In a way, the North Korean missiles-that-may-not-be-missiles-at-all are the modern-day equivalent of King Edward III's exaggerated codpiece.
The English king was fighting the Hundred Years' War and was desperate to project an air of might to his French enemies, according to historian Beth Marie Kosir. Legend has it that Edward had the armor covering the royal family jewels "enlarged to astounding proportions because he had heard that strength and military prowess were correlated with a man's endowment."
Given the situation, "it would not be surprising that he would try to seek any possible advantage available to him," Kosir wrote in an article titled "Modesty to Majesty: The Development of the Codpiece." ''He then ordered that the nobility and knights do the same to their armor."
Flash forward seven centuries, and it's clear that size still matters — at least when it comes to missiles.
Two days after a spectacularly bungled April 13 rocket launch, North Korea staged a lavish military parade featuring a half-dozen KN-08 "missiles" on massive mobile launch vehicles. But analysts who have studied photos of the event say the weapons were fakes — and bad ones, at that.
History is replete with examples of governments and armies using deception — the Trojan horse is perhaps the most famous instance. Often, the aim is to convince your enemy that you're stronger — or weaker — than you really are. There have been those who disapproved: In his "Summa Theologica," St. Thomas Aquinas argued that trickery in war was unlawful.
"Scripture says, Strict justice must be your ideal," he wrote. "But since subterfuge is a kind of deception, it would seem to be an injustice. Therefore subterfuge should not be used, even in a just war."
But Sun Tzu, in "The Art of War," famously stated that, "All warfare is based on deception."
Moral or not, deception has been going on "probably as long as there have been one group of people fighting another," says Frank R. Shirer, chief of historical resources at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C.
A few prominent examples:
—Eighteenth century Prussia was all about projecting strength, and Frederick William I took it to a personal extreme.
As crown prince, Frederick personally commanded a unit of grenadiers with a minimum height requirement of 6 Prussian feet — about 6-foot-2. He paraded his Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam — or Potsdam Giants, as they were sometimes called — for foreign visitors, but they seldom saw real action.
"Frederick took good care that his playthings were not often exposed in the front of battle and their chief duties were to drill incessantly, keep their arms and accoutrements in order and to mount guard," Harry Alton Hitchcock wrote in his 1915 work, "The Boy's Book of Famous Regiments."
—During the Peninsula Campaign in spring 1862, Confederate Gen. John Bankhead Magruder fell back on his theater background to take advantage of Union Gen. George McClellan's famous timidity. Tasked with maintaining the line between Yorktown, Va., and the James River, Magruder had his 11,000-strong force make faux cannon out of logs and mount these so-called "Quaker Guns" on carriages to give the impression of superior firepower.
"To further give the impression of vast Confederate forces," historian Edward Terrel Cotham wrote, "Prince John also directed his men to build extra campfires at night, and choreographed elaborate spectacles during the day in which men marched in circles and sounded bugles."
—World War II saw strategic subterfuge on an epic scale.
For "Operation Mincemeat," the Allies planted fake papers on the corpse of a Scottish man and released it from a submarine off the Spanish coast. The dispatches suggested a major Allied attack through Greece; the real objective was Sicily.
Perhaps the biggest feint of the war occurred in 1944, as the Allies were preparing to invade Normandy.
Gen. George Patton had an oversized image to match his healthy ego, and Adolf Hitler was convinced he would be leading the invasion. So in a move dubbed "Operation Quicksilver," the Allies constructed buildings and placed inflatable replicas of M4 Sherman tanks around southern England, suggesting a move on the Pas de Calais.
Patton made sure to pose for lots of photos at this phony embarkation point.
"They created an entire army — a fake army — in East Anglia," says historian Matthew Aid, author of the recent book "Intel Wars." ''It was supposed to be 300,000 men strong, consisting of 10 divisions with air power ... and the Germans bought it hook, line and sinker."
—Aid says perhaps the "biggest 'strategic deception' of all time that backfired very badly" was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's claim that he had weapons of mass destruction. Although his deputies were frantically trying to convince the world otherwise, the damage had been done.
"We believed the boasts and not the factual evidence, and we paid for it," Aid says. "Well, he paid for it with his life. And we ended up with a war. ...
"Raises the obvious question of what happens when someone calls your bluff."
News Researcher Susan James contributed to this report.
Allen G. Breed is a national writer, based in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at features(at)ap.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/(hash)!/AllenGBreed