The History of the War on Drugs

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Specially recruited anti-drugs agent Elvis Presley successfully lowered US drug consumption in 1977 by dying.

The descriptive term War on Drugs was first used by the United States President Richard Nixon in 1969 during a speech indicating the compulsory use of stimulants for US army personnel on active service in Vietnam. Nixon insisted that artificial uppers would allow GIs to fight for up to 36 hours at a stretch and hasten the end of communist insurgency across South East Asia. However, credit for the idea of going to war high on drugs cannot be claimed by Whitehouse think-tanks alone, as the idea seems to have been prevalent throughout history.

War is one of man’s most consistently popular inventions and those involved in it have often sought out natural and artificial means to heighten their enjoyment of maiming their neighbour. From our earliest days, warriors have uttered war cries, decorated themselves with war paint and adopted flamboyant battle dress before committing themselves to the fray. But why? Researchers have shown how close harmony singing stimulates a rush of endorphins and a natural high in members of male voice choirs, while the opportunity to apply make up and unusual clothing still draws thousands of high-spirited young males to performances of the Rocky Horror Show. Famously, Scottish Highland warriors have traditionally sported the kilt to add a cross-dressing frisson to the pleasure they gained from slicing Sassenachs with claymores, many going commando at the same time for an additional thrill.

But just when did man first go into battle stoned and how has the production of drugs for warfare affected human history and the shape of the world around us?

The Vikings

Viking Empire

The Viking empire expanded to satisfy their insatiable appetite for plunder, land and compliant nuns.

From the eighth century until the late eleventh, Viking raiders expanded from their Scandinavian coastal bases to ransack and settle much of Northern Europe, Russia, the Atlantic islands and even parts of the Mediterranean. Why such a few thousand obscure pastoralists and fishermen braved the high seas in pursuit of plunder is still debated, though historians seem sure that land pressure played a part and also the need to export quality flat-pack furniture from their native pine forests in the name of their pagan god, Ikea. The true mystery is just how such small groups of men dominated strong nation states such as France and England.

Initially, Viking raiders had the element of surprise in their favour, swooping down on undefended monasteries to loot and pillage, inflicting social democracy and lightly spiced meatballs on the isolated villages of Northumbria and Ireland. There is evidence, however, that Viking raids were welcomed in some parts since death at the hands of a pagan guaranteed a place in heaven. According to Abbess Eadgythelfryth, the nuns of St. Waffleburga’s Abbey looked forward to the visits of “rough-handed, horny [helmeted] men of the ocean” and had had little fear of “being confined to their cells and tortured with steam from hot rocks doused in water. Yea, until their very skin seemed ready to melt from their backs. Thence did the Northmen scourge the faithful with withies of beech branches and cast them into the snow and ravish them.” Soon, however, the Vikings began to face organized armies arranged in seemingly impenetrable shield walls. It was now that their ingenuity created the first “War on Drugs”.

Viking hat

Berserk? You'd have to be a little crazy to go out in a hat like that.

Bezerkers were warriors renowned for their disregard of their own safety. They charged even the most fearsome opposing armies, foaming at the mouth and roaring incoherently, sometimes naked. Contemporary accounts describe the ferocity of their charge breaking the defensive line and allowing other Vikings to pick off individual defenders. There has been much debate about what inspired their savageness over the years, with many suggesting the usage of Fly Agaric, a naturally occurring fungus of the forests of Northern Europe. The Stavangar Shroom Saga gives some evidence for this in the passage which describes the discovery of Vinland (North America) and the response to the attacks of indigenous people.

“Snorri Gudmansson and his three sons followed the native warriors into the forest and were gone many hours. Leif Nokiasson had already begun to hum the ringtone of mourning when they returned telling tales of bright flashing lights, frogs which spoke of great dangers in the tree-tops and ants which crawled beneath men's skins. And we were much a-feared.“

The climate of Europe changed as it approached the Medieval period and fly agaric would have become increasingly difficult to find. Interestingly, it is at this point that the Vikings’ fortunes began to decline. The last notable battle of the Viking age was defeat by King Harold Godwineson of England at Stamford Bridge in 1066. By this time the Berserkergang state appears to have been being induced solely by alcohol in the form of mead. The Saxons are reputed to have utilized this information by circulating news of a free bar prior to hostilities, ringing a bell and shouting “Last orders, vikings, please.”

