08/10/2020

Cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, opioids – you name it, soldiers have used it to help them face the horrors of battle, writes Ian Hamilton

The war on drugs has been a multi-national priority… but we forget about drugs and war. A variety of drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and opioids are used to enhance the ability of soldiers to fight, control civilians or even take over countries. The use of drugs in warfare pre-dates Napoleons era going back to conflicts in ancient Greece when opium was the drug of choice to soothe armies following their defeat. In the 19th century, Britain went to war with China in an attempt to protect its trading interest in opium. 
Using psychoactive drugs in the arena of war shouldnt really surprise us, given the psychological state required for a soldier to be willing and able to inflict harm on another. Some drugs facilitate the psychological state required to do this. Physical fighting requires stamina; amphetamines provide artificial energy and as a result are a popular choice of drug.
The methamphetamine pill Pervitin was used by the Nazis in the Second World War to extend the time soldiers were able to fight. Pervitin had the added benefit of helping soldiers manage the stress of war. These stimulants were an essential part of the tactic known as blitzkreig, or lightning speed, aimed at overwhelming the enemy with a swift offensive that produces disorganisation in the opposing forces. The Nazi army thus managed to sweep through Poland, Holland and France without suffering major casualties. 
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