terrorist ring. Kensi works undercover at an auto-body shop to investigate the case.
FOX: So You Think You can Dance: (New) The search for America’s Favorite Dancer continues with auditions in Austin, TX.
NBC: The Voice: (Repeat) The top ten singers perform.
CW: The Vampire Diaries: (Repeat) The fourth season ends on graduation day when ghosts overrun the town and try to settle old scores and fulfill their supernatural destinies. Meanwhile, Elena makes a decision about the Salvatore brothers and confronts Katherine; and Stefan discovers a horrifying secret about Silas.
PBS: The Ghost Army: (New) War, deception, art, and glory come together in the documentary film “The Ghost Army”, the astonishing true story of American G.I.s — many of whom would later have illustrious careers in art, design and fashion — who tricked the enemy with rubber tanks, sound effects, and carefully crafted illusions during the Second World War. Filmmaker Rick Beyer tells a remarkable story of a top-secret mission that was at once absurd, deadly and amazingly effective.
ABC: Dancing With The Stars: (Live) The eliminated celebrities return to perform; performances by Pitbull, Wynonna, PSY and Jessica Sanchez; one couple wins the trophy.
CBS: NCIS: (Repeat) Ziva’s father unexpectedly arrives to visit his daughter, but she questions his motives and wonders if he is on a secret mission for Mossad. Meanwhile, the team investigates the link between a dead journalist and a Navy petty officer.
NBC: The Voice: (Live) The teams all perform live and America’s picks for the Top 8 are revealed.
CW: America’s Next Top Model: College Edition: (Repeat) The models try to bring a video-game character to life when they visit a special-effects production house. At the photo shoot, the girls pose in Victorian fashions at a train museum.
PBS: Constitution USA With Peter Sagal: (New) An examination of the 14th Amendment and how it’s being used in the fight for same-sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action and immigration reform.
ESPN: NBA Playoff: Game 2: Grizzlies at Spurs: (Live) Memphis at San Antonio in game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
CBS: NCIS: (Repeat) In the aftermath of a tragic event that strikes close to home, the NCIS team unites to demand answers and protect vulnerable colleagues.
NBC: Grimm: (New) Nick battles the “undead” as they descend on Portland in the epic season finale!
New episodes of:
Monster Squid: It Lives at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet
Deadliest Catch: On Deck at 8 p.m. on DSC
Married to Medicine at 8 p.m. on BRAVO
Property Virgins at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on HGTV
Mythbusters at 8 and 9 p.m. on SCI
Man-Eating Super Squid at 9 p.m. on Animal Planet
Polygamy, USA at 9 p.m. on NGC
Airport 24/7 at 9 p.m. on Travel Channel
Deadliest Catch at 9 p.m. on DSC
Extreme Moms at 9 p.m. on LIFE
19 Kids and Counting at 9 p.m. on TLC
Weird or What? at 9 and 10 p.m. on Syfy
Who Gets the Last Laugh at 10 p.m. on TBS
The Little Couple at 10 p.m. on TLC
River Monsters: Unhooked at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet
Backyard Oil at 10 p.m. on DSC
Chopped at 10 p.m. on Food Channel
House Hunters at 10 p.m. on HGTV
The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius at 10 p.m. on SCI
Inside Amy Schumer at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central
House Hunters International at 10:30 p.m. on HGTV
For movie lovers:
300 on AMC
Follow That Dream on ENC
Legally Blond 2: Red, White & Blond
What Happens in Vegas on FMC
Taken on FX
Mary and Martha on HBO
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the galaxy on IFC
Brave on STARZ
Norma Rae on SUND
Little Caesar on TCM
Inside Out on TMC
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows on HBO
The Apparition on MOMAX
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1 on SHO
Pocahontas at 9:05 p.m. on ABCFAM
Independence Day at 9:15 p.m. on SPIKE
The Petrified Forest at 9:30 p.m. on TCM
The Reunion at 9:35 p.m. on TMC
The Color of Money at 10 p.m. on SUND
The Last Legion at 10:15 p.m. on IFC
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