World War I, Part 1: The French Army and Wine

Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the first installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War.

World War I has often been associated with intoxication in popular culture. Cocktails like the French 75, so named for the kick of a common artillery piece, became popular during the interwar period. During the “Spirit of 1914”– a burst of popular enthusiasm upon the war’s outbreak– European intellectuals likened war hysteria to mass intoxication  After the war, Ernst Jünger depicted modern combat as an intoxicating rush (or Rausch) in his popular novelizations of his own experiences on the Western Front. More recently, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire explored drug abuse, alcoholism, and the rise of organized crime through the stories of traumatized World War I veterans Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow. This entry explores how alcoholic intoxicants like wine and absinthe were used and depicted during the war. Our guide for this exploration is the poilu [1], the typical French soldier, and his fondness for wine.

This 1917 image depicts a poilu saluting a barrel of "father Pinard."

This 1917 image depicts a poilu saluting a barrel of “father Pinard,” the wine issued to French soldiers throughout the war.

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THE POINTS INTERVIEW: NICOLAS LANGLITZ

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nicolas Langlitz, an assistant professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research, tells us what he discovered while researching Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (UC Press, 2012).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

9780520274822Neuropsychedelia is about the revival of psychedelic research since the “Decade of the Brain,” i.e., the 1990s. It has a strong historical side revolving around the fact that psychedelic research basically broke down in the 1960s as a result of the political turmoil caused by the counterculture. Then, between the 1970s and 1990, there was no research on human subjects going on in academic settings, although there was a lot in underground settings. But in universities, the field was dead. Towards the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, it came alive again. The book is about how this revival became possible and the new generation of psychopharmacologists and neuroscientists that made it happen.

The book is also an ethnographic account of the work that is being done in these laboratories today, and as such it contributes to a growing body of literature on the practices of the neurosciences. It tackles a number of largely philosophical questions about the nature of neuroscientific research by looking at its practice. The book raises some critical questions about the use of randomized placebo controlled trials in psychedelic research. These challenges possibly apply to research on other kinds of psychoactive drugs as well.

The third thing is that there is a personal dimension to the book, as I was trying to make sense of my own psychedelic experiences and two contradictory interpretive frameworks. These frameworks, however, are not personal, but cultural; so in that respect, I took an auto-ethnographic point of entry into a cultural field which ultimately enabled me to reflect on the larger cultural logic that we have constructed around these substances. Basically the conflict is: are these experiences mystical experiences, or are they psychotic? I interviewed people about how they, as staunch materialist neuroscientists, make sense of their own experiences and derive my own conclusions from these conversations. In that respect, the book goes beyond a merely descriptive historiography and ethnography.

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Framing Addiction: Heroin Then and Now

At a press conference on June 17, 1971 then President Richard Nixon informed his constituents of a troubling menace. “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.” Nixon also labeled those associated with drug abuse primary enemies of the state. “In order to fight and defeat this enemy,” Nixon charged, “it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” Sadly, this all-out offensive has been in full bloom under the modern War on Drugs while drug abuse—keeping in step—has also flourished.nixon declaring wod

Earlier that afternoon Nixon gave a special message to Congress, providing more details regarding the scope of the problem. Declaring the “tide of drug abuse” a “national emergency,” Nixon reminded Congress that, “narcotic addiction is a major contributor to crime.” Nixon continued, establishing what is now an oversimplified, rarely analyzed cultural truth: “Narcotic addicts do not ordinarily hold jobs. Instead, they often turn to shoplifting, mugging, burglary, armed robbery, and so on. They also support themselves by starting other people-young people-on drugs.” The addict, and the peddler—often doubling as the same shadowy figure—became cemented as cultural boogeymen. Addicts were either hooking our youth on dangerous drugs or committing other crimes to cop.  Addicts, not society, caused the problem and bore the threat to public safety. Despite his well-documented fiscal commitment to rehabilitation efforts, Nixon’s public rhetoric designed to sway silent majority voters advanced the march towards an ethos of punishment and condemnation. For example, in his same message to Congress, Nixon asked for additional funds to support enforcement efforts “to further tighten the noose around the necks of drug peddlers.”  To borrow from our Managing Editor Emily Dufton, Nixon, “transformed the public image of the drug user into one of a dangerous and anarchic threat to American civilization.”

