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Hearts and Minds Approach

A “hearts and minds” approach refers to a counterinsurgency strategy centered on winning the local population’s loyalties, or at least their acquiescence, usually through a means of economic inducements, political reforms, and propaganda, in order to deny the insurgency a basis of support. In the Western context, this approach first gained attention during anticommunist wars in Southeast Asia, and more recently in U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The expression itself is more popular slang than a specific military doctrinal term. Consequently, vigorous debates exist about what exactly this approach means in practice as well as its effectiveness.

Arguably, this approach’s intellectual premise lies in Mao Zedong’s classic admonition that “the guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” In this ...

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