National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  December 19, 2003

Blaring music is Army's weapon in new offensive against protesters

The Army rolled out a new offensive this year against activities at the School of Americas protest. Call it “Operation Loud Music.”

With his voice strained and raspy, protest singer Pete Seeger opened his stage appearance at Saturday’s SOA Watch gathering with a rendition of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”

But it was difficult for the thousands who had gathered along Fort Benning Road to hear the 84-year-old icon of protest movements because of the deafening sound of martial and patriotic music being blasted over high decibel amplifiers less than 100 yards behind the SOA Watch stage.

In a clearly adversarial move, the Army kept a CD of its own music blaring most of the day, forcing people gathered for the protest to strain to hear what speakers and performers were saying from the stage.

The decision to blast the music -- which included “The Army Song,” “God Bless America” and several marching tunes -- was approved by Fort Benning’s new commander, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley.

“Why can they play music, and we can’t?” Fort Benning spokesman Rick McDowell asked in an interview with a local newspaper. McDowell said the music on the other side of the fence “was something to cheer our guys up. We thought it would be nice to give them something to listen to.”

There was no evidence that anyone on the other side could appreciate the music. The speakers were facing the SOA Watch stage, not the Fort Benning side of the fence, a considerable distance behind the amplifiers.

“It was really quiet shocking,” said Sonja Andreas of Wichita, Kan. “I came down here to listen to music and to be joyful and then to hear this blasting away so we could not hear anything, it just made me tense up. I could feel the tension in my shoulders and my neck.”

The music stopped around 3:30 p.m. Saturday when Department of the Army public affairs spokeswoman Gina DiNicolo agreed to an NCR reporter’s request to come to the fence line for an interview. DiNicolo, whose job is to represent the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, was met at the fence line by a group of disgruntled protesters who urged her to get the music turned off. DiNicolo said she was “unaware” of the Army music and would pass on the protesters’ request. It didn’t come on again until Sunday afternoon after the SOA Watch protest permit had expired.

Some in the crowd compared the tactic to psychological warfare, others said it was a civil rights abuse, still others called the local police, who asked the Army to turn down the volume, to no avail.

Seemingly least bothered by it all was Seeger who, after all, has been a troubadour of social causes and a consistent critic of militarism for decades. “That went on all day,” he said of the Army music. “You learn to keep on going.”

-- Patrick O’Neill

National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: