Genghis Khan Using Terror Through Psychological Warfare

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The use of effective psychological warfare tactics was one of the reasons that led to Genghis khan’s rise to power and his victorious accomplishments in his leadership throughout his reign. This investigation highlights the significance of using terror through psychological warfare as a vehicle to dominate the enemy. By referring back to the definition of terror as “ a violent or destructive act committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting them their demands”[1], it is very clear and authentic that Genghis Khan’s rise to power was based on this dilemma.

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On his initial rise to power Genghis Khan vigorously worked to unite the tribes of Magnolia during the early 1200s. Some leaders in history have united people by allowing them freedom and rights, this was not the case with Genghis Khan. He made the tribes of Mongolia come together, in a ruthless approach. To create a united Mongolia, he killed the rulers of all the tribes, so there would be no one left to challenge his rule.

Genghis Khan name translates from the Mongolian Language as the universal leader. Thus, we can reason that due to his efficacious use of psychological warfare, he was able to effectively unify the Mongolian regime, which would have otherwise been scattered and his rule would never have been as effective. Genghis Khan does not solely mean “universal leader” but it also has a spiritual significance in which he was a representative of Mongke Koko Tengri, the supreme god of the Mongols. He was known to say the following, which is an example of the common psychological warfare Genghis Khan used upon his rivals, “I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you”. [2]

During this period the “universal ruler” managed to bring under his rule the majority of Mongolian tribes that were all loyal to him. This was achieved by using unconventional tactics of killing all tribal leaders. With their leaders dead, many tribesmen offered their loyalty to Genghis Khan, likely because they feared their own death if they were to disagree with him. Genghis Khan used fear and intimidation to create a united Mongolia. By making threats and following through with them, Genghis Khan used people’s fear and successfully waged psychological warfare in his rule. He ruled with an iron fist and showed no mercy as best portrayed in Genghis Khan Life, Death and Resurrection by John Man book: “ To those who were not bound to him or who opposed him, Genghis was merciless. Once convinced of disloyalty, even in a relative or former friend, he was a ruthless executioner. If he never forgot a favor, he never forgave an insult; and resistance insulted not only him, but also Heaven above.”

Genghis Khan was a master strategist and his brutal warriors left a path of destruction in their wake. Khan asked enemies to surrender; if they refused he would annihilate their families and friends. Genghis was proud of his murderous rampages and felt that the terror they inspired should be helpful in causing more enemies to join his side without him losing any men in the process. The scale of brutality can be demonstrated when molten silver was poured into the eyes and ears of Inalchuq a noble leader. The people of northern China lived in fear of Genghis Khan’s advancing army. His troops did not just conquer people; they destroyed the way people lived and impacted every aspect of their life. His troops burned cities that refused to surrender. The Mongolian armies destroyed irrigation projects and ruined fields so the people would have no food. He forced the Chinese people to serve as the forward troops, making them fight their own people. He used his methods to affect the Chinese psyche and create a culture of fear.

With the selection of Genghis Khan as the ruler of the Turko-Mongol people, as these people were united for the first time in centuries. They were passionate, believing that Genghis Khan was sent from the gods and endowed with the power of Heaven. They had long been governed only by tribal customs. To place further control on his population, Genghis Khan drew from his Mongol military organization and also created a code of laws, the Yassa, which was a combination of his will and tribal customs.

The Yassa aimed at three important directives: obedience to Genghis Khan, a binding together of the nomad clans, and the merciless punishment of wrongdoing. These laws governed people, not property. Unless a man actually confessed, he was not judged guilty unless he was caught in the act of crime. The Yassa was an important path in which the Mongolian lived by and covered a great deal of laws and consequences of breaking laws. Often the punishment was very harsh and barbaric and it was an effective tool to bring together the entire society and to deter others. The Yassa was a an intricate part of Genghis Khan’s code of ethics that he valued these laws for future generations: ‘If the great, the military leaders and the leaders of the many descendants of the ruler who will be born in the future, should not adhere strictly to the Yasa, then the power of the state will be shattered and come to an end, no matter how they then seek Genghis Khan, they shall not find him.’

  1. “Terror.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
  2. “Genghis Khan.”, A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017,

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