Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: The Trumpets With The Power To Summon War

Susan Smith Columnist

Had you remembered that it used to be somebody else’s fault before everything was President Trump’s fault? Before it was Donald Trump’s fault, everything was actually President George W. Bush’s fault.

In early 2011, when there were violent riots in Egypt, when one of the groups of bad guys (both sides being the bad guys) stole priceless, irreplaceable artifacts from the Cairo Museum, it was blamed on George W. Bush because America had not done what it should have done to protect the treasures of the Middle East. A bit of a stretch, you may be thinking, as shouldn’t they be protecting their own treasures, and as Barack Obama was President at the time, but if one pays attention to the mainstream media, #1) no blame of any kind ever is ever to be attached to Barack Obama for any reason, and #2) everything from 2000 on was George W. Bush’s fault because he was responsible for everything bad that happened in the Middle East, basically in perpetuity, or until the next Republican was elected. Bush was even more responsible for everything horrible following his decision, based on his lies, treason, etc., that resulted in a conflict America and Iraq. You can basically insert whatever awful thing you would like to after the year 2000 until Trump was elected and it’s all George W. Bush’s fault, as this theft was.

The world of the Middle East did breathe easier when these artifacts were recovered soon thereafter, as among them was one of the infamous ancient artifacts known as the “Trumpets of War.” This was the 3,000 year old sterling silver and wood trumpet, one of a pair of such instruments found in the previously untouched tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen as the result of the archeological efforts of British explorer Howard Carter in 1922.

This was one of the trumpets known to possess the legendary power to “summon war.”

When Howard Carter first looked into the tomb of Tutankhamen through a very small opening, after years of looking for the pharaoh’s final resting place in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, he was asked what he saw. “Wonderful things,” was his vastly understated reply.

Included in these wonderful things was a pair of trumpets that had not been used in over 3,000 years. Made of sterling silver and wood, and bronze and wood, respectively, they were in remarkable condition for their age and materials. Each one is about 23 inches in length, and 2 inches wide, with a “hole for the mouth on one side” and a “widened end on the other side to amplify the sound and make it into that of a trumpet.” They are considered to be the oldest operational trumpets in the world, and “the only known surviving (such) examples from ancient Egypt.” They were both decorated with depictions of Egyptian gods “identified with military campaigns.” Their sound is known to be “harsh,” and as such, was thought to be able to keep away (and this is important) – summon – “evil spirits.”

Because of the military use of trumpets in Egyptian history, “trumpets in ancient Egyptian culture were most likely associated with war, to alert and possibly direct soldiers on the battlefield.” These particular trumpets that were buried with the Pharaoh, however, were given this special honor, according to legend, because of their particular ability, “magical power,” as it were, when they sounded, to “summon war.”

Notwithstanding this legend, and/or curse as it became known, the remarkable decision was made to enlighten the world as to the sound of these trumpets of ancient Egypt, and a BBC broadcast of this extraordinary event was arranged for the evening of April 16, 1939. It was estimated that an audience of 150 million people was to listen to this radio broadcast of Tutankhamen’s “Trumpets of War.”

Something very strange happened that night, though. Just 5 minutes before the sound of the trumpets was to start to broadcast over the radio waves, the power went out in the city of Cairo. The “BBC was (thus) forced to record the sounding of the trumpets by candle light.” The presentation of the trumpets’ being played was arranged by Rex Keating, “a prominent figure in radio at the time,” who had been engaged by the last surviving member of the Howard Carter archeological team, Alfred Lucas, who was familiar with the legend of the “magical trumpets used to start wars,” and who still thought playing the trumpets was a good idea. Prior to this broadcast, Mr. Keating told of an earlier attempt to play the silver trumpet, this time to an audience of one, King Farouk of Egypt. Here is what happened when Mr. Lucas, who had been engaged to play the trumpet for His Majesty, attempted to do so: “The precious instrument shattered, possibly because of a modern mouthpiece being inserted to play it. Mr. Lucas was left as shattered as the trumpet and needed hospital treatment. The instrument, at least, was repaired.”

For this performance, well-known bandsman and trumpeter James Tappern, was engaged, and was known to be very proud of the performance. His only recording of the playing of the “Trumpet of War,” however, was a “fragile 78 RPM disc, (which) was broken in a house move. “ It was to be decades before Mr. Tappern’s son, also a famous trumpeter, finally heard the original BBC recording, and his reaction was: “I was astonished with the quality of it. How the original trumpeters played them is totally beyond me…(my father) used modern mouthpieces but the actual expertise he used is quite astonishing.”

That musical accomplishment notwithstanding, five months after the “Trumpets of War” were played worldwide, not only Egypt and England were at war but so was the whole world, as World War II was declared and a cataclysmic conflict that truly did involve the entire globe began and devastated the earth for the better part of a decade.

Did the “Trumpets of Tutankhamen” have anything to do with “summoning” the greatest war mankind has ever seen?

Perhaps not, but then did they have anything to do with summoning the Six Day War a few decadees later? It is known that the trumpets, in the fairly insecure hands of the Cairo Museum staff, were played again in the spring of 1967. Days after this was done, Israel was at a potentially devastating war with several Arab nations simultaneously, and the conflict, though a remarkable victory for Israel, jumpstarted another half century of non-stop violent upheaval against that tiny isolated nation by its Arab neighbors.

Another aspiring musician took a turn at the trumpets in 1990, and the Persian Gulf War started within days afterward. In January of that year, a massive number of coalition forces, led by the U.S., invaded Kuwait and southern Iraq, and a battle to change the face of the Middle East ensued.

Then, most recently, the trumpets were known to have been played by a Cairo museum staff member to a Japanese diplomatic delegation in January, 2011. Then, there was a violent uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began. As we now know, that was a prolonged and vicious event that did not end well, most especially for former President Mubarak. Did Tutenkhamen’s trumpets participate in this event, as well?

We may never know, but nevertheless, let us hope that Tutankhamen’s “Trumpets of War” have been sounded for the last time.

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.