Thursday, July 28, 2011

Drugging Soldiers: Bennies and Battle

When the horrors of war have got you down, and you just don't feel like brandishing that assault rifle, lift your spirits by popping a few pills.  Nothing perks a soldier up like some amphetamines!

Richard Holmes, in Acts of War: The Behaviour of Men in Battle (1985), examines the factors effecting behaviour in combat: how soldiers steel themselves against fear, the discipline that coerces them to brandish a weapon and advance to certain death, and the various levels of group bonding which help them cope.  One method for motivating soldiers, Holmes addresses is drugging them.

Vendel Era Bronze Plate
Blood-crazed Viking beserkers apparently ate dried fly agaric (the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria) to inspire their savage attacks.  It seems reasonable that drugging a medieval warrior and inciting him to behave like a bear would improve his will to fight, but one has to wonder about the effects on hand-eye coordination.

Holmes writes that in the Second World War, benzedrine was commonly administered to soldiers of various nations, noting ten percent of American soldiers used amphetamines in WWII.  The Yankees were following the German's lead in the prescription of pills which heightened awareness and warded off fatigue.

As Adam Tooze notes in his excellent Wages of Destruction, the intense operational tempo during the fall of France led to the need for stimulating expedients.  With the call for German armoured forces to push constantly for three days and nights, armoured crews needed a little pick-me-up to continue operating.  As Tooze writes, "to ensure that the drivers could go without sleep, the quartermasters of the advanced units stocked up with tens of thousands of doses of Pervitin, the original formulation of the amphetamine now know as 'speed', but more familiar in the 1940s as 'tank chocolate' (Panzerschokolade)."

Remixed Propaganda by Micah Wright
The practice of popping amphetamines like candy was continued in Vietnam, where soldiers were administered Dexedrine before action.  More recently, lawyers for two American pilots who bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, argued that the errant airmen's judgment may have been impaired by amphetamines.

It appears that drugs have a long and stimulating relationship with the military.  Anti-depressants, and painkillers are also widely prescribed and one need not look too far to find accusations regarding the negative effects of this narco-love-affair.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harold Innis drops a footnote

 When Harold A. Innis wants to cite some evidence on the power relationships between late nineteenth capitalists, he does so with authority.  His 1923 work, A History of the Canadian Pacific Railway, is a dense economic history which argues that the company brought civilization to the Canadian West at the cost of Westerners.  Note that not only does the single footnote on American railway interests run for three pages, the sentence which it provides evidence for, has a further two footnotes!

Four pages Professor Innis?! Your passion for the politico-economic background to the Pacific Scandal has no bounds!