"They bought it."

“They bought it.”

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Of Ragamuffins and Dens: State Legislation, Municipal Enforcement, and Opium Smoking

On May 26, 1888, the Boston Daily Globe reported the death of a young Harvard student named Frank Mills. The front page headline read: “Fatal Opium.” According to the story, having decided that life at Harvard would not be complete without the experience, Mills and three fellow students had ventured into Boston with the hopes of securing some opium. Following suggestions from their classmates the foursome sought out a man known as Nicholas Gentleman who sold opium in the South End. The boys had “refused to go to an opium joint,” as they feared a police raid, but told Gentleman if he would come to Harvard they would “make things all right for him.” He readily agreed after several assurances that Mills was “an old hand at smoking.” That evening Mills continued to claim he was a frequent smoker leading Gentleman to oblige his numerous requests for another pipe. Mills and the others soon became ill and by early morning the group suffered in obvious agony. Medical doctors were summoned, yet the group took great care to keep the opium smoking quiet. In the end, all but Mills recovered, their secret was revealed, and Gentleman arrested.  Continue reading

The Acid Rescue Squad: Drug Education and Prevention in the 1960s and ‘70s

When the parent movement formed in the late 1970s, many activists vocally complained about the quality of drug education in their communities. Kids weren’t being told not to do drugs, the parents said. Instead, they were being taught how to do them, and in what these educators claimed was the safest and most responsible manner possible. In places like St. Louis, San Francisco, and Eugene, Ore., groups like the Acid Rescue Squad, the Do It Now Foundation, and the Drug Information Center brought educational programs about drugs into elementary school classrooms and across college campuses, and concerned parents reacted with horror.

The idea behind this “fact-based” education was to “arm” people with information in order to lessen the potential for addiction, abuse or overdoses, all of which were growing problems in the late 1960s and ‘70s. And many of these organizations focused exclusively on the problems caused by “hard drugs” – speed, opiates and narcotics – rather than the country’s growing use of marijuana, which was another reason why parent activists found these programs problematic.

Organizations like the Do It Now Foundation, founded in San Francisco in 1968, toured public schools in California “stress[ing] statements by Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles, and other hip culture leaders against hard drugs such as heroin.” The Foundation was formed with a specific mission in mind, as noted in a 1970 issue of their newsletter Vibrations: Drug Survival News: “For years we have been in the middle of the youth revolution, watching Speed, Opiates & Narcotics, Downers and vapors messing up the most beautiful subcultures of the times. If we are going to get it together, both within ourselves and our community, we must be aware of these substances and their effects.” That meant learning about the dangers of “hard” drugs and how, if possible, to use them safety. Yet as far as marijuana was concerned, “the foundation [did] not take a position on the use of marijuana and other milder drugs except to point out that they are illegal,” the Associated Press reported in 1968.

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Similarly, the Acid Rescue Squad, founded in late 1969 by a group of St. Louis University Medical School students, was formed “to provide information and advice to young people about drugs.” Squad leaders blamed President Nixon’s Operation Intercept (Nixon’s brief closure of the Mexican border to halt the flow of marijuana into the U.S.) for raising the price of available pot and pushing “local heads to try the harder stuff.” In an article from Washington University’s student newspaper Student Life, Squad member Mike Morrissey said that the Squad accepted “crisis calls” every day from people having bad drug experiences, and emphasized an “awareness approach,” holding informal “rap sessions” in high schools across the area so students could ask questions about drugs. “We give no medical advice and offer no personal opinions,” Morrissey said. Instead, the Squad supplied only drug identification information so that users could approach these substances from an informed perspective.

