SOUTH POMFRET, Vt. - Marines arriving in Iraq this month as part of a massive troop rotation will bring with them a high-tech weapon never before used in combat - or in peacekeeping. The device is a powerful megaphone the size of a satellite dish that can deliver recorded warnings in Arabic and, on command, emit a piercing tone so excruciating to humans, its boosters say, that it causes crowds to disperse, clears buildings and repels intruders.
"[For] most people, even if they plug their ears, [the device] will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine," says Woody Norris, chairman of American Technology Corp., the San Diego firm that produces the weapon. "It will knock [some people] on their knees."
American Technology says its new product "is designed to determine intent, change behavior and support various rules of engagement." The company is careful in its public relations not to refer to the megaphone as a weapon, or to dwell on the debilitating pain American forces will be able to deliver with it. The military has been equally reticent on the subject.
So shouldn't we have a similar discussion about high-intensity sound, which can cause permanent hearing loss or even cellular damage? The new megaphone being deployed to Iraq can operate at 145 decibels at 300 yards, according to American Technology, well above the normal threshold for pain... But in Baghdad or other Iraqi towns, where there are crowds and buildings, the sick and elderly, as well as children, are likely to be in the weapon's range.
The Council on Foreign Relations... warned that "television coverage of encounters involving [nonlethal weapons] can still be repugnant, and it would be desirable to provide reliable information to minimize unwarranted criticism."
Is actual combat in a foreign country the appropriate place to test a new weapon? Apparently, we are about to find out.