Don't Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does

Khalid Elhassan - October 7, 2021

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
The surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. Wikimedia

12. The Patriots’ Victory Was Terrible News for the Escaped Slaves Who Had Sought Freedom With the British

In October, 1781, an allied Franco-American force trapped, besieged, and forced the surrender of General Cornwallis’ British army at Yorktown. It was the war’s final major pitched battle, as the British, exhausted by years of fruitless fighting and the mounting costs in blood and treasure, threw in the towel. Defeat at Yorktown led to the fall of the pro-war government in London, and its replacement with one that sued for peace. In the context of the Black Loyalists’ perspective, that was calamitous news.

British defeat and Patriot victory meant that the side that had offered them freedom had lost, and their former masters had won. Thousands of slaves-turned-freedom-fighters found themselves bottled up with the British in enclaves such as Charleston and New York, unsure whether Britain would honor its promises to them. They had good reason to worry: American negotiators had added a last minute clause to the 1783 Treaty of Paris, forbidding the British from “carrying away” American property. That “property” included runaway slaves who had fought for the British.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
George Washington’s plantation, Mount Vernon. PBS

11. George Washington Demanded that the British Return Escaped Slaves

After the war ended in 1783, the fate of Black Loyalist escaped slaves became a bone of contention between the Patriots and British military commanders. The British were treaty-bound to deliver their black comrades in arms to their former masters, but the British on the ground refused to do so. In addition to basic decency and honor, the contest over the fate of the escaped slaves offered the British an opportunity to demonstrate moral superiority over the victorious Patriots. As the British commander in South Carolina put it: “those who have voluntarily come in under the faith of our protection, cannot in justice be abandoned to the merciless resentment of their former masters“.

The British commander in chief agreed, and directed that: “such that have been promised their freedom, to have it“. That incensed George Washington, one of whose slaves had fled and joined the British. It was in that context that many wondered whether hostilities would erupt anew over the issue. The British in New York finally resolved the issue, to the ire of the slave owners, by issuing thousands of “Certificates of Freedom” to Black Loyalists. The documents entitled bearers to decamp to British colonies such as Nova Scotia “or wherever else He/She may think proper“. In South Carolina, the British also honored their commitment to Black Loyalists, and took them with them when they left.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
British troops awaiting evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk. Pintrest

10. The Narrative That Hitler Had Deliberately Allowed the British to Escape From the Beaches of Dunkirk

The Battle of France in 1940 was a debacle for the Western Powers. In just six weeks, the Germans did what they had been unable to do in four years during World War I, routed the British and French armies, and forced France to surrender. By late May, the Germans had pushed the British army into an ever shrinking pocket surrounding the port of Dunkirk, and seemed about to annihilate them. Then seemingly inexplicably, with a decisive victory over the British in his grasp, Hitler ordered his panzers to halt, and left the task of reducing the surrounded forces to the Luftwaffe.

In late May, 1940, Hitler ordered his panzer formations, some of them just a few miles from the disorganized British milling about the beaches of Dunkirk, to halt for 48 hours in order to rest and refit. German generals loudly protested, but to no avail. The British took advantage of the breather, and organized a defense that eventually allowed them to evacuate about 338,000 Allied soldiers to safety. That seemingly miraculous reprieve led to a myth that Hitler, as a good will gesture to the British whom he admired, had deliberately allowed them to escape.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk arrive at Dover on May 31st, 1940. Imperial War Museum

9. In the Context of Hitler’s Goals in 1940, a British Escape From Dunkirk Was the Last Thing That He Wanted

Credible historians give short shrift to the fanciful notion that a merciful Fuhrer had deliberately let the British go: there is zero evidence to support the assertion. However, crackpot revisionists have embraced the notion that Hitler had allowed the British to escape so he could look like a magnanimous gentleman, and thus draw Britain into peace negotiations. Even for a figure as notoriously irrational as Hitler, to deliberately let the British escape was too irrational. In the context of his aim to bring Britain to the peace table, hundreds of thousands of British POWs would have been a major bargaining chip.

