10 Things You Don't Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History

Khalid Elhassan - March 19, 2018

War is hell, so warriors have often felt the need for some type of chemical assistance or encouragement to help them face the rigors of campaigning and the horrors of battle. The most common chemical aid used by most warriors was alcohol, and the resort to “liquid courage” has a track record going back thousands of years. Combatants have also used other drugs when available, whether of the smoking, eating, or snorting variety.

Following are 10 interesting things about soldiers’ use of intoxicants throughout history.

Warriors Have Used Intoxicants Since the Dawn of History

Why do soldiers fight?” British military historian John Keegan answered that question by listing three factors: “inducement, coercion, and narcosis“. Inducement is about positive motivation. Pay, plunder, and the promise of revenge against a hated enemy. Coercion is about negative motivation: campaigning is tough and battles are scary, and understandably, most rational beings wish to avoid such hardships and hazards.

To counter that human instinct, armies often sought to convince their soldiers that their commanders were scarier than the enemy, via harsh punishments for shirking and cowardice. The idea was and remains to present the warriors with a straightforward proposition: if they fought, they might live, or they might die. If they did not fight, they would certainly die, because their commanders would execute them.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
A French bayonet charge, early in WW1. YouTube

The positive and negative motivators of inducement and coercion could use a helping hand, however. Thus, the motivator of narcosis, or chemical motivation. War is hard work, and even getting close enough to the enemy to fight it out often involved weeks or months of marching hither and yon. During that time the warriors had to withstand the elements, endure stints of thirst and hunger and other deprivations, plus cope with the hopelessness of knowing they could do little about it all.

Then, when the enemy was finally in sight, there came the doubts and fears. How will the battle go? Will the warrior live? Die? Get maimed for life? Will his favorite comrades live, or die, or get maimed? And how will he act in the moment of truth? Will he face the enemy bravely, and earn or retain the respect of his peers? Will he turn coward and let his comrades down?

Intoxicants, for all their long harmful effects, often helped warriors cope. Stimulants in particular kept soldiers alert, fought off fatigue, and allowed men to perform with little sleep. Drugs could also inspire courage and offer relief from the terrors of battle. The rituals of drinking and taking drugs also helped soldiers bond, thus creating trust and camaraderie at the squad level amongst those whose lives depended upon each other. And after battle, drugs helped warriors cope with the trauma of what they had experienced.

In short, most warriors throughout history had to deal with various levels of exhaustion, stress, and anxiety, when campaigning and fighting. In such circumstances, chemical aids were often seen as a blessing. Intoxicants were frequently taken unofficially, by warriors self medicating to better endure the demands of war. But sometimes armies distributed intoxicants to their soldiers as official policy, to make war and combat feel more palatable.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
A tweaking SS member in WW2. American Heroes Channel

The Nazis Fought WW2 Tweaking on Crystal Meth

During WW2, the Germans issued their troops Pervitin, a pill whose effectiveness in staying alert German troops compared to drinking liters of strong coffee. Even more, it made all their worries seem to disappear, and infused them with a feeling of happiness – at least for a few hours. If those effects bring to mind something that has been in the news for the past few years, it is no surprise: Pervitin was basically crystal meth. The German military was tweaking throughout WW2.

In 1938, a German drug manufacturer developed methamphetamines. A high ranking army doctor, Otto Ranke, saw its potential as a miracle drug to keep tired troops and pilots alert, and the entire German military euphoric. He tested it on university students, who exhibited a sudden spike in alertness and productivity, despite being short on sleep. In those days, the harmful side effects of narcotics were little known or studied, so the methamphetamine compound, under the trade name Pervitin, was approved for issue and ordered into mass production.

In 1940, when the German blitzkrieg swept through the lowland countries and France with incredible speed and fury, the Western Allies grew alarmed by reports of “Nazi Super Soldiers”. The pace and ferocity of the German advance owed much to the Germans’ innovative tactics, that integrated air, armor, and infantry, into a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. However, there was an added factor that the Allies could not figure out: the inexplicable energy and tirelessness of the German soldiers. The invading Nazis seemed indefatigable, advancing and fighting day and night, with little or no rest.