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Like the Acid Rescue Squad, the Drug Information Center, located at the University of Oregon in Eugene, was formed to provide the community and the campus with information about drugs (including dosage levels, potentially problematic interactions, and other forms of advice), as well as an anonymous drug testing service that would analyze street drugs for any harmful adulterants. Founded on April 1, 1972, and run by a twenty-year-old undergraduate pre-med major named Mark Miller, the DIC quickly became one of the most well-known and heavily-utilized organizations on the UO campus. They posted drug information in the Eugene Register-Guard and, only a few years after founding, the DIC staff reported that they were receiving an average of one hundred phone calls a day, not only from university students but from the community at large. Miller told the Register-Guard in 1979 that “about half of our calls are from people over 35 wanting information on prescription drugs,” legal drugs like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, and commercial drugs like chemicals in food, water and cosmetics. But Miller also asserted that the purpose of the DIC was not to condone the use of substances, but “to provide people with facts about drugs because they’re going to make up their own minds anyway” about drug use.

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 2.58.46 PM (The DIC’s regular contribution to the Eugene Register-Guard, educating the community about drugs in their area.)

DIC 1 DIC 2(Photos of the Drug Information Center at the Oregon Country Faire, an event the DIC helped organize in 1972. Photos are courtesy of Mark Miller, the DIC’s founding director, seen in both pics.)

This mindset – that information about drug use, devoid of any larger moral stance, was both appropriate and useful for the health of the community – came under fire by the early 1980s. But this was not because more young people were using hard drugs; in fact, rates of hard drug use actually dropped. Instead, it was because more adolescents were smoking pot than at any other point in American history, and this was terrifying for their families and schools. By 1977, when 56% of high school seniors had at least tried marijuana and 1 in 11 reported smoking pot daily, parent activists blamed the nationwide movement for marijuana decriminalization and this information-only approach for the rise. By focusing on the dangers of hard drugs and not specifically demonizing marijuana, parents blamed groups like Do It Now and the DIC for the corresponding increase in adolescent pot use. The stage was then set for a phenomenal shift in drug education, with abstinence-only programs like D.A.R.E. and Just Say No taking over where the struggling DIC and Acid Rescue Squad left off.

The benefits of the information-only approach have resurged as reports have made clear that “Just Say No” doesn’t work. But history is once again providing lessons on how Americans reacted to this approach in the past. What seemed like an appropriate response to rising rates of hard drug use was overthrown when unprecedented numbers of kids started smoking pot – the one drug that most of these programs ignored. In the era of rapid marijuana legalization, a truly effective (and embraced) drug education program will not neglect parents’ very powerful fears. Ignoring or denying the drug that most worries families doesn’t make that drug use go away, but it has turned parents into powerful political activists in the past. This is something to remember as Americans move forward, both with increased legalization efforts as well as attempts to form the most effective drug education possible.

The Points Interview: Rebecca Tiger

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rebecca Tiger, an assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College, reflects on her recent book Judging Addicts: Drug Courts and Coercion in the Justice System (NYU Press, 2012), and hints at her next project.

9780814784075_FullDescribe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

It’s about the idea that addiction is both a badness and a sickness, and then what we do to people—namely, punish them— once we decide that addiction is this kind of hybrid disorder.

 

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

History in my book is not a background; it’s an important analytic tool. I started this project with the idea that coerced drug treatment was on the rise, that it was this new phenomena, that it was historically unique, and that it deserved study because of that. And as I started to read the history I realized that this construction of DirectoryImage.aspxaddiction as a badness and a sickness and the state intervening to compel people to get sober is not new. The historical part is crucial to understanding present criminal justice practice. Criminal justice practice is informed by over 150 years of thinking about addiction that has crystallized into a condition that seems perfectly fine to call a disease– yet a judge should be overseeing treatment. The book might be of interest to historians because I’m looking at the institutional context in which these historical ideas are playing out now. I use history as a way to understand now; it was through history that I realized that what drug court people are saying is unique is actually not unique at all.

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Doing Drugs (History) at the AAHM

The annual conference for the American Association for the History of Medicine kicks off this Thursday, and there are several great alcohol and drugs history events on the docket this year. You can join the conversation about them on the association’s new-and-improved conference website and blog.

Chicago, here we come!

Chicago, here we come!