More so than if those soldiers were back in Britain, armed and defiant. Moreover, the fatal halt order had not even originated with Hitler. A panzer unit commander who had lost half his armored forces and needed time to regroup, requested a halt from Army Group A’s commander, Gerd von Rundstedt. Rundstedt agreed and passed it up to Hitler, who rubber stamped the order to halt. After the war, German generals – including Rundstedt – pinned the blame on Hitler for ruining the opportunity to win the war in 1940.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Dr. Joseph Goebbels, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Reichs Sports Leader Hans von Tschammer und Osten and Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg observe the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in August 1936. Associated Press

8. Olympics Doping Led to the Discovery of Crystal Meth

During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, German scientists observed that American athletes’ performance was enhanced by Benzedrine, then rushed to come up with their own performance-enhancing drug. A year later, a Dr. Fritz Hauschild discovered methamphetamines, or crystal meth. In 1938 Temmler, a pharmaceutical company, began to sell crystal meth over the counter under the brand name Pervitin. It became so ubiquitous that it was marketed to German women in boxes of chocolate, with the recommendation that they take two to three a day to breeze through house chores and lose weight – the drug also suppressed appetite. With Pervitin such a huge hit with the German public, Germany’s military decided that it wanted a hit as well.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Workers at the Temmler factory in Berlin, which produced methamphetamine tablets for the German military. The Guardian

After hurried testing, Pervitin was approved for issue to the military and ordered into mass production. That took place in the context of a tolerant German official policy towards drugs. Before World War I, Germany was the world’s leading chemical giant, and the country’s chemical industry effectively had a global monopoly on drugs whose production required advanced (for that era) chemical expertise and industrial capacity. Germany’s chemical dominance was fueled by collaboration between researchers in German universities and industry – an approach pioneered in nineteenth century Germany, that has since become common in other countries around the world.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
A Berlin cabaret during the interwar years. Pickwick’s Art Blog

7. The Context of WWI and its Aftermath Led to a German Drug Epidemic

Before the evils of narcotics and the harmful effects of addiction were fully understood, drugs did not carry much of a moral stigma. German chemical research was fueled by the sale of morphine, first distilled from opium by a German chemist in the early nineteenth century, and patented by Merck not long afterwards. Further research on opium, morphine, and their derivatives, led to their inclusion in popular (and over the counter) products such as cough suppressants and household pain relievers. The pharmaceutical giant Bayer made a killing off of heroin, which was legal in Germany until the 1950s.

The widespread tolerance towards drugs was further boosted by WWI and its aftermath. There were millions of casualties, many of whom needed drugs for prolonged periods during recovery, and the authorities’ were less concerned with the drugs’ addictive properties, and more with their effectiveness as pain relief. It was in that context that Germany experienced an under-reported but widespread epidemic of hard drug addiction in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly by veterans who got hooked on drugs taken for pain relief, or medical personnel who had easy access to such drugs.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Pervitin. Is It Paleo

6. The Nazis Attacked the Use of Some Hard Drugs, and Approved of the Use of Others

Drug addiction was so pervasive that even a high ranking official such as Herman Goering, Hitler’s second in command, was widely known to have a pill habit – developed while recovering from a bullet he took during the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch – without it generating much controversy. In that context, to the extent that addiction was even recognized as such, it was perceived as readily curable. Most of the time, however, addiction’s symptoms were wrongly attributed to other conditions, or misdiagnosed altogether in accordance with quack pseudoscientific theories that were prevalent at the time.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the use of cocaine and heroin, which became popular after WWI, went into precipitous decline. The Third Reich attacked those drugs as poisons, deliberately introduced to Germany by Jews as part of a sinister plot to undermine and weaken the Aryan race. However, attacks against those particular drugs did not indicate an across-the-board policy against drugs, per se. Heroin and cocaine might have become socially unacceptable in Nazi Germany, but the Nazis were fine with drugs they viewed as performance enhancing. Chief among those was crystal meth, in the form of Pervitin.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Otto Friedrich Ranke, the medical officer who introduced methamphatimines to the German military. Wikimedia

