Soldiers throughout History Have Relied on Drugs before Entering Battle

Drugs have been administered to soldiers in nearly every major war around the globe. They make soldiers more effective at killing the enemy. Many people cannot even imagine being in a war zone where killing people is part of your job description. However, throughout history, many soldiers have been aided by the use of drugs in order to go through with killing the enemy.

Drugs have helped people to manage their fear on the battlefield and to overcome any doubts that they may have had about killing a fellow human being. Many believe that people are not naturally inclined to kill other humans. reported that Scandinavian Vikings ate psychedelic mushrooms to initiate a trance-like state of mind during battles. Inca warriors resorted to cocoa leaves, and American soldiers relied on heroin during the Vietnam War. A sad consequence was 10–15% of those U.S. soldiers returned home with a powerful addiction.

Lukasz Kamienski is a Polish historian who has published work on the topic including Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare. He told VICE, “The anthropological evidence shows us that we are not warlike people. It is very difficult to cross the line where we become able to kill fellow humans.” The drugs allow soldiers to cross lines with less inhibition.

World War II is one of the more notable examples of such an argument. Nazi soldiers opted to take methamphetamine before fighting in battle. Furthermore, the majority took Pervitin, a derivative of crystal meth, before invading Poland in 1939. Hitler and the Nazi regime outwardly condemned the use of narcotics, but behind closed doors many of them used morphine and cocaine. This may partly explain the barbarity of the Nazis.

However, Kamienski made it clear that the Germans were not the only soldiers resorting to drug use during World War II. The British, Americans and Japanese engaged in the same behavior. His research led him to believe that the entirety of World War II was fought under the influence of speed and meth.

Today, times have somewhat changed. The Western armies have publicly taken a hard stance against hard drug usage. There are some soldiers who returned from Afghanistan and Iraq who reported using Adderall and energy drinks to maintain appropriate levels of energy needed to do their job. Compared to the hard drugs used in previous wars, these things seem less of a serious issue for the military.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE