Spoils of War

Perhaps taking my cue from the jazz world, riffing off one another’s postings I take note of Mr. Rifftides latest post re our “conversation” about music being used as a weapon or punishment, a dispatch wherein he has included words penned by the esteemed Gene Lees. While Gene’s words were prompted by a prior Rifftides post in which Kenny Drew held forth on the subject of rap music (here), they are nonetheless right on target vis a vis my query.

You may remember that a few days ago I asked anyone who knew of any such stories to please share them with me. I made that request because for some time now I’ve been percolating an idea for a book about the myriad ways in which the America uses music to further policy objectives. My book proposal is making the rounds; here’s an excerpt:

While it is true that technological advances have made it no longer necessary to use musical instruments to command and control the troops in battle, music still has many wartime uses. Sometimes the employment of music seems heart-warming, such as when it serves to soothe and help heal the wounded, or even inspire perseverance in the face of adversity. Uplifting stories of entertaining troops on the front lines have always been fodder for fictional movies and factual newsreels. Troop morale is crucial, and while the world might think Bob Hope and the USO handled it all by themselves, the truth is that there are places that Bob could not go – places where the danger was too great, the need even greater….

Marching bands always stir up patriotic feelings; everybody loves a parade…. Music is used in ceremonial events, presidential funerals, state dinners, and official events galore. In towns large and small, all across the country, military buglers play taps, and military bands of all types and sizes march in parades to pay tribute to homecoming soldiers and honor those left behind.

But music can be applied and exploited for purposes that may be depressing, distressing, or to some, even despicable. One who finds beauty in music will likely be appalled to hear a young American soldier fighting in Iraq describe how he and his buddies patch rock music into the headphones in their tank in order to pump themselves up for the fight. While employing music to whip soldiers into a fighting frenzy may seldom be discussed, it is not uncommon. Nor is it unusual to use music as a weapon. As seen in the capture of Manuel Noriega and the Siege of the Church of Nativity in Israel, music has been an effective tool for soldiers in PsyOps (Psychological Operations)….

A friend, now retired from the US Air Force, once told me that music money is “miniscule in terms of the overall defense budget, but the payback is so huge, you can’t even begin to calculate how important it is.” Hmmmm….