The reason was crystal meth, or Pervitin, which the Germans distributed to their troops, encouraging them to use it to fight fatigue. The packaging read “Alertness Aid“, to be taken “to maintain wakefulness“. It was accompanied by a warning that it should only be used “from time to time“. However, once people start tweaking, it is hard to stop and limit themselves to taking the drug only “from time to time”. The Nazis could not get enough of their crystal meth, and many wrote home begging their loved ones to send them Pervitin via the military mail. One of them was Heinrich Boll, a German postwar author who won the 1972 Nobel Prize for literature. In a May 20th, 1940 letter to his parents, a 22 year old Boll begged them to send him some Pervitin, which he said not only kept him alert, but also chased away his worries.

When Hitler turned his attentions to the east, more than two million pills were issued prior to the launch of “Operation Barbarossa”. The pills became incredibly popular with the troops, who nicknamed them “tank chocolate“. As the war progressed, however, the consequences of hooking their troops on crystal meth became an increasingly serious problem for the German command. As enticing as the drug was, its long term effects were devastating, and short rest periods were not enough to make up for the long stretches of wakefulness while tweaking. Millions became crystal meth addicts, with the side effects of sweating, dizziness, depression, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes during which many soldiers shot themselves or their comrades.

But in the meantime, Nazi soldiers performed feats of stamina and endurance that awed their opponents. The Fuhrer was himself a daily user of Pervitin, or crystal meth – which perhaps sheds light on many of his inexplicable wartime decisions. As the war progressed, he found it increasingly difficult to even get out of bed in the morning without shots of a daily drug concoction that included Pervitin.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
‘Destroying Chinese War Junks’, by E. Duncan, 1843, depicting an 1841 engagement between British and Chinese ships. Wikimedia

Britain Went to War to Force China to Allow the Importation of British Opium

In the mid 18th century, the British East India Company began growing opium, from which heroin is refined, and shipping it to China for a hefty profit. The drug was illegal in China, but the British used a variety of trading loopholes, and outright smuggling, to get around that. Opium is quite addictive, and as Chinese consumption (and British profits) skyrocketed, China faced a steadily worsening addiction epidemic that caused widespread social and economic disruption.

As the British kept flooding their country with tons of opium, Chinese authorities finally began taking serious measures to stem the damage. In 1839, a Chinese drug czar was appointed, and he set to work with a will. 1700 dealers were arrested, and over 1400 tons of opium sitting in warehouses were seized and destroyed. Most of that opium belonged to British merchants, however, and they appealed to their government.

The British government demanded compensation from the Chinese government, and sent a military force to China to back those demands. It arrived in Hong Kong in June of 1840, then sailed up the Pearl River estuary to Canton. After months of fruitless negotiations, the British expeditionary force successfully attacked and seized Canton in May of 1841.

Chinese armies were still using weapon and tactics dating to the Middle Ages. They proved no match for the disciplined and modern British forces, armed with the latest firearms and artillery. Despite a determined Chinese counterattack, the British easily held on to Canton, then advanced further into China and seized Nanking in August of 1842. That drove home China’s military inferiority, and put an end to the fighting.

Peace negotiations concluded in the Treaty of Nanking. By its terms, the Chinese were made to pay a huge indemnity, and cede Hong Kong to the British. The number of “Treaty Ports” where the British could trade and reside was also increased from one to five. In addition, British citizens were granted extraterroriality, or the right to be tried by British courts, instead of Chinese ones, for offenses committed in China.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
American soldiers in Vietnam in 1971, lining up to give urine samples at a heroin detection center before returning to the US. NPR

Much of the Vietnam War Was Fought in a Pot and Heroin Induced Haze

Until 1969, the only drug widely available to American troops in Vietnam was marijuana. But starting in 1969, heroin became widely available. It was cheap, and of such a high level of purity that servicemen could get high smoking heroin mixed with tobacco. That made it more appealing to those who would have been reluctant to inject the drug. By 1971, almost half of US Army enlistees in Vietnam had tried heroin, and of those, about half were exhibiting signs of addiction.

In May of 1971, US Congressmen Morgan Murphy of Illinois and Robert Steele of Connecticut went to Vietnam on a fact finding mission, which uncovered disturbing news: 15% of American servicemen in Vietnam were heroin addicts. Even more military personnel in theater were recreational users of heroin, marijuana, and other drugs. Worse, the addiction epidemic was spreading from Vietnam to other US military installations around the world, with the American garrison in West Germany being particularly hard hit.

