What an awesome scene. Army military helicopters flying in on the North Vietnamese, guns blazing, as Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” plays from loudspeakers. This wasn’t reality – though rumor has it tankers in Desert Storm did the same thing – it was from the film “Apocalypse Now.” But music has been a part of war for a long time.
Horns, buglers, and drummers sounded orders for entire armies from the Classical era until as late as the Korean War. Even in psychological operations, the use of music is not a novelty – Joshua is said to have used horns as a weapon when he captured Jericho.
From biblical times to post-9/11, here are few contemporary examples of armies using music against the enemy.
1. Metallica, “Enter Sandman” – Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of the Human Rights Group Reprieve, detailed the use of music on detainees in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The group says music was used at “earsplitting” volume and on repeat to shock and break prisoners into confessing crimes, and it worked. The detainees allegedly confessed to crimes they couldn’t physically have committed – anything to make the music stop.
Among these were Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” song, “Bodies” by the band Drowning Pool, and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
“Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica,” frontman James Hetfield said in an interview with 3SAT, a German media outlet. “And part of me is bummed that people worry about us being attached to some political statement because of that… politics and music for us don’t mix.”
2. 4Minute, “HUH (Hit Your Heart)” – Korean DMZ
The main feature of the Korean Demilitarized Zone are the thousands of North and South Korean (and U.S.) troops literally staring each other down, daring each other to try something cute. It’s an intense area and you can cut through the tension with a knife. Each has tried a number of “cute” things to irk the others, including fake cities, propaganda billboards, and ax murders. In 2010, the weapon of choice became Korean pop music.
When North Korea sunk the South Korean warship Cheonan that year, The South responded by blasting propaganda messages across the border using 11 enormous loudspeakers aligned in the DMZ. They also used the song “HUH (Hit Your Heart)” by the Kpop group 4Minute, over and over. It got to be so much that the North threatened to turn Seoul into a “Sea of Flame” if the music didn’t stop.
3. Britney Spears, “Oops! I Did It Again” – Horn of Africa
By 2013, the Somali pirate fleet operating in the Horn of Africa was such a problem, the UK’s Royal Navy had 14 warships on alert in the area. Attacks have decreased since then, thanks to increased attention by international naval patrols. But there are a few merchant mariners who think Britney Spears might have had a hand in it as well.
The UK’s merchant navy told the Mirror in 2013 that they found blasting Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” and “Baby One More Time” at pirate skiffs warded off the pirates.
4. Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run” – Operation Just Cause
In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama after its leader Gen. Manuel Noriega discarded the results of a national election and Panamanian troops killed a U.S. Marine and wounded another. American troops were sent to safeguard its citizens lives, enforce the election results, and capture and extradite Noriega to the United States.
Noriega took refuge in the Vatican City diplomatic mission in Panama City, and the U.S. military kept up physical pressure on him to surrender by blasting songs like “Nowhere to Run,” Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog,” and the Clash’s “I Fought the Law.”