Harold himself is said to have slain the Viking leader, Harald Hardrada (Norse for 'Hard Drinker'), while the King of Norway was still claiming that his Saxon counterpart was his “Best mate.” Hardrada’s last words are recorded in the Saxon Chronicle as “I fuckin’ love you, man.”

The Caliphate

Ataturk Janissary

Deprived of testosterone Janissaries could be identified by their comedy stance and taste for flamboyant clothing.

When Islam exploded out of the Arabian peninsula like a suicide bomber from a bus queue it seemed unstoppable. In a few short decades the Islamic Empire covered not only the Middle East, but also North Africa, Iberia, the Balkans and West Yorkshire. How was it possible for a small sect to expand so quickly? Leaders of the Moorish Empire realised that they could not rely on the traditional levies and conscripts if they were to spread their faith. A new order required shock troops prepared to die for the cause and so they began to experiment with what we would today call "special forces".

Janissaries were an early attempt to create a unit with an individual identity strong enough to inspire reckless loyalty. Janissaries were not recruited but were abducted as children from Christian parents in what is now Yugoslavia. They were subsequently castrated to stop them scratching the furniture and forced to convert. Unwilling to sanction the use of alcohol, Janissary leaders had decided to subtlely alter their troops' natural body Chemistry by depriving them of testosterone. Having survived such an inauspicious start to their military career, a future Janissary could expect up to twelve years of military training and harsh punishments for minor offences. However, once training was completed a Janissary was without doubt the finest soldier anywhere in the world. Sadly, being ripped from the arms of their mothers and forcibly detached from their gonads did not always inspire the desired level of loyalty. After a series of rebellions the Janissaries were consigned to history. This bold experiment in the adjustment of natural homones in the War on Drugs had ultimately failed.

The Hashshahsin by contrast were native born and therefore more reliable and less likely to volunteer for units which had genital mutilation as an initiation rite. But how else could commanders inspire them to acts of fearless bravery without the alcohol available to infidel troops? Fortunately, by the time of the Hashshashin, Islam had spread east into Central Asia and access to the rich poppy-fields of Afghanistan allowed them to revive the idea of War on Drugs in its purest form.


Hashshashin could craft a bong at the drop of a turban.

The Hashshashin were expert warriors and their legendary deeds whilst out of it on Hasheesh are remembered in myth and in the English word "Assassin". Their bravery in battle was second to none and they were masters of disguise. As the word assassin suggests, they could be hired for contract killings. Intended victims would often wake with an Hashshashin dagger on their pillow, knowing that if they failed to flee they'd soon be holding up a flyover on the Silk Road.

In the short term, the Hashshashin programme was a success. The ingestion of opiates dulled the pain of battle-injuries and clouded the judgement of the soldier, encouraging him to fight when claiming to be a conscientious objector would otherwise have seemed a more attractive alternative. However, even the Hashshashin idea was eventually discredited, as Muslim commanders realised that recruits were spending less time training for warfare and more breaking into houses in search of money to pay dealers. Crime levels in Damascus reached epidemic proportions and the group were eventually disbanded when Mongol warriors cut supplies from the Golden Triangle allowing enemy forces to over-run Hashshashin camps while their occupants were howling in torment and shivering in their tents despite the 40 degree heat. For years after their formal disbandment Hashshahsin were a familiar sight in the bazaars and suqs of the Middle East, often sitting outside magic-carpet stalls plaintiffly reciting the Hashshashin war-cry "Biggy Shoo" over and over.

The Incas

In the year 1430 the people who would become the Inca were still a small tribe of llama enthusiasts in the Cuzco valley of central Peru. In a dizzying whirl of conquest they subjugated most of South America from the Atacama desert of Chile to southern Colombia. Surely none of this could have been achieved without the liberal use of psychoactive intoxicants.

Nazca monkey

South American Nazca lines are best viewed whilst extremely high.

For centuries South American tribes had chewed the Coca leaf to relieve altitude sickness and to give themselves confidence on the dance floors of Bolivia's vibrant nighclub scene. However, according to Incan traditional history it was Manco Capac who first realised that by simply steeping the crushed leaves in kerosene derived from Peru's Chacopopos oil field overnight, refluxing gently for several hours and then treating with alternate acidic and alkaline mixtures, retreating with kerosene, crystalising and dissolving in sulphuric acid a much more potent form of the narcotic would be created. Primitive Incan Mass Spectrometry suggested that the crystals formed were up to 60% pure cocaine.