The armed forces were trying to handle the growing epidemic with a mixture of military discipline and penalties, combined with a limited amnesty. Military personnel caught using or possessing drugs were subject to court martial and dishonorable discharge. On the other hand, those who voluntarily sought help would be offered an “amnesty” and a brief stint of treatment. As statistics revealed, that approach was a dismal failure: during the previous year and a half, heroin use had skyrocketed.

The idea that so many servicemen were addicted to heroin horrified the American public, as the drug was widely perceived at the time as the most addictive narcotic ever produced, and one whose addiction was nearly impossible to escape. In response, president Nixon created the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention. He also ordered further research on military personnel addiction, which revealed that Congressmen Murphy and Steele had been mistaken in their figures. Instead of 15%, the true figure for self identifying addicts in Vietnam was actually 20%.

This took place against a backdrop in which the US was attempting to negotiate an exit from the Vietnam War, while drawing down its troops. About 1000 servicemen were being sent back home each day, where most were discharged soon thereafter back into civilian life. If the addiction figures were true, it meant that hundreds of active heroin addicts were being released into the US each week, and such an influx of addicts was bound to create serious social problems.

So psychologists drafted a plan for the president that entailed radical changes in how the military dealt with addiction. Instead of relying on courts martial, the emphasis should be on treatment. And rather than rely on addicts to self report their drug use in the hope of “amnesty”, widespread urine testing throughout the services should be employed to detect heroin use. Under the new policy, US servicemen in Vietnam who tested positive for heroin were kept in theater under treatment until they dried out, before being allowed to return home. There, they were subjected to further treatment in VA facilities. It was a vast improvement over what had gone before, and the relapse rate among those who underwent such treatment was a relatively low 5%. The problem was not finally contained until years later, after the US had finally withdrawn completely from Vietnam.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
Zulu warriors annihilating the British at the Battle of Isandlwana. British Battles

Zulus Went to War While Tripping on Magic Mushrooms

In 1878, Britain sent a High Commissioner to South Africa, with an eye towards transforming that British possession into a federation like Canada. The High Commissioner, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, was tasked with uniting British colonists, Boer settlers, and African tribes, into a single entity. A major hiccup, however, was the presence of independent states: the Boers of the South African Republic, and the Zulu kingdom. Those entities would have to be destroyed, before South Africa could be united under British control.

To deal with the Zulus, Frere went rogue, and decided to instigate a war without the British government’s approval. So in December of 1878, he sent the Zulus an ultimatum he knew they could not and would not comply with, that included disbanding their army and instituting radical cultural changes. When the ultimatum was not met, Frere sent in British forces to invade Zululand, initiating the Anglo-Zulu War.

The invasion did not go as smoothly as expected. Early on, in January of 1879, a British column of 1800 troops was virtually annihilated by a fierce and fearless Zulu charge at the Battle of Isandlwana. The Zulus’ ferocity and fearlessness was due to native courage, that was instilled in Zulu warriors from early on. But it was also helped by taking some serious drugs.

Zulu shamans gave their warriors powerful drugs that enhanced their endurance and chased away their fears. They included a cannabis snuff that was very high on THC, but very low in the sedative content that makes people on weed so relaxed and chill. So it made Zulu warriors high and hallucinating, but did not leave them lethargic as usually happens with cannabis use.

Zulu warriors were also given an extract from a tumbleweed-type plant called Boophone disticha, with properties similar to codeine and morphine. It had both hallucinogenic and pain-deadening effects, further reducing the warriors’ fears of known dangers, and making them that much harder to bring down. The drug concoction was then rounded off by psychedelic mushrooms that contained muscimol, whose effects included enhanced perception.

The combined effect of all those drugs was to make the Zulu warriors highly alert and focused, with a tunnel vision on the task of charging their enemy no matter what, without the typical distractions of fear holding them back. No wonder the British were repeatedly astonished by the extraordinary courage, ferocity, and fearlessness of their Zulu foes.

However, as things turned out in the end, courage and ferocity, whether natural or drug induced, were not enough for the spear-armed Zulus to overcome British advantages in modern weaponry. After getting over the shock of their defeat at Isandlwana, the British regrouped for another go, in which they put their modern firearms and artillery to devastating use. The Zulus were crushed at the Battle of Ulundi in July of 1879, their kingdom was abolished, and its territory was divided amongst 13 compliant chieftains.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
A Civil War hospital ward. Pintrest

The American Civil War Produced Hundreds of Thousands of Morphine Addicts

The American Civil War was the country’s bloodiest, with casualties exceeding the total casualties of all other US wars, combined. About 10 percent of all Northern males, and about 30 percent of all Southern males, are thought to have perished in the conflict. Modern estimates put the war’s fatalities at between 785,000 to 1 million deaths, the latter figure representing 3.2% of total US population at the time. If extrapolated to America’s 2018 population estimates, it would be the equivalent of about 10,500,000 deaths.

