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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 use of the term "hearts and minds" to reference a method of bringing a subjugated population on side, was first used during the Malayan Emergency by the British who employed practices to keep the Malayans' trust and reduce a tendency to side with ethnic Chinese communists, in this case, by giving medical and food aid to the Malays and indigenous tribes. A British report of the time stated:

One impressive result of this campaign has been the extent to which Malay woman 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.[1]

A criticism at the time was that "[t]here is much talk of fighting for "the hearts and minds" of Malayans, but only blind obedience is demanded of them".[2]

During the 1960's, the United States engaged in a "Hearts and Minds" campaign in Vietnam. A similar "Hearts and Minds" campaign in Iraq was carried out during the 2003 invasion and occupation of that country. The program was inspired by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. He used some version of the phrase "hearts and minds" a total of 28 times. In ten of these instances, Johnson inverted the words and used the phrase "minds and hearts." The first time he used the phrase in his presidency was on 16 January 1964, and the last time was 19 August 1968. In his usage he addressed very different audiences, including heads of state, congressmen, and the American people. Also, Johnson referred to the "hearts and minds" of disparate groups, including the above-mentioned audiences and even humanity as a whole. His use of the phrase is most commonly taken 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."

Johnson's 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 their 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".[3] The phrase, "hearts and minds" is also found in a biblical quotation, in Philippians 4:7, although that passage does not address the "winning" of hearts and minds as a tactic.


  1. Vernon Bartlett, Report from Malaya (1955), p. 109.
  2. John Eber, Malaya's Freedom is Vital to Britain (1954), p. 14.
  3. Bernard Bailyn (1992). The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard University Press. p. 160. ISBN 9780674443020. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 

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