And it wasn’t Silver Banshee, either. So who did perpetrate sonic warfare against American officials at the embassy in Havana?
Then what can account for the “headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and remembering, insomnia, tinnitus, confusion, vertigo, hearing loss and ‘mild brain trauma,'” whatever that is, experienced by dozens of diplomats? In a report that “broke” the story, the U.S. State Department blamed the symptoms on some kind of “acoustical weapon” wielded by the Cuban government, or others.
The New York Times was one of the first to point out that accusation doesn’t really add up, as there’s no real precedent for such a thing, physically or technologically. Bartholomew touches on that, too, and further explains that some people were “attacked” in different places (like their homes), and yet not everyone in those places felt the same effects, which may point to the real culprit — mass psychogenic illness.
One of the main forms of “mass hysteria,” mass psychogenic illness has been described as “the rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms affecting members of a cohesive group … whereby physical complaints that are exhibited unconsciously have no corresponding organic cause.” A lot of those symptoms are typically pretty vague (as in this case), so if someone thinks they’re experiencing something, and a lot of people are really anxious, it’s easy for them to unknowingly convince themselves they’re feeling the same things.
Sometimes even things you wouldn’t expect to be psychosomatic. More than 20 girls in two Massachusetts schools “caught” pervasive hiccups in 2012. Bartholemew notes that the “sick building” phenomenon — in which some toxic agent is blamed for the general illness felt by those who enter — is not new, and that we’ve even heard the whole debilitating sound thing before. Remember the “Taos Hum”?
It might seem difficult to believe that someone could display physical symptoms from no physical cause, but remember that people are social animals that bond over shared experiences — think of how contagious yawning is. And if the nothing in a placebo can make you feel better, why can’t fear of an unseen attacker make you feel worse? It makes a lot more sense in this case than James Bond weaponry or sneaky supervillains.
“The ‘sonic attack’ on embassy staff in Cuba appears to be a case of old wine in new skins,” Bartholomew says in the article. “It is the Hum Scare and Sick Building Syndrome dressed up in a different social and cultural garb.”
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