For centuries the people of the Philippines have told of a violent, malevolent monster that, for centuries, has provoked terror and mayhem and which has been responsible for an untold number of savage, violent deaths. It goes by the name of the Aswang – and is also known as the Tik-Tik and the Sok-Sok, on account of the strange clicking noises it makes when it is about to launch an attack on its prey, which is almost exclusively us, the Human Race. Although reports of the Aswang can be found all across the Philippines, the monster is most often reported on Mindanao – the second largest island in the Philippines – and in the Visayas Islands, and particularly so on the islands of Bohol and Negros. While outsiders might take the view that the Aswang is merely a beast or legend and folklore, the people of the Philippines have a very different opinion: to them, the monster is all too real. And it’s a gruesome, marauding thing, to be sure. According to local lore, most Aswangs are female. They are not, however, of the beautiful, seductive type that one might expect to see in a Gothic-style vampire movie.
The Aswangs just might be your very worst nightmare. They are scrawny, emaciated things with gray and mottled skin, and milk-white eyes that are as cold-looking as they are emotion-free. Sores and boils cover their bodies. They give off a stench of rotting meat. And they are typically garbed in ragged, torn clothing. Despite their rotted appearance and odor, the Aswangs are highly athletic, having the ability to run at phenomenal speeds and to leap to heights of around fifteen feet or more, as they pursue their terrified soon-to-be victims and dinner combined. Indeed, the Aswangs live exclusively on two things: human blood and human meat. No wonder, then, that zombie-vampire legends surrounding the Aswangs have taken such a firm hold.
Worse still, the Aswangs have a particular taste for the flesh of newborn babies and children. They will do their utmost to seek out the young and the vulnerable, silently and stealthily breaking into homes in the middle of the night, and slaughtering and taking away the corpses of those targeted. Although the Aswangs will devour just about every part of the human body, they are most partial to the liver and the heart, which are seen as definitive delicacies to these infernal things. When an Aswang is unable to seek out a tasty human, he or she will resort to prowling around cemeteries and graveyards, clawing into the dirt and digging up the recently buried. Also mirroring the lore surrounding zombies and vampires, if a person is attacked and bitten by an Aswang, but manages to escape its clutches, he or she too will soon become an Aswang. Infection takes no time at all to set in, and the process of mutation from human to monster is unstoppable. There is no cure for the deadly infection that the Aswang delivers and which quickly surges through the bloodstream.
As infection spreads, the poor victim develops a craving for blood and for human flesh. Violent mood swings develop. The person is affected by sudden bouts of rage. It’s only a matter of time before the infected lose all of their humanity and become fearsome, cannibalistic monsters. It’s not just vampires and zombies that the Aswangs resemble: like the classic werewolf of folklore, history, and Hollywood, the Aswang can shape-shift itself into multiple, animal-based forms, including a huge black dog with glowing eyes, a bipedal wolf, and a huge and violent pig. There is, however, a completely different angle to the Aswang. As you will see right now.
Major General Edward Lansdale was a man highly skilled in the field of what is known, in military circles, as psychological warfare. Back in the early 1950s, Lansdale – who rose to prominence during the Second World War, while working with the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA – spread rumors throughout the Philippines that a deadly vampire was wildly on the loose. Its name was the Aswang, a blood-sucking monstrosity, of which the people of the Philippines lived in complete dread. The reason for Lansdale’s actions was as bizarre as it was simple. At the time, specifically 1952, the Philippines were in turmoil and chaos, as a result of an uprising by the Hukbalahap – or Huks, as they were also known. They were vehemently anti-government rebels and did their very best to oust the president of the Philippines, Elpidio Rivera Quirino, with whom Lansdale was friends. And when the Major General was asked by Quirino to help end the reign of terror that the Hukbalahap had generated, he quickly came on-board.
One of the first things that Lansdale noted was that the rebels were deathly afraid of the vampiric Aswang and its nocturnal, blood-drinking activities. So, he came up with a brainwave, albeit a grisly one. It was a brainwave that was kept secret for decades, until Lansdale, himself, finally went public, long after his prestigious military career was finally over. As the Major General recalled: “To the superstitious, the Huk battleground was a haunted place filled with ghosts and eerie creatures. A combat psy-war squad was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of an Aswang living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along the trail used by the Huks.” That same psywar squad then did something that was very alternative, but which proved to be extremely effective. They silently grabbed one of the Hukbalahap rebels, snapped his neck, and then – using a specially created, metallic device – left two, deep, vicious-looking puncture marks on the neck of the man. But that was barely the start of things: they then quietly tied a rope around the man’s ankles, hung his body from a nearby tree, and let just about as much blood as possible drain out of the body. After several hours, the corpse was lowered to the ground and left close to the Hukbalahap camp, specifically to ensure it was found by his comrades. They did find it.
The result, as Lansdale noted, was overwhelmingly positive, from the perspective of the Philippine government, at least: “When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the Aswang had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on that hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.” It was an ingenious, and spectacularly successful, tactic, one that was reportedly utilized on more than fifteen occasions to take back strategic ground from the Hukbalahap soldiers. A vampire of legend was now one of reality – or so the rebels believed. In many respects, this sounds like a bizarre secret society using ancient legends and sinister stories to defeat the enemy.
Of course, it's all but inevitable that other, similar programs were put into place. In fact, we know that such things have happened. Now, onto a man named Jasper Maskelyne. The Magic Tricks website says this of Maskelyne: “...Maskelyne became an integral part of a special unit focused on the action along the Suez Canal. With his great knowledge of illusion, Maskelyne was able to devise ingenious- and very large scale- illusion systems that virtually made tanks invisible from the air, hid whole buildings full of ammunition and supplies, and even made an entire city vanish and reappear several miles away.” Maskelyne, the author of a book titled Magic: Top Secret, added: “Our men…were able to use illusions of an amusing nature in the Italian mountains, especially when operating in small groups as advance patrols scouting out the way for our general moves forward. In one area, in particular, they used a device which was little more than a gigantic scarecrow, about twelve feet high, and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs. This thing scared several Italian Sicilian villages appearing in the dawn thumping its deafening way down their streets with great electric blue sparks jumping from it; and the inhabitants, who were mostly illiterate peasants, simply took to their heels for the next village, swearing that the Devil was marching ahead of the invading English."
It's all but impossible to know for sure the extent to what such alternative operations may have been executed - and with nothing less than savage, created monsters at the helm, so to speak. What this does tell us, for sure, however, is that some of the legends of deadly monsters in our world may have come from not our jungles and mountains, but from the minds of military experts in the fields of disinformation and psychological warfare. Cryptozoologists would do well to specifically look deep into cases of strange monsters during warfare; they might find that the monsters weren't really what they appeared to be.