On Friday at noon, Points represents at a lunchtime panel on Blogging the History of Medicine. I’m co-chairing the panel with Jacki Antonovich of Nursing Clio; we’ll be in conversation with Nathaniel Comfort of Genotopia, Elizabeth Mullen of the National Library of Medicine’s Circulating Now, and Lisa O’Sullivan of the New York Academy of Medicine’s Books, Health, and History. Our discussion will focus on the hows of blogging, not the whys.

You might also want to check out:

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The Points Interview: Peter Maguire

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points welcomes historian Peter Maguire, author of Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold History of the Marijuana Trade (Columbia University Press, 2013), co-written with Mike Ritter and featuring a foreward by David Farber.

screenshot_1062Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I would say that it’s the first serious and scholarly history of the marijuana trade. I’m an historian: I’ve written scholarly books on the Nuremberg Trials and the Khmer Rouge and very serious subjects. But I grew up around the marijuana trade and around smugglers. So I applied the same scholarly methods to a different subject that, up to this point, has been treated very lightly.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I think that they would find the relationship between smugglers and the DEA much less adversarial than they imagined. Instead of the usual narrative of cops-and-robbers, the tale is one of mutual self-respect. The DEA respects the smugglers and their organizational skills, particularly later on when they are moving 20 tons of marijuana across the Pacific. That’s no stoned, disorganized, hippie operation anymore. For the smugglers, their view of the DEA is that the agents were just doing their job. One DEA agent in particular, James Conklin, who is one of the stars of the book, really seems to be respected by all.

And I think in light of changes in American drug law and policy, this book is particularly salient. It’s one thing to legalize marijuana, but what about the people who were impacted by drug convictions for minimal amounts of marijuana? I’m almost to the point now where I feel like there needs to be some kind of reparations for the War on Drugs, particularly marijuana.

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“This Is Your Brain on Drugs”: Teaching Drug History

About midway through the semester last fall my department asked me if I wanted to teach my own course in the spring. My dissertation was basically complete and, since I wasn’t going on the academic job market this year, I felt that I had the time to dedicate to what I knew would be a fairly demanding task.

Prepare to Learn(Be prepared. Be very prepared.)

I also knew what I wanted to teach. After writing a 450-page dissertation on the shifting nature of marijuana laws in the 1970s and ‘80s and the role that social activism played in catalyzing these changes, I knew that I wanted to teach a course about the history of drug use and anti-drug activism in the United States – the good, the bad, and the ugly of all of it.

There’s not a lot of guidance out there on how to teach this material. There are endless websites, articles and programs on teaching children and young adults how to avoid drug use, detailing the dangers and pitfalls of addiction, but there are very few unbiased, historical resources that talk about the nature of American drug laws or the influence of drug use and anti-drug activism on our culture. For the most part, discussions of drug use and the ongoing drug war are relegated to criminal justice programs or are taught by the few dedicated drug historians who have made this subject an integral part of their careers. This meant I was pretty much going it alone, piecing together a syllabus with what I hoped would be sufficient depth and scope from the materials I had come across in my own research, or those I had noticed and appreciated in the past.

The novelty of starting afresh was thrilling. Basically, I had no rules, no “pedagogical methodology” of which to speak. I wanted only to present the most informative, widest-ranging survey of American drug history possible, with cultural resources like films, music, and even museum exhibits added to the mix. Being located in Washington, D.C., was particularly helpful since I could send my students to the DEA museum for their final paper’s critique, and since I was teaching in the American Studies department, they naturally expected the course to be interdisciplinary. We would read chapters from Martin Torgoff’s Can’t Find My Way Home, articles on marijuana legalization from the New Yorker, and watch films like Dazed and Confused or Winter’s Bone, often all in the same week. My students had a great time. So did I.

But what was particularly telling was how recent, and therefore how insufficiently understood, much of our modern history about drug use is. The early years are fairly simple: opiate abuse in the nineteenth century, the effects of Progressivism on pharmaceutical sales, the Anslinger era and hippies and Nixon. The story followed a common theme: Americans would use a drug, often in vast numbers. This drug use would then become problematic. Increased anti-drug enforcement would result. QED.

