ZenPundit
Monday, November 28, 2005
 
ON MUSIC AND WAR [ Updated]

This post is more of a cultural question I'd like answered from someone in the know.

If you watch the film Braveheart and you see the Scots assembling at Stirling under William Wallace to fight the dastardly English, there are of course, bagpipes playing. Loud, cacophonous and brash - before the Scots ( after the inspiring speech by Mel Gibson, of course) in age-old Celtic style, adorned with blue paint, scream horrific insults at the English and work themselves into a barbaric frenzy.

Or if you are a fan of The History Channel you can't but help notice in their innumerable WWII documentaries the extent to which the Nazis resorted to music - Deutschland Uber Alles, The Horst Wessel Lied, Wagner, chanting or singing in unison, masses of drums or horns - to mobilize the spirit of Nazi and Wehrmacht formations right down to the rhythmic march of jackboots on pavement.

Traditional, American martial music is either religious - The Battle Hymn of The Republic - or John Philip Sousa - rousing, cheery and optimistic - or sonorous and lonely like Taps played at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. However, it must be noted that since at least the invasion of Panama, psychological warfare against the enemy has involved the blasting of nonstop Rock music.

So, is there a deep cultural connection between how a nation makes music and how it makes war? Are the complex symphonies of the 18th century a reflection of the exquisitely disciplined field manuevers of Europe's small and highly-trained professional armies before the coming of the Levee en Masse ? Does music and warfare simply adapt to the spirit of the times ?

Or do they shape their time and each other as well ?

UPDATE:

Some excellent comments - in particular this one by Curtis demands attention:

"...In fact, tones can also be used metrically or rhythmically in opposition or agreement to the meters and have a way of tying content to rhythms. How long a tone is held -- the length of the note in song or of the syllable in spoken languages -- can point at key ideas/themes. What is particularly interesting about this is the differentiation of languages: different languages use these musical structures differently. (Some are more tone-based, some are quantitative -- i.e., hold sounds for particular lengths -- etc.) So, from this perspective, different types of music might be deeply related to different languages and thus to different cultures. "

Any linguists care to comment ?

Also thanks to Younghusband for the link !
 
Comments:
"When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest."

H. D. Thoreau
 
Thoreau was a huge Megadeth fan.
 
I had Thoreau pegged as a Zeppelin fan ( Graf von, not Led)
 
Doubtless an Atmosphere / Quarashi / Muslimgauze fan...

Bobby didnt have friends, not real ones. just a buncha likeminded self righteous Pilgrims. And they all treated Bob like the big cheese, knowin damn well they all thought he wuz a "bitch please"..

...

I bomb the mic like a fascist, Mussolini comin' through with no remorse, from the dark you won't see me

...

We have policies
about Saddam Hussein
Kill him
Kill him desperately

 
This overlaps with some of my recent ruminations on the creation of poetry.

Recently, Charlie Rose interviewed Judge Richard Posner (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals), who made an interesting comment about America (among many interesting comments): That, unlike Europeans and others, Americans tend to reject fatalism. The "can-do" spirit, the oft-mentioned rugged individualism, etc., which was epitomized by H.D.Thoreau and many others from the period, have led to the development of the "chaotic" rock music that is blasted at enemies.

Some points:

1. Trying to isolate the relationship of types of music to modern warfare runs into the problem of the heterogeneity of societies in the modern world. Some U.S. soldiers (and their commanders) like heavy metal, some like classical music, some like gospel, and some like country-western.

2. Approaching the question from the view of what kind of music the state uses to rouse the troops runs into the same problem. "I'm proud to be an American / where at least I know I'm free..." is a lot different than taps or Sousa. Besides which, individual platoons and other groups often act alone rather than in massive formations and have the opportunity to choose their own music. (Remember Moore's film and the heavy rock blasted from the tank -- or was it, humvee?)

3. States from prior generations did seem to use music which unified their fighters. To the degree that cultures were at war (and not merely states), the music served to rouse cultural pride in opposition to the cultures of their foes.

4. Nowadays, cultural identity is often watered down, particularly in the West, where music crosses the state borders. American and British musicians and singers might be popular in Russia and Singapore, etc., even. Still, for rousing national pride, some native celebrity might be used.

5. Music is organized according to non-musical principles: structure tends to operate across a wide variety of genres and activities. I'm not sure that such structures can be isolated to individual cultures, however. (This might be why soem music tends to affect people from different cultures in similar ways.) I'm guessing that the larger works -- the total symphony or song -- might sometimes be more loved in one nation than another because the conglomerate of structures in unison reflect the interests of the peoples of those nations in a particular way.

6. Instrumentals are quite a bit different from songs. Because songs actually isolate ideas, they are more likely to be loved or hated by individual cultures (or even, individual people). Classical music, guitar solos, and the like instrumental works allow more room for individual interpretation.

---------

Hmmm. These are just random thoughts.

Anyway. In analyzing poetry, I've often had to isolate different aspects of the musicality of poetry. Meters such as iambic pentameter -- da dUM da DUM -- tend to grab hold of the various content of a poem and have a unifying effect: rythmic music might influence the chaotic elements of a force (the troops) to act in unison. But tones are a very different thing from meters/rhythms: they are kind of a content which is different from the type of content expressed via words and lyrics. Tones can be interepreted differently by different cultures.

In fact, tones can also be used metrically or rhythmically in opposition or agreement to the meters and have a way of tying content to rhythms. How long a tone is held -- the length of the note in song or of the syllable in spoken languages -- can point at key ideas/themes. What is particularly interesting about this is the differentiation of languages: different languages use these musical structures differently. (Some are more tone-based, some are quantitative -- i.e., hold sounds for particular lengths -- etc.) So, from this perspective, different types of music might be deeply related to different languages and thus to different cultures.
 
nationalism, and the newfound love of nature, had a lot of influence on the symphonies. lots of kampflieder then as well.
 
One element you didn't touch on is the (perhaps unique?) American phenomenon of ANTI-war music. If I had a dime for every time I've heard Buffalo Springfield's "For What Its Worth" (there's somethin' happenin' here; what it is ain't exactly clear... stop children, what's that sound? everybody look what's goin' down) or Lennon's "Imagine" ("...nothin' to kill or die for...) since March, 2003 I'd be rich. As it is, I'm just sick of it. Note to boomers: this is not and will not be allowed to become a retread of your precious 60's!

The war within popular culture (e.g., music) is not limited to the battlefield. Its targets are not limited to the enemy.
 
One thing that I find very interesting about rock now and rock 20 years ago, just before the end of the Cold War, is how frequently music then mentioned the international context, and in some cases were just downright patriotic. That seems largely absent now.

Examples:
Triumph - Fight the Good Fight
Indigo Girls - Galileo
The Fixx - Red Sky at Night
Rush - Red Sector A, Distant Early Warning, and probably others

There were a number of other songs, but that should get the gist of it. While today you get groups like Green Day making public political statements, you don't tend to see that reflected in the music (or if it is, I haven't noticed it).
 
And don't forget "99 Red Balloons" (and its German original)
 
Jeff,

Around the election, the lyrics to Green Day's American Idiot and A Perfect Circle's Emotive were very political. Especially "Holiday" and "Let's Have a War"
 
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