Nadia Elkharadly: Musical Warfare

Music can inspire passion, anger, some truly instinctive responses and reactions.  Something as simple as a discussion of musical taste can incite incredibly heated debates and discussions, sometimes devolving into outright arguments of “right” vs. “wrong”.  But did you know that music has actually been, and is currently being used as an actual weapon of war?  It’s true.

At my day job we spend a lot of time discussing world affairs, and its impact on the markets.  One day my co-worker emailed me a headline that made him chuckle.  The headline was from Bloomberg (a news service we use quite frequently) and it read “Iran Nuclear Plants hit by virus playing AC/DC”.  While it may have made him laugh, it made me think.  This wasn’t the first time I’d heard about music used to weaken an enemy.  So I started doing a little research.

Here in North America, we have access to all sorts of genres of music.  From country, to pop, to heavy metal to the blues, we are exposed to such a wide variety of sounds and styles of music that we likely take it for granted.  Yes, some of us may hate certain types of music, and would rather do anything else than listen to that which we hate, but it’s another matter altogether to think of music being used as a torture device.  But in fact, the U.S. government has been utilizing music for interrogation purposes as well as in actual warfare for decades.

In Asia, the Middle East, some parts of south America and other places, people are as unfamiliar with some types of European and North American music as Europeans and North Americans are unfamiliar with theirs.  Said Sergeant Mark Hadsell of the U.S. army: “These people haven’t heard heavy metal. They can’t take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That’s when we come in and talk to them.”  I know I’ve joked that ou could torture me by forcing me to listen to Justin Bieber on a loop and I’d give away the world’s secrets, but to think that this is a legitimate means of torture was kind of surprising.

It’s no secret that Iran and America are at odds.  Oil embargos on Iran’s production have been a reality for weeks.  The media and the marketplace are abuzz as a result, so anything relating to that subject impacts the world, as well as my work.  So when my co-worker brought in the abovementioned headline, I almost felt as if my two worlds wre colliding – Music and business.  “Iran’s nuclear facilities have suffered a cyber-attack that shut down computers and played music from the rock band AC/DC”, the first line of the Bloomberg article read.  Someone, be it the U.S. government or a bored member of Anonymous decided it was time to mess with the Iranian nuclear program in a relatively novel way.  The attack combined technology with music to not only put a halt to activity at two Iranian nuclear facilities, but to mentally attack anyone present as well.

In doing some internet research I came upon story I’d thought I’d heard before.  I had actually brought this up in one of our team meetings, after my co-worker brought in the Iran story and no one on my team believed me.  But thanks to good old Google and Wikipedia, it turned out I really was right.

In 1989 the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause.  The full story can be read here, but here it is in a nutshell.  Former U.S. ally General Manuel Noriega was exposed as a criminal (drug dealing, working with drug cartels and money laundering numbering among his crimes), and refused to step down peacefully.  A state of war was declared between the U.S. and Panama that December, and after four U.S. military officers were attacked (and one killed), the U.S. made the decision to invade.  When Noriega realized he was in real danger of being captured, he sought, and was granted, refuge in the Vatican embassy in Panama City.  American soldiers had their hands tied; international law and the rage of the world’s catholic population prevented them from using standard military attack methods, so they had to get creative.  Their unconventional weapon: music.  In late December, the army started blaring rock music at “deafening levels”, most notably playing Van Halen’s “Panama” and the Clash’s “I fought the law” over and over again.  This psychological warfare continued for 3 days before the Holy See complained to former President George Bush.  After that the music stopped.  And on January 3rd, Noriega finally surrendered to the U.S. Army.  While the use of music as a weapon did not directly lead to Noriega’s surrender, it definitely played a role.  Music, something that is usually used in a positive manner, can, and has been used as a means of destruction.

On the complete flipside, on Friday we had a wonderful example of how music can bring an entire planet together.  Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle was tasked with putting together this massive and highly anticipated event, and he chose music as the glue to hold it all together.  The musically themed opening spanned decades of British music, from the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to Queen and the Sex Pistols, to Blur, Prodigy, and Muse (who provided the official theme song for the Olympics).  The late Amy Winehouse received her due, her song “Valerie” (the Mark Ronson remix) playing during the opening, and my favourite song of the night “Galvanize” by the Chemical Brothers played over the Parade of Nations.  Check out the entire playlist here.  The music wasn’t just recorded:  live performances by Sir Paul McCartney, Dizzee Rascal and the Arctic Monkeys (covering my favourite Beatles Song “Come Together”) rounded out the musical spectacle of the hours long ceremony. Watching people from all over the world smile, march and even dance to these songs that are so loved and recognizable, it was a wonderful sight.  The complete opposite being used to torture people, of that us against them mentality, this was a shining of example of music used to unite people.  And that’s my favourite thing about the Olympics.  That even when parts of the world are at war, or have internal conflict, the Olympics shifts focus to such positivity, and healthy athletic competition, one of the oldest traditions of humanity.  And while some people may not enjoy the Olympics, I think you would be hard pressed to find a person who didn’t smile when the athletes from their home country (be it Canada, or another country, or both together) paraded across their screens, grinning from ear to ear.  I’ll admit I teared up with the Egyptian team walked through.  Call me an Olympic sap, but it’s a feeling I love.

Until next time,



Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

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Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

2 Responses to “Nadia Elkharadly: Musical Warfare”

  1. I worked at a job with a guy that sold nothing but death and viking metal on Ebay. I was helping him list his inventory on Ebay and had to listen to this stuff everyday for 8 hours straight to make sure the CDs didn’t skip. I survived that….I could survive a military or police interrogation now!

  2. Strummer Says:

    Im hoping to hear The Clash’s London Calling at the closing of the games.

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