We took David Musto’s theory as our guide. Musto, the Yale historian who died in 2010, had argued as early as 1973 that American drug use occurred in cycles, and that the pendulum of public thought was constantly swinging between the poles of widespread acceptance and vilification. And history, for many decades, held this as true: marijuana, for example, was so popular it was decriminalized in a dozen states between 1973 and 1978, before skyrocketing rates of adolescent use turned public approval around and the drug was the demonized staple of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program.

david musto(The man, the myth, the legend: David Musto, 1936-2010)

But this model no longer holds so fast. After I taught them about the parent movement and the Reagan administration’s punitive turn in the war on drugs, we entered into terra incognita, the unknown land of the recent past. Sure, we talked about Woodstock ’94, “I didn’t inhale,” and medical marijuana. We discussed Prozac and the long history of mood-altering drugs. And, naturally, we talked about ADHD medications and meth. But once you get into the late ‘90s and 2000s, the natural line of drug history that developed so smoothly in decades past is interrupted, often jarringly, but how strange our nation’s relationship with drugs is today. With medical marijuana approved in 21 states and D.C., with two states legalizing its sale, and with doctors testing the use of psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD for those suffering from PTSD, the pendulum between approval and condemnation is no longer so clear. We’re in limbo these days, and that’s hard to teach.

Additionally, we had to talk about the racial ramifications of the drug war, a topic that has recently become disturbing clear. We read two chapters from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and my students were both intrigued by and unsurprised by Alexander’s claims. That the drug war is racist, that it targets non-white men, and that it can be seen as the most recent iteration in a long line of racial oppression were not new ideas for my students, nor were they in any way controversial. Instead, they were taken as a simple truth, and one that pushed many of my students to argue – rather eloquently, I thought – that simply legalizing marijuana or decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs will not stop the racial targeting of non-white men. No longer incarcerating people for mild drug offenses would be a good start, but it would treat a symptom of larger forms of structural inequality, not the disease itself.

In our last week together, I asked my students what I forgot. What drugs didn’t I talk about enough, if I talked about them at all? How could I improve the course if I were to teach it again? Their answers were great. They wanted to know more about the history of drug abuse on college campuses, in order to understand why so many of their fellow students were abusing speed, cocaine, ADHD medications, molly and alcohol. Celebrity drug culture could fill at least a lecture or two. And what about the abuse of “alternative drugs” – Krokodil, bath salts, poppers, Robotripping, sizzurp, drinking Purell, and beezing? They also wanted to watch episodes of Cops and Intervention.

Teaching drug history was one of the most satisfying and entertaining things I’ve done in grad school, and it seemed like my students enjoyed it as well. Any thoughts on your own experience in teaching drug history, or things you think I should include for the next time? You can see my syllabus on my website.

DUIA Class(Teach Your Children Well: Drug Use in America After 1945 at George Washington University, Spring 2014)

 

 

Revising Drug History on the Web (or, what’s up with Vincent Dole’s Wikipedia page?)

When I taught high school a little less than a decade ago, we teachers generally regarded Wikipedia as a kind of academic quackery. The site supposedly lured our stressed, overscheduled prep students by allowing them to tap an up-to-date—but intellectually suspect— knowledge base with just a few keystrokes. Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched the open-source encyclopedia project in 2001, and its rapidly evolving entries vexed research teachers. We were still teaching the Robert Caro Writing Process, notecards and all.

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Caro with his master outline for “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” (Martine Fougeron/Getty for The New York Times)

 

But Wikipedia, as it turned out, developed its own orthodoxy; its accuracy now rivals traditional online encyclopedias like Britannica. Even so, the site has faced objections regarding its hostility to academic specialists and primary sources, and the apparent bias arising from its masculine editorial culture. Yet the critical response from academia has softened from one of rejection—a tough stance to maintain when a site gets some 500 million visitors a month—to reform. Feminist edit-a-thons, class projects to improve wiki entries, and Harvard’s recent job advertisement for a Wikipedian-in-residence all indicate that scholars have decided to take responsibility for shaping content on the widely read site.

We could take the same initiative with drug and alcohol history resources. And we try: Points compiles a list of approved online resources, and a good amount of our daily traffic is driven by historically motivated Google queries.

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