It was one of the first major “modern” wars, and one in which advances in weaponry outpaced advances in battlefield tactics. The result was high casualties and horrific injuries that confronted the armies’ physicians with unprecedented challenges. The standard of medical care was abysmally low by modern standards, and had not advanced much beyond that of the Napoleonic era, half a century earlier.

The sole exception was the field of pain management. Civil War physicians might not have known about antiseptic practices to prevent infections. However, thanks to the recent invention of the hypodermic needle, coupled with the discovery of morphine decades earlier, they could at least do something to ease the pain of wounded soldiers. And when hypodermic needles and morphine were unavailable, opium pills were in plentiful supply – at least in Union hospitals.

So soldiers were often dosed with massive amounts of morphine or opium to deaden the pain of amputations, other surgeries, and various ailments. There were plenty of wartime accounts highlighting that liberality in dispensing drugs. One Union doctor diagnosed wounded soldiers from horseback, and if any needed morphine, the doctor would pour a dose on his hand, and have the soldier lick it. On the Confederate side, one Rebel doctor was known for giving any patient a plug of opium, depending on whether or not he was constipated.

The potential for addiction was known, but the risk was deemed acceptable, and was a lesser evil that could be dealt with later. “Later” came when the soldiers were discharged from the hospitals, and it is estimated that over 400,000 Civil War became morphine addicts because of their wartime experiences. The term “Soldiers Disease” was coined to describe that addiction. Many addicts were readily identifiable by a small bag dangling from a leather thong around their neck, containing morphine tablets and a hypodermic needle.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
British Royal Navy tars lining up for the daily rum ration. Military History Now

The British Royal Navy Floated on an Ocean of Rum

From as far back as the reign of Henry VIII, English sailors enjoyed a daily ration of alcohol. It was not just for keeping the crews happy and lubricated, but also a matter of health: on long voyages, water in wooden casks would eventually go bad, and spoil sooner or later. Adding alcohol to the water would extend its shelf life, pushing its expiration date more towards the later rather than sooner end of the spectrum.

After the British captured Jamaica in 1655, the Royal Navy began replacing its sailors’ daily ration of French brandy with Jamaican produced rum. The transition was helped by lobbying from British West Indian planters, whose sugar plantations produced rum’s main ingredient, molasses. Eventually, the daily rum ration of half a pint became an integral part of British sailors’ lives.

The ration was initially issued neat, but starting in the 1740s, it became compulsory to mix the half pint of rum with a quart of water, in a 1:4 ratio. That concoction came to be known as “grog”, after an admiral nicknamed “Old Grog” because of a grogram coat he wore at sea. In 1756, regulations directed the addition of lemon or lime juice to help ward off scurvy.

At the height of the age of sail during the Napoleonic era, British ships were powered by wind, but British sailors were powered by rum. Twice daily, at noon and again at sunset, British sailors would muster on deck in a “rum line” to collect their daily rum ration. On special occasions, by way of reward or to celebrate victories, captains might issue their crews a double ration – a full pint of rum.

To ensure that their rum had not been watered down, British tars would pour some of it on gunpowder, and try to ignite it. If it ignited, it was “proof” that the rum’s alcohol content was at least 57 percent. If it failed to light up, then the rum was “under proof”. Thus the origin of the term “alcohol proof”, although the gunpowder test for alcoholic content was replaced by a gravity test in the 19th century.

A side effect of the daily rum ration was that, at any given time, much of the Royal Navy was operating at various levels of inebriation. Rum and the Royal Navy became closely associated in public perception. When First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill was once challenged for offending some Royal Navy traditions, he derided those traditions as “rum, buggery, and the lash“.

