Since time immemorial, soldiers have consumed mind-altering substances; Andreas (International Studies/Brown Univ.; Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, 2013, etc.) delivers an impressive, often unsettling history of six.
Alcohol has inspired soldiers since ancient times. Now frowned upon because it muddles their skills, it still remains popular. Opium has an equally long history and only fell from grace when, highly refined in the 19th century, its addictive properties excited moral condemnation. Nicotine has “lightened the inevitable hardships of war” so well that there were serious campaigns during both world wars to collect cigarettes to send overseas. Only after 1975 were they not included with soldiers’ food rations. The only psychoactive that has never been condemned is caffeine, which has become a 21st-century essential for fighting troops and is not just administered through coffee or soda anymore, but also Red Bull and other energy drinks. Cocaine is not necessarily a soldier’s drug, but its prominence as a target in the war on drugs makes it relevant to Andreas’ study. Fighting illegal drugs is a police matter, but treating it as a war is politically popular and allows vast amounts of money to be spent. The author delivers a painful account of the failed five-decade war on drugs, now mostly directed against cocaine, which has destabilized many Latin American nations, especially Mexico. Cocaine now costs much less than it did decades ago. A product of modern chemistry, the first amphetamines appeared in the 1930s, and their fiercely energizing effect, similar to cocaine but much longer acting, made them the ideal battlefield drug. During World War II, military leaders loved their performance-enhancing qualities, and doctors prescribed enormous quantities, especially during the early years. Although now officially condemned, soldiers value them for duties requiring long periods of alertness.
Fear, boredom, and fatigue are a soldier’s lot, and this is a skillful account of how they have long dealt with it.