Analytic Theology

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The Power of Music

February 17th, 2007 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

DAVID KRONEMYER: And I literally mean “power.” An article in today’s Wall Street Journal reminded me of how Noriega was driven out of Panama when American troops played rock music after he holed up in the Vatican embassy, Córdoba, J., “Booming Panama City Await’s Noriega’s Return,” Wall St. Journal (Feb. 17, 2007). Songs played included Jimi Hendrix’s electrifying version of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”

I wonder how the decision process went. “Soldier, it looks like we’ve got him surrounded, but how do we get him out?” “Well, sir, I suggest rock music.” “Rock music? Great idea, trooper. Bring up the amplifiers, speakers, and a CD player.” “They’ve arrived, sir; what shall we play?” “What do you suggest, corporal?” “I suggest Jimi Hendrix, sir.” “Great choice! Activate music barrage!”

The poignancy of this mental image made me wonder about other occasions in history when the propulsive force of music was used in combat. Off-hand, I can recall several such incidents, both real and fictional:

1. God told the ancient Israelites to march around Jericho once a day for six days. Then, on the seventh day, they were to march around seven times, with seven priests blowing on seven rams’ horns. A ram’s horn also is known as a “shofar.” Because of its distinct noise, it often was used as a signal in battle. This time, however, the blast was so strong, the city’s walls fell down flat. Whereupon the Israelites massacred everyone, “both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword,” Joshua 6:1-21. With the exception of the prostitute Rahab and her family, who had sheltered some Israelite spies.

2. In “Apocalypse Now,” Robert Duvall played Lt. Colonel Kilgore, who was fond of invading villages while blasting Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyrie” from loudspeakers mounted on helicopters. Upon landing, he uttered his famous line: “You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

3. And then, of course, in Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks,” the human race is saved from extinction when Grandma Florence Norris, played by Sylvia Sidney, discovers the brains of the invading Martians explode upon playing a piece of yodeling music – “Indian Love Call,” by Slim Whitman. The same thing also happened in “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” only the song was “Puberty Love,” performed by Matt Cameron, who would later go on to be the drummer for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

Will wonders never cease? Please send me an e-mail if you can think of any additions to this list.