What does war sound like?

Todd Decker on the music of combat films

“In the modern era, war sounds like explosions, and automatic weapons fire, helicopters and tanks,” said Todd Decker, chair of music in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Of course, this is knowledge that I don’t have personally. I was never in the military. But like most Americans and moviegoers around the world, I’ve been to war in war movies.”


In this video, Decker — author of “Hymns for the Fallen: Combat Movie Music and Sound After Vietnam” (2017) — examines how films such as “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Hurt Locker,” among many others, use music and sound to shape the ways audiences view soldiers and veterans.

“Prestige combat films are action movies where death matters,” Decker said. “We are supposed to be emotionally engaged, we are supposed to feel loss, we are supposed to feel pride at sacrifice. We are supposed to feel the meaning of death. And that’s an unusual feeling for moviegoers to be asked to have.”

“And you have these feelings in the privacy of your own heart, but also in a theater full of other Americans, who are also experiencing this story of our nation, and the soldiers who have fought for it,” Decker added.

“They all can find a place in this music to reflect on their identity and experience of war.”

Films, in order of appearance:

“The Hurt Locker
“Hamburger Hill”
“The Deer Hunter”
“Sands of Iwo Jima”
“Saving Private Ryan”
“Wake Island”
“Courage Under Fire”
“Flags of Our Fathers”
“The Thin Red Line” 

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