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Side A: Technocracy, highly industrialized, rich, hedonistic, peaceful (sort of ;) ) Side B: Theocracy, poor, ascetic, openly declares that it want to conquer all non-believers

Assets: Side A: Small, disciplined, theoretically well trained but inexperienced in real fight army, huge amount of mothballed semi autonomous combat vehicles (equivalent of ICV, aerial, even some slow submarines), maybe somewhat squishy society, but very effective state apparatus that allows them to mobilize needed resources, operating with very short supply lines. Side B: Huge, generally fanatic army, poorly equipped (practically lack of heavy weapons), some units are really battle hardened.

Soldiers of side B seriously believe that they are facing rich but weak and coward oponent. They correctly know that technically speaking army of Side A is outnumbered many times (They've seen that Side A was using women on front line, so they must be really running out of soldiers). They know that side A is even by its allies perceived as sexually depraved, so the conclusion is that any POW taken by Side A would be treated in really cruel and unusual way, thus even not specially fanatic soldiers would think about fighting to death.

From early assessment of Side A, they should be able to easily win that war. Wherever Side B sends its soldiers, it would have to have them concentrated on small territory at start and be subject to really lethal bombardment using chemical weapons and cluster bombing. What would survive that would be harassed by air forces and outmaneuvered by land forces. All really valuable targets are anyway protected by lines of mine fields, barbed wire and semi autonomous machine gun turrets.

Nevertheless, leadership of A, wonders whether they could instead of killing almost all enemies just give them a chance to surrender. Not only its perceived as more civilized but also POW could be used as unfree labour and later used in a prisoner swap (some of its allies soldiers and civilians were captured).

Is there a practical way to achieve that? (it's not an aim that has to be desperately achieved)

I was thinking in line of dropping propaganda leaflets explaining Side A rules of treating POWs (which actually are not so bad), with dropping either either Buzz or moderate amount of mustard gas, hoping that it would rather incapacitate enemy without just killing them all. And later encircle separate enemy units and force them to surrender using artillery.

Would such approach would be worth a try? Is there a better way of trying to take enemy as POWs? Or maybe there is no good way, and if they want to be pragmatic and humanitarian they should just use whatever would cause quick death?

In this setting there are de facto no convention concerning war conduct.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be asking about a story set in a world. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Jun 3 '17 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ Why would a truly 'hedonistic' Side A care about the lives of Side B enough to expend lots of effort to save them? Consider editing that one word. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jun 3 '17 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ Capturing (or pinning) whole enemy armies offers a brief advantage, but does not usually change the mindset of the soldiers involved. Germany and Japan joined the Western Allies after WWII not because of POW treatment, not because wholesale government change, but mostly because each felt an existential threat that the West would help them against. After that came decades of relationship-building and joint institution-building to cement the change. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jun 3 '17 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ I think, in a nutshell, your question is how can Side A wage a psychological warfare operation to persuade Side B troops that surrender is a better option than fighting to death. Also: is English your first or second language? $\endgroup$ – a4android Jun 4 '17 at 2:46
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Take the long view.

Rather then seeing POWs as potential slaves, view them as agents of disaffection.

Treat all POWs very well. Give them all medical help (likely better than they would get at home), feed them well and house them comfortably, but keep a close surveillance on them, and segregate the hard-core true believers. Provide moderate, acculturated priests/chaplains for their religious ceremonies. The purpose of all this is to demonstrate to the POWs that society A is not actually that bad.

After a decent interval, with maximum publicity, release batches of POWs back into society B. This will produce one of two outcomes.

Either society B will welcome their POWs back or they won't. If they do, they will have an unknown number of potential apostates in their military. More likely, they will treat returning POWs the way the Russians did during and after WW2, declare them contaminated, and either put them in camps or simply execute them. At this point society A publicizes the treatment, and also publicizes a new policy: any POWs who ask for asylum will get it and not be repatriated.

If properly handled, this can produce a large number of soldiers who see being captured as possibly a better deal than being under the discipline of fanatics who will kill them anyways.

All of this is a bit iffy, of course. A great deal depends on just how effective society B is at religious indoctrination. It will help a great deal if society A is obviously better at military operations, and can effectively broadcast the fact. Dieing for an ascetic, demanding God is one thing, but giving your life for a demanding God who cannot produce a victory is something else again.

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Wherever Side B sends its soldiers, it would have to have them concentrated on small territory

So, instead of a lethal gas, Side A develops a strong and relatively safe "you get sleepy and fall asleep" knockout chemical. They can gather the enemy troops and treat them as they wish; including knocking out an area just over the border, putting captured troops in it, and letting them all wake up.

A few of the enemy might be injured or killed due to accidents or falls or whatnot, but if the initial result is just overwhelming tiredness, so the feel compelled to sit down or lay down, that risk should be very much reduced.

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  • $\begingroup$ P.S. While you are at it, confiscate all their weapons, vehicles and fighting gear (helmets, bullet proof vests, etc). Leave them their religious artifacts, books, symbols, etc. Try to follow any customs they have so you are not engaged in blasphemy or disrespect from their POV. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Jun 3 '17 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ I already made a basic googling, and such gasses do not work well in RL. High share of affected people tend to suffocate en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_theater_hostage_crisis $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Jun 3 '17 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your choice, obviously, but you are writing fiction, right? Do you think it is totally impossible for such a gas (or spray) to exist? If so, I'd like to know why. And even if your fictional scientists are not perfect and there are some 10% casualties, it would be better than turning them all into hamburger. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Jun 3 '17 at 18:39
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The experience in WWII of the Allies against Japan is instructive.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_prisoners_of_war_in_World_War_II

The Japanese also had societal norms which encouraged fighting to the death, and scorned surrendering: both because it was cowardly and because the Allies would supposedly kill you if you tried to surrender. The wikipedia article is interesting in that this latter was a self-fulfilling prophecy: the Allies came to expect that Japanese would not surrender or if they did, they were pretending to lure Allies into traps. So not many surrenders were taken and lots of Japanese who were probably really trying to surrender were killed.

The answer is propaganda as proposed in the OP. Show POW camps with good circumstances (as MacArthur did towards the end of the war). Show captured persons openly practicing their religion. Show citizens of Side A of similar cultural background as Side B, openingly practicing their religion. Emphasize that if captured they will retain honor and be treated well. Emphasize that Side A values all human life and would rather not destroy side B utterly, which is what will otherwise have to happen.

This is a good combination with sudden, massive, overwhelming attacks to demonstrate the capability of utter destruction by side A: the "shock and awe". By my read the Japanese towards the end of the war knew they were outmatched and were ready to consider surrender.

ADDENDUM - it occurs to me that in addition to the conventional propaganda there could be porn propaganda. This would play up the stereotype of the side A men as being unmanly and weak, unable to satisfy their women. Prisoners from side B could be sought out by women in the way typical for these movies. One would want to reinforce sexual stereotypes but reinforce that the women of side A want the side B men, and want them often.

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Buy the leaders and let them march the army into a trap. If they do it right they could even disarm their army first, but that's not necessary.

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