shock and awe

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US tank troops posing in front of the Arch of Triumph or Victory Arch in Baghdad, Iraq, on 13 November 2003 during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Coined in 1996, the term shock and awe gained greater public attention during this military operation.

Coined by American defence strategists Harlan Kenneth Ullman (born 1941) and James P. Wade, Jr., in Shock and Awe (1996): see the quotation. The term gained greater public attention during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US troops.[1]



shock and awe (uncountable)

  1. (military, also figuratively) A doctrine based on the use of spectacular displays of force. [from 1996]
    • 1996, Harlan K[enneth] Ullman; James P. Wade [et al.], “Prologue”, in Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance[2], [Washington, D.C.]: Center for Advanced Concepts and Technology, →ISBN, archived from the original on 29 August 2017, page xii:
      To affect the will of the adversary, Rapid Dominance will apply a variety of approaches and techniques to achieve the necessary level of Shock and Awe at the appropriate strategic and military leverage points. [] Flowing from the primary concentration on affecting the adversary's will to resist through imposing a regime of Shock and Awe to achieve strategic aims and military objectives, four characteristics emerge that will define the Rapid Dominance military force.
    • 2008 February 15, Ken Tucker, “‘Thriller’: Can’t Beat It”, in Entertainment Weekly[3], archived from the original on 23 November 2015:
      The shock and awe that a human being could inspire navigating a stage with such effortless yet almost supernatural command (not for nothing did legends Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly congratulate Michael [Jackson] on his dancing) vaulted Jackson and Thriller to a new level of prominence.
    • 2010 August 5, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, “Hiroshima: The Lesson We Never Learned”, in HuffPost[4], archived from the original on 24 December 2010:
      Photos, film, documentation of the city [Hiroshima, Japan] had been confiscated and censored almost immediately after Japan surrendered, and the only indelible image of the bombing was the power of the bomb itself: the "shock and awe" version of the mushroom cloud.
    • 2013 March 19, Richard Sanders, “The myth of ‘shock and awe’: Why the Iraqi invasion was a disaster”, in The Daily Telegraph[5], London, archived from the original on 10 October 2017:
      One expression above all others has become associated with the invasion of Iraq – "shock and awe". Developed at the Pentagon in the mid-1990s, "shock and awe" was a doctrine designed to leave the enemy so demoralised and disoriented that its will to resist crumbled. In popular parlance it has come to mean the application of overwhelming force, the effective obliteration of the enemy, and for many the term "shock and awe" has come to epitomise the crudeness of the American assault on Iraq.




shock and awe (third-person singular simple present shocks and awes, present participle shocking and awing or shocking and aweing, simple past and past participle shocked and awed)

  1. (military, also figuratively) To utilize the "shock and awe" doctrine in an actual or potential conflict, or to otherwise utilize a spectacular display of force or authority.
    • [1877, Julia Kavanagh, chapter XXVII, in Two Lilies. A Novel, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, 549 & 551 Broadway, OCLC 35125098, page 261:
      He was a young soldier still in the great battle of life, not used to see his fellow-combatants drop down by his side; and he felt shocked and awed.
      A coincidental use of the term before it was coined in 1996 as the name of the military doctrine.]
    • 2004, John Lewis Gaddis, “The Twenty-first Century”, in Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lecture on American Civilization and Government), Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, →ISBN, pages 101–102:
      That's why good strategists know when to stop shocking and awing: when to begin consolidating the benefits these strategies have provided. The classic example is Otto von Bismarck, who set new standards for shock and awe by provoking three wars—against Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866, and France in 1870—all with a view to clearing the way for the unification of Germany.
    • 2004 March, Tony Lawless, “‘Underground’ Bunker”, in Lawless in Vietnam: A Personal Accounting of My War, Haverford, Pa.: Infinity Publishing, →ISBN, page 239:
      It was one thing to hear talk of protests and war resistance back home, but when I saw it first hand, just a few feet from my bed, I was shocked and awed by the seriousness of some of the guys who had decided not to participate in this war anymore.
    • 2005, Lloyd Hughes, The Rough Guide to Gangster Movies (Rough Guides Reference), London: Rough Guides, →ISBN, page 93:
      [H]e descends into ferrying drugs carefully planted in carcasses from an abattoir, and is eventually trained to be a killer. The violence, when it comes, shocks and awes because the beauty of the preceding scenes has had a hypnotic hold on the viewer.
    • 2006, Bonnie Mann, “Conclusion”, in Women’s Liberation and the Sublime: Feminism, Postmodernism, Environment, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 176:
      The wars in Afghanistan and Iran are both fought in defense of the manliness of "America." [] President [George W.] Bush is reelected on a platform of never changing his mind, never reconsidering a decision once taken, and never worrying about what others might think or feel in relation to U.S. actions globally. Since this model of national sovereignty in the face of a foreign threat leaves little room for worrying about individual lives at home, victims of national disasters are subjected to an unimaginably callous carelessness. And the events in nature that shock and awe the senses are used as excuses for doing away with those minimal environmental protections that still constrain the fossil fuel industry.
    • 2015, J. Martin Daughtry, “Sonic Campaigns”, in Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, section II (Structures of Listening, Sounding, and Emplacement), page 161:
      [M]ost weapon sounds (gun reports, rockets in flight, detonations, etc.) are not just big but absolutely vast, commanding attention, intimidating, shocking and aweing large populations dispersed over large areas.



  1. ^ “shock and awe”, in Oxford Reference[1], Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, archived from the original on 21 June 2017, citing Elizabeth Knowles, editor (2005), “shock and awe”, in Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN.

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