Use of Noise and Sound as Weaponry

An ancient story written in the bible about the conquest of the city of Jericho is one of the first allusions to the use of sound/noise as a weapon. In the story, a group of priests are able to topple down the walls of the city of Jericho through the sheer sonic power of their trumpets.

Over the years noise and sound in general has emerged as a powerful weapon either to control crowds during riots or to damage the capabilities of enemies in long drawn-out wars. Here is a list of the various ways in which the power of noise has been harnessed into weaponry over the years.

Sonic Warfare has been accepted as a strategic part of the arsenal of many armies

Psychological Warfare

One of the bloodiest wars of all time, the Second World War, saw the siege of Stalingrad in Soviet Russia by German forces. During this time, the Soviet soldiers used to play Argentine tango music through loud speakers at night in order to ensure that the German soldiers were not able to sleep, thereby making them weary and tired for battle in the morning.

Similarly, during the Vietnam War, US soldiers swear on the effectiveness of the tactic of playing loud tank noises, tiger roars and even Doris Day songs through loud speakers in order to impact the psychological morale of their enemies.

Another interesting psychological war tactic used by US troops during the Vietnam War was known as Operation Wandering Soul. At night, the troops used loud speakers to play unsettling groaning sounds that were designed to represent the beliefs of the Vietnamese people that their ancestors who were not buried in the proper way were still roaming the lands as angry wailing spirits.

In 1989, when Manuel Noriega, the leader of Panama, barricaded himself inside the Panama Embassy in Vatican City during the US invasion of his country, troops played loud heavy metal music in order to disorient and drive him out of hiding.

The LRAD Weapon in Use


Sonic Weapons

Not only has noise been used as a powerful tactic of psychological warfare, it has also been repurposed as an actual weapon. One of the most popular examples of this is the LRAD or Long Range Acoustic Device that was used by the Pentagon in order to aid US troops in Iraq.

The LRADs were mounted onto humvees and directed towards Iraqi dissidents who often used to gather at checkpoints. The LRAD, which could also be used as loudspeakers, have another setting on them which allows for the generation of loud sonic pulses that can disorient and sometimes, physical disrupt their ear drums. The sonic pulses from the LRAD can go up to 140 decibels, which is similar to hearing a jet engine take off just 100 feet away!

Today, the LRAD is used by over 20 countries for various reasons, from crowd control on occasions such as Occupy Wall Street, to deterring pirate ships from robbing merchant vessels on the high seas of Africa and the Indian Ocean.

Torture and Interrogation

Due to the fact that there are ‘earlids’ like we have eyelids, sound and noise have been used as effective tools for torturing and forcing confessions out of prisoners of war, criminals and detainees in general, all over the world through the years.

In Northern Ireland, sometime in the 1970s, an interrogation unit known as the ‘Music Room’ was designed to break prisoners through the use of extended sessions of bombardment by white noise. There was another device, known as the Curdler, which tortured the detainees through the use of high frequency sounds that caused low level physical harm to human ears.

Music, especially the loud and extreme variety, such as death metal and aggressive hip-hop, has been fashioned as a potent torture method in Guantanamo Bay, one of the most infamous prisons in the world. It has been reported that loud music, at decibel levels that have been described as being “at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums” was played constantly for periods of over 72 hours.

Artists, whose music has been used in torture and interrogation, actually teamed up and protested the use of their songs in heinous practices. This is how the Zero dB coalition was formed as well as other movements which highlighted the disgust that musicians felt on having their art turned into weapons.

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