The daily rum ration was scaled back to a quarter pint in the 1850s, but continued to be issued for the remainder of the nineteenth century, throughout both world wars, and for much of the twentieth century. The increasing sophistication of military technology, however, made the daily rum ration increasingly anachronistic, not to mention hazardous. Drunk sailors on modern naval vessels were too great a danger to their ships and crewmates. So on July 31st, 1970, the Admiralty finally abolished the daily rum ration once and for all. The date, known forever after known as “Black Friday” in the Royal Navy, was one of mourning. Solemn ceremonies took place on all serving ships, featuring black armbands, muffled drums, mournful pipers, and flag draped coffins, as British sailors bid farewell to a 300 year old tradition.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
‘The Battle of the Pyramids’, but Antoine-Jean Gros. Wikimedia

Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition Was Enveloped in a Haze of Hashish Smoke

Throughout much of French military history, the soldiers’ intoxicant of choice was alcohol – cognac and wine, and lots of it. Napoleon had a famous dictum about armies marching on their stomachs. Those stomachs often needed not just food to fuel the soldiers, but also alcohol to settle their stomachs and the butterflies fluttering in them, and to fuel their courage.

Campaigning in Europe, French armies seldom had a problem finding wine or other types of alcohol. However, when Napoleon launched his Egyptian Campaign in 1798, he and his French forces found themselves in a Muslim country with precious little home distilled alcohol. And after British admiral Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the French in Egypt found themselves cut off from resupply from home, including the resupply of wine.

In the absence of alcohol, French soldiers in Egypt cast about for an alternative intoxicant. They came upon hashish, and soon developed an insatiable taste for it. Before long, French forces in Egypt were swept by an epidemic of hashish addiction. The new habit quickly began eroding military discipline, and undermined the French military’s effectiveness to such an extent that Napoleon issued a total ban on hashish.

Napoleon and French commanders reasoned that their troops were more effective back when they used to be alcoholics, than they were now as junkies. So to help wean the French soldiers off of hash and return them to wine, Napoleon commissioned the production of date wines and spirits. It did not work: French troops drank the newly introduced date alcohol, and discovered that it went great with hash, which they kept right on smoking.

So instead of dealing with soldiers who were frequently high, French commanders found themselves having to deal with soldiers who were frequently high and drunk. Worse, after the Egyptian Campaign collapsed, and the surviving French troops were repatriated back home, they brought their hash and hash smoking habits back to France with them. Soon, hashish started gaining a popularity in Parisian salons and Bohemian circles, and from there, hash use spread to the rest of Europe.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
WW2 Red Army soldiers readying to down their daily vodka ration. Voices From Russia

Russian Armies Were Fueled by Vodka

No country is as closely associated in global popular perception with a particular alcoholic drink, as Russia is perceived to be associated with vodka. And the British Royal Navy and rum aside, no military is as closely associated in popular perception with a particular drink as the Russian military is associated with vodka. It is not just one of those popular perceptions that turn out to be based on little more than myth and legend: Russian armies and alcohol go back a long way.

One of alcohol’s greatest positive effects, from the perspective of military leaders, is its ability to provide the troops with liquid courage. However, striking the right balance between enough alcohol for liquid courage, without going overboard, can be tricky. In 1223, a relatively small Mongol army inflicted a devastating defeat upon a much larger Rus army at the Battle of the Kalka River. Much of the credit for the victory goes to the military genius of the Mongols’ commanders, Subutai and Jebe. However, alcohol played a contributing role: much of the Rus army had gotten drunk, then launched itself at the Mongols in a reckless charge that ended in disaster.

In the 1500s, Russia’s Tsars began setting up establishments to distill and sell vodka, and by the 1640s, vodka had become a government monopoly. The Tsarist tax system was regressive, with much of its tax revenue coming from sales taxes. By the 1850s, nearly half of the Russian government’s revenue came from vodka sales. By the start of the twentieth century, the Smirnoff Vodka brand alone accounted for a full third of the Russian army’s budget.

Because of its vodka monopoly, Tsarist governments encouraged vodka consumption, even at the price of widespread alcoholism. Tsar Peter the Great reportedly decreed that the wives of peasants should be whipped if they dared try and drag their husbands out of taverns before they were ready to leave. He also used alcoholism to help with military recruitment: those who drank themselves into debt could avoid debtors prison by enlisting in the Russian army for 25 years.

In the twentieth century, the Red Army issued its soldiers a daily vodka ration of 100 grams. It was not enough to get wasted on, but a few days’ ration could be saved for a good drunk. It was also relatively easy for soldiers to get their hands on more than the daily ration, and during the Winter War of 1939 – 1940, there were reports of wild drunken charges by Soviet soldiers.