5. Germans Spent WWII Tweaking on Crystal Meth

In 1938, German pharmaceutical Temmler began to market methamphetamine pills under the brand name Pervitin. A high ranking army doctor, Otto Freidrich Ranke, saw the newly discovered drug’s potential as a means to keep tired troops and pilots alert, and to keep the entire German military euphoric. Ranke tested Temmler’s new product on university students, who exhibited a sudden spike in alertness and productivity, despite being short on sleep. Elated, and as ignorant as the rest of Germany’s medical community of narcotics’ harmful side effects, Ranke saw to it that Pervitin was approved for issue to the armed forces, and ordered into mass production.

During WWII, Germany’s military issued its men millions of packets of Pervitin a pill whose effectiveness in keeping the troops alert was compared to drinking strong coffee by the gallon. On top of that, it made the worries of German soldiers disappear, and infused them with feelings of happiness and euphoria. Or at least it did so for a few hours, before the effects wore off or the soldiers popped more pills to maintain the high for as long as possible. Given the context that Pervitin is basically crystal meth, the German military spent WWII tweaking.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Pervitin. The Atlantic

4. The Context That Explains “Nazi Super Soldiers”

In the war’s first year, the Germans swept through Poland, Denmark and Norway, the Lowland Countries, and France. It was in the context of the astonishing speed and fury of the blitzkrieg that reports of “Nazi Super Soldiers” emerged. The pace and ferocity of the German advance owed much to innovative tactics, that integrated infantry, armor, and air, into a seemingly irresistible juggernaut. However, the Allies could not figure out the inexplicable energy and tirelessness of the German soldiers, who seemed indefatigable as they advanced and fought day and night, with little or no rest.

The reason was crystal meth, or Pervitin, which German troops were encouraged to pop in order 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 to use drugs, they seldom limit their intake to “from time to time”. Things got worse when medical authorities realized that cocaine’s effects overlap substantially with those of amphetamines, with the added “benefit” that cocaine produces greater euphoria. So cocaine was added to Pervitin.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
A tweaking SS member. American Heroes Channel

3. The Nazis Issued Their Soldiers Crystal Meth Mixed With Cocaine

The new Pervetrin was an even more addictive drug cocktail. Millions in the German military could not get enough of their crystal meth, and especially not enough of their crystal meth after it got laced with cocaine. Many wrote home, to ask their loves to mail them Pervitin. One such was Heinrich Boll, a German postwar author who won the 1972 Nobel Prize for literature. In a 1940 letter to his parents, 22-year-old Boll begged them to send him some Pervitin, which he wrote not only kept him alert, but also chased away his worries.

Millions of Pervitin pills were issued prior to Operation Barbarossa, the German surprise attack against the Soviet Union. The pills became incredibly popular with the troops, who nicknamed them “tank chocolate“. However, the cocaine-laced crystal meth produced terrible long term effects, and short rest periods were inadequate to make up for the extended stretches of wakefulness while tweaking. In the context of widespread pill use and abuse, millions became addicts, with side effects such as sweating, dizziness, depression, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes in which soldiers shot themselves or their comrades.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Hitler and his doctor, Theodor Morell, a quack who kept the Fuhrer doped up throughout WWII. Novinsky

2. Hitler Became a Full Blown Junkie

Even as his troops rampaged across Europe and the Mediterranean basin while tweaking on cocaine-laced crystal meth, the Fuhrer himself became a daily user of Pervitin. That, perhaps, sheds light on some of his inexplicable wartime decisions. As the war progressed, Hitler found it increasingly difficult to even get out of bed in the morning without shots of a drug concoction that included Pervitin. That was thanks in large part to a quack doctor, Theodor Morell, who eased Hitler’s chronic digestive ailments with cultures of live bacteria.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
A beaming Fuhrer. Rolling Stone

