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The War That Was Won by Rock Music

Updated on January 3, 2010

William Congreve said "music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak" but I wonder if he could have foreseen it defeating a tyrant.

Bombing displaced as many as 30,000 civilians and an estimated 220 Panamanian civilians were killed along with approximately 450 troops. About 28 Americans were killed and more than 300 were injured but what ended the invasion of Panama was the psychological torture of American rock music.

In May 1989, Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega was not happy with the election results of his country so he nullified the results, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced all of his political enemies into exile.

During the stand-off at the embassy, troops played loud rock music through portable stereo systems non-stop. The music exerted psychological pressure not only on Noriego but the others inside the embassy.

Panama was already under sanctions from the United States and citing corruption and drug trafficking on Noriega's part, President H.W. Bush ordered an invasion. On December 20, 1989, 25,000 troops were ordered to seize Noriega in Panama City.

Noriega fled and sought refuse in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Catholic Embassy in Panama. American troops established a perimeter outside the building.

During the stand-off at the embassy, troops played loud rock music through portable stereo systems non-stop. The music exerted psychological pressure not only on Noriego but the others inside the embassy.

Although the Vatican had attempted to convince Noriega to leave the embassy of his own volition, they complained to President Bush about the noise and he ordered the troops to cease the music.

Thousands of Panamanians demonstrated outside the embassy a few days later demanding he stand trial for human rights violations and Noriega surrendered January 3, 1990.

Manuel Antonio Noriega was convicted in the United States of racketeering, drug trafficking and money laundering and was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. Although his sentence was up on September 9, 2007, due to a reduced sentence, he remains in prison due to extradition requests by both France and Panama.

In the 1970s while serving as chief of military intelligence, Noriega cooperated with the Central Intelligence Agency and negotiated the release of U.S. freighter crews held by Cuba. Throughout his dealings with the U.S., he used the opportunity (as well as many others) to line his pockets.

Although rock music did not spell the actual end for the invasion, it clearly had a stronger impact than military might. I say hoorah Van Halen...


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