- Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War by Łukasz Kamieński
Illicit drugs have been a consistent feature of the human experience, and they have been used consistently by soldiers to blunt the pernicious consequences and psychological wounds of war. Moreover, they have often been promoted by government officials to stimulate soldiers.
Łukasz Kamie nski of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, provides a fascinating history of drug use in war, drawing on case studies from premodern times through the present day. Beginning with a discussion of opium in Homer's Odyssey and legends surrounding the smoking of hashish by Muslim soldiers during the Christian crusades, Kamieński spotlights the use of hashish in Napoleon's armies, the smoking of dagga by Zulu warriors in South Africa and the chewing of coca by Indian rebels in Peru (in a practice the Spanish conquistadors encouraged). Kamie nski goes on to detail the use of cocaine by the "lost generation" in World War I, methamphetamines in World War II and Korea, and the smoking of opium and marijuana by U.S. troops in Korea and Vietnam and by Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. All of this comes before he finishes with a discussion of drug use by child soldiers and in the contemporary American army.
Kamieński's main aim is to show that the level of use of intoxicants by soldiers or guerrillas can contribute significantly to a broader understanding of military and political history. He includes an interesting discussion of the ways that popular media across time and space have served to distort the scale of drug abuse in combat and to scapegoat drugs for military failures, creating a moral panic about drugs that helps legitimize draconian anti-drug legislation.
Following the American Civil War, for example, the myth of "soldiers' disease" related to morphine addiction came about at exactly the same time the Harrison Narcotics Act outlawing heroin was passed, while the British press created a moral panic about a cocaine epidemic among soldiers in World War I which was blamed on the Germans. During the Vietnam War, the American media and political establishment helped cultivate the myth of the addicted army which served to divert blame away from those responsible for orchestrating the disastrous military intervention.
Kamieński's history shows that drug use did not always have an incapacitating effect. Drugs often helped soldiers deal with the harsh conditions or aftereffects of combat, and they could provide a psychological boost or form of stimulation that may have enhanced the combat performance of soldiers. In colonial settings, drugs gave guerilla fighters a feeling of invincibility and sense of courage that enabled them to confront technologically superior forces and fight them, at times, to a standstill.
In other instances, like with Napoleon's armies in Egypt, China in the opium wars, the Russians in Afghanistan and the Americans in Vietnam, drug taking epitomized the onset of demoralization in a doomed mission and breakdown of military authority.
In his chapter on World War II, Kamieński discusses how Japanese authorities earned more than $300 million per year from selling opium and heroin in Manchuria to a perceived "inferior race" of people "destined to become our [End Page 434] servants" (127). The Nazis similarly considered social intoxicants "inebriant poisons" that "drained the vitality of the Aryan master races," (p.105) though they gave Wehrmacht soldiers crystal meth tested on concentration camp victims with the goal of engendering "machine-like" endurance and creating aggressive robot soldiers.
Following the recruitment of Nazi scientists, and even as it led the world anti-drug crusade, the United States began its own search for a "magic bullet" drug that could revolutionize soldiers' performance. The military gave soldiers methamphetamines prior to undertaking long-range missions in wars through Iraq and Afghanistan which contributed in at least one instance to a horrible massacre.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has allocated tens of millions of dollars in the last couple of years for research into psycho-pharmacological substances designed to...