The relieved dictator rewarded Morell by making him his personal physician, and the doctor’s popularity skyrocketed, especially among high ranking ranking Nazis. That popularity was not due solely to the boost that Morell got from his status as Hitler’s doctor: he routinely treated his patients by injecting them with concoctions of addictive drugs, that had them coming back for more. Herman Goering, himself an all out drug addict and copious pill popper, sarcastically referred to doctor Morell as “the Reichmaster of the injections“.

Don’t Take these Historic Events Out of Context Like Everybody Else Does
Hitler’s last official photo, shortly before his death. Keystone Features

1. The Context That Explains Hitler’s Cocaine Addiction

Dr. Morrell not only got the Fuhrer hooked on crystal meth via Pervitin, he also turned him into a cocaine addict after the quack prescribed it to soothe the dictator’s sore throat and clear his sinuses. It was in the context of that treatment that Hitler soon developed an irresistible compulsion to soothe his throat and clear his sinuses. By 1945, Hitler was a full blown junkie with rotting teeth, addicted to a bewildering variety of drugs. When his drug supplies ran out in the war’s closing weeks, the Furher suffered all the symptoms of severe withdrawal: delusions, psychosis, paranoia, extreme shaking, and kidney failure.

Pervitin remained popular and readily available in Germany after the war, frequently prescribed by doctors as an antidepressant or as an appetite suppressant, or readily obtainable on the black market. German students – especially medical students – were huge fans of the drug, which they used as a stimulant to help them cram for exams. It was only removed from medical supplies in East Germany in the 1970s, and in West Germany in the 1980s, before it was finally banned and declared illegal after German reunification in the 1990s.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – How Drugs Like Pervitin and Cocaine Fueled the Nazis’ Rise and Fall

Atkin, Ronald – Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940 (2000)

Black Loyalist – Washington’s Revolution (Harry, That Is, Not George)

Bright Hub Education – Famous African Americans Of the Revolutionary War

Bussanich, John, and Smith, Nicholas D. – The Bloomsbury Companion to Socrates: The Politics of Impiety – Why Was Socrates Prosecuted by the Athenian Democracy? (2013)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Socrates

Encyclopedia Britannica – Thirty Tyrants

Fleming, Peter – Operation Sea Lion: The Projected Invasion of England in 1940, an Account of the German Preparation and the English Countermeasures (1957)

Groves, Leslie R. – Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (1983)

Guardian, The, September 25th, 2016 – High Hitler: How Nazi Drug Abuse Steered the Course of History

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1 – 7: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)

History Collection – 10 Prominent Ancient Athenians

Horne, Gerald – The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (2014)

Kolchin, Peter – American Slavery: 1619-1877 (1993)

Krentz, Peter – The Thirty Tyrants at Athens (1982)

Morrison, Donald R. – The Cambridge Companion to Socrates: Socrates and Democratic Athens (2010)

Ohler, Norman – Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (2017)

Online Institute For Advanced Loyalist Studies – A History of the Black Pioneers

PBS – George Washington’s Runaway Slave, Harry

Rhodes, Richard – The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)

Rolling Stone, March 15th, 2017 – Hitler and His Drugs: Inside the Nazis’ Speed Craze

Schama, Simon – Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution (2007)

Skeptoid – No, Hitler Did Not Let the British Escape at Dunkirk

Spiegel, May 30th, 2013 – The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth

Toland, John – Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (1982)

Waterfield, Robin – Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009)

Wikipedia – Drug Policy of Nazi Germany

Wikipedia – Thirty Tyrants

Wolpert, Andrew – Remembering Defeat: Civil War and Civic Memory in Ancient Athens (2002)

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