When we talk about music, oftentimes we recall relaxing and joyful experiences. Pop music gets stuck in our head and brings us happiness and energy. For me, the lyrics and melody of See You Again are so special, I can’t stop singing them again and again: “We’ve come a long way from where we began / Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.” For me, the slow flow of music in Annie’s Wonderland gives a fresh feeling. I love rock music as it helps me express my stress and get the confidence of life back. Heathens (which places first in the most recent Billboard Rock Songs) ignites my own passion with its hot rhythm.
Music colours our lives. However, you may not know that music can also be a powerful weapon in wars, as well as a violent force that can lead to pain and suffering.
Image Source: New Yorker
One common use of music in war is to attack the enemy as a psychological weapon. One of the most famous examples of music as a weapon happened in the Iraq war during the 2000s. American troops continuously played a few specific songs at extremely high volumes. They used huge speakers and did not stop until the enemies gave up and surrendered. These threatening songs were usually death and black metal rock songs. Enter Sandman by Metallica, Paranoid by Black Sabbath, Bodies by Drowning Pool and some other similar songs were popular choices of the American army.
Hearing threatening songs from a different culture 24 hours every day was intimidating and painful for the Iraqi soldiers — and there was no way for them to get rid of it. Music was a powerful weapon because it could reach everywhere. Quignard, a French writer who has written a novel called Les Ombres, writes:
All sound is the invisible in the form of a piercer of envelopes… Hearing is not like seeing. What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls… Sound rushes in. It violates.
The surrender of Manuel Noriega provided another example of the power of music. In December 1989, the dictator Manuel Noriega in Panama was protected by Nuncio, a diplomatic representative in Panama. According to international law, Americans could not search the embassy without the permission from Nuncio. However, Americans still succeeded in forcing Noriega to surrender, even though they never saw him. How did they do that? They used heavy rock. They knew that he believed in Roman Catholics and could not stand such loud music so that they took advantage of his weakness. By playing heavy rock music every day, Noriega was forced to surrender on January 3rd, 1990.
Image Source: Hot Arabic Music
Music is also used as a form of torture. According to the justice campaign website, “noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured or to disrupt sleep, terrorize or create desperate emotions within the prisoners.” Prisoners are forced to listen to loud rock and rap music through loudspeakers. Researchers from the Cold War learned more about this kind of “no-touch torture” which leaves no marks on victims’ bodies. They found that extended bouts of noise could bring damage to a subject’s personality. American soldiers were actually trained to withstand torture with a musical component.
Although music is often used as a weapon in war, it is not always used violently. It can also be used as a propaganda device to cheer up soldiers. Patriotic songs are used by the government to unite citizens together to fight against enemies. Songs like Canada, I Hear You Calling and Freedom for All Forever often talk about loyalty, heroism, and honor.
Music is a highly effective propaganda vehicle as it spreads quickly among the country. It provides a way of social change which can be used to achieve specific goals with the lyrics, the melody and rhythms that take on deeper meanings than those that appear on the surface. For example, I vow to thee, my country used to be an effective patriotic propaganda in WWI.
“The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test, That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.”
As we can see from the close relationship between music and wars, even the relaxing and healing music can become destructive weapons in wars. Everything has two sides. When we examine issues, we cannot let our bias stop us from making a reasonable decision. So the next time when you listen to music, maybe think about how it is used for other purposes!