Manco Capac himself is thought to have ingested so much cocaine that he came to believe himself to be the Sun-God. His followers were sufficiently over-stimulated to take this announcement at face-value. The inca people enjoyed their military successes but found peace-time stressful, eventually learning to occupying their restless energies in frenetic bouts of meaningless physical exertion such as digging irrigation canals that ran uphill, and consuming the pulsating hearts of their POWs.

Throughtout the fifteenth century the Incan forces were rampant, conquering the Chimor and Chachapoya people in an unstoppable march along the spine of the continent, suffering only minor set-backs and nasal-bleeding along the way. In the 1520s, however, the empire was itself over-run by a small force of Spanish conquistadors. Interestingly, the Spanish were themselves so strung-out on Peyote confiscated from their Aztec conquests that they believed their bodies had merged with those of their horses and that the resulting "Battle Centaur" was impervious to Inca weapons.

We can only now speculate how the conquistadors had conquered the Aztec empire in the previous decade as accounts are sparse and conflicting. Climate scientists have speculated that a severe El Nino in 1517-1518 would have had disastrous effects on the harvest of cactus from which the drug was manufactured. At the same time, the Spanish New World Empire was known to have had a glut of Communion wine and it may well have been this which inspired the bravery required to conquer Mexico.

In his autobiographical account of the campaign, "Whacking the Wetbacks", Hernan Cortes admits that he spent much of the campaign "Just wasted, man. Just totally fuck-faced from Yucatan to Tenochtitlan."

The United States

Bombed city

The east end of London: Spoke with a funny accent.

Americans dislike war and so generally avoid the first few years of a conflict, joining in when the existing combatants are already tired and can easily be persuaded to surrender. During the Second World War, President Roosevelt found Nazi Germany strangely reluctant to comply. He demanded new and innovative ideas from American scientists to help change the mind of their intrasigent, unitesticular Fuhrer. A nuclear weapons programme was suggested as early as 1942 but was dismissed as Germans were considered too white to vapourise. While the USAF helped Britain's RAF to incinerate their Teutonic enemy instead, American airmen began to experiment with amphetamines. These new stimulants allowed pilots to fly further without losing concentration, to react more quickly and more aggressively to fighter attack and to talk very quickly when communicating on the intercom.

Initial trials were highly successful and several wooden Medieval cities were reduced to ash, crippling the German war-time tourist trade. However, amphetamine usage was already being discouraged by the second half of 1944 due to several unfortunate incidents. Chief amongst these was the carpet-bombing of the English city of Coventry which, it seemed, had been plotting something behind the USAF's back. Following the destruction of Plymouth (which had been seeing the USAF's girl while it was at work) and the annihilation of Liverpool (which had looked at it funny) all amphetamine shipments were halted.
Hippy soldier

Mandatory consumption of marijuana caused a shocking decline in the standard of military dress.

Thereafter American aircrew were forced to go into battle armed only with overwhelming fire-power, complete mastery of the air and an abundant supply of nylon stockings. Having flown almost continually from 1942 onwards, the USAF now went into a down phase, refusing to leave the house until 1956 and waking up only when gripped by panic attacks or when the need to threaten suicide was overwhelming.

By the time of the Vietnam war it was the US Army which had taken the lead in the War on Drugs. It was clear by 1971 that boys drafted from Nevada high schools, given six weeks training and a semi-auomatic did not always thrive in combat situations. It was quietly whispered in Pentagon corridors that some of these teenage boy-soldiers found being sniped at by jungle-veterans "frightening", and that night-time clashes with unseen enemies had left some feeling "scared". With longer basic-training out of the question due to the pressing demand for infantry, only Science could help. Fortunately, nature had provided a solution in the form of the cannabis plant which thrived in the tropical east.

GI's fully loaded on this miraculous wonder-weapon were notably relaxed on patrol. Confidence soared and instances of recruits fleeing in the face of the enemy fell dramatically. In parts of Khanh Hoa province, Viet Cong commanders ordered a temporary withdrawal, as their own soldiers were unerved by the giggling that their attacks provoked. Surely troops who laughed in the face of danger were to be feared. What could these foreign devils be planning that was so funny? Within months the tide of the war seemed to be turning in favour of democracy.

However, just as US generals considered taking the fight into North Vietnam matters took a left turn. Many soldiers refused to discharge their weapons for fear of harming friendly trees, while others seemed unable to remember to load their rifle or which way round to hold it. Once out of combat it became increasingly difficult to persuade recruits to move away from mess-hall refrigerators and there were worrying incidences of soldiers finding meaning within the lyrics of YES albums.

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