During WW2, the daily ration was increased, and the distribution and consumption of vodka was actively encouraged. The Soviet soldiers’ grit and sheer courage played a key role in defeating the Germans and securing victory in WW2. That courage could only have been boosted by the rivers of vodka that helped fuel the Soviet soldiers. Some Red Army soldiers, reminiscing about the war, described the daily vodka ration as being “as important as Katyusha rockets in the victory of Nazism“.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Armies Using Intoxicants Throughout History
British 67th Regiment of Foot, taking a Chinese fort during the Second Opium War. Wikimedia

Britain Invaded China For a *Second Time* To Force the Chinese to Legalize British Opium

From 1856 – 1860, the British fought a second war against China, known as the Second Opium War, that was sparked by Chinese resistance to British opium flooding their country. Britain’s war aims this time around were the complete legalization of the opium trade, exempting foreign imports from internal Chinese tariffs, and the opening of all of China to British merchants.

Britain was joined by France, which also sought greater trade concessions from the Chinese. The technological disparity between Chinese and Western forces was even greater this second time around. Moreover, the Chinese were in the midst of dealing with a huge peasant uprising, the Taiping Rebellion, that was led by a failed civil service job applicant, who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Thus, a combined British and French army had little trouble in seizing Canton in 1857. Other military setbacks made it clear that the Chinese had no hopes of resisting the invaders militarily, so the Chinese sued for peace.

When negotiations dragged on, however, the invaders sailed to northern China, seized the Taku Forts near Tianjin, and advanced upon Beijing. At some point during further negotiations, a British diplomatic envoy insulted his Chinese counterpart, and was arrested along with his party. Half of his entourage were tortured to death. In response, the British-French army routed a Chinese army near Beijing, forcing the emperor to flee his capital. The invaders then seized a vast imperial compound known as the Summer Palace.

The British-French soldiers began by plundering anything made of gold or silver, then went on an orgy of destruction for the sheer fun of it. They crushed statues, smashed exquisite objects of porcelain and jade, ripped paintings with their bayonets, and paraded in ornate silk robes from the imperial wardrobe for comic effect. Then they put the entire palace complex to the torch.

The destruction of the Summer Palace was one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism of the past few centuries. As one British officer described it: “When we first entered the gardens they reminded one of those magic grounds described in fairy tales; we marched from them upon the 19th October, leaving them a dreary waste of ruined nothings“. Utterly defeated, the Chinese capitulated and signed a peace treaty in 1860 that granted all the invaders’ demands, including the complete legalization of the opium trade.

The Opium Wars were extremely controversial, and were decried by some leading British politicians. William Gladstone, a towering figure in Victorian era British politics, declared as a young MP in 1842 that he knew of no conflict “more calculated in its progress to cover this country with disgrace” than the First Opium War.

It should be noted, however, that whatever pangs of conscience were felt by enlightened British, such as Gladstone, they did not keep the British Empire from hanging on to the fruits of its victories in the Opium Wars. As to China, those wars set it on a path of accelerating decline that led in 1911 to the demise of the imperial system that had lasted for over 2000 years.

That was followed by a period of chaos and anarchy that was exploited by imperial Japan, which seized Manchuria in 1931, and launched a full scale invasion in 1937. Next came a civil war that culminated in a communist victory, which led to yet more stretches of turmoil under Mao during the “Great Leap Forward”, followed by the Cultural Revolution. It can be argued that China did not begin to recover from what the Opium Wars had set in motion until the late 1970s. Understandably, the Chinese are still resentful about those wars, which is reflected in a wariness towards the West that is seen to this day in Chinese foreign policy.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Sources & Further Reading

Atlantic, The, April 8th, 2016 – The Drugs That Built a Super Soldier

Economist, The, December 17th, 2017 – Memories and Hallucinations: The Opium Wars Still Shape China’s View of the West

Encyclopedia Britannica – Opium Wars

Encyclopedia.Com – Vietnam: Drug Use In

Wikipedia – Anglo-Zulu War

Gizmodo – A Beginner’s Guide to Navy-Strength Rum

Kakanomics, February 2nd, 2017 – The History of Drugs and War

Military History Monthly, June 12th, 2012 – War Culture: Military Drinking

Military History Now – Fighting Spirits: Three Centuries of Rum in the Royal Navy

NPR, January 2nd, 2012 – What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

Providentia – Soldier’s Disease

Mental Floss – Armies Hopped Up on Drugs

Spiegel – The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth

Wikipedia – Rum Ration

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