World War I, Part 4: The German Army and Intoxication

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 second installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

The German army’s experience with alcohol during World War I was more varied than that of their Allied counterparts on the Western Front. This was due in part to the strong degree of regionalism within the German Empire and its army.  Units from Bavaria were much more likely to be issued beer as part of their daily ration than units from Prussia or the wine-producing regions of the Rhineland. The German home front also had to deal with food shortages due to the British naval blockade, which placed stresses on the alcohol industry due to an increasing demand for foodstuffs key to alcohol production such as potatoes, barley, and sugar.  This shortage eventually affected those in the front lines.

This 1917 postcard advertises "fresh Löwenbräu in the field"

This 1917 postcard advertises “fresh Löwenbräu in the field.”


When the German army invaded Belgium and France in August 1914, many soldiers took advantage of the opportunities these newly-conquered territories had to offer. Discipline in rear-echelon units was lax. Hermann Baumann, a baker in the VII Reserve Corps, recalled his unit discovering an “empty house” on September 4, 1914. The house contained 500 bottles of wine in the cellar. Half of his unit became drunk, and four men– including Baumann– took 30 bottles to carry with them during the advance towards Paris. (German supply units were horse-drawn; looting of this scale would have been impossible in the infantry). On September 8th, Baumann’s unit discovered a cellar with 15,000 liters of wine. He later recounts discovering the cellar full of wine barrels. His fellow bakers and supply train drivers tried several of the barrels until they “found something good.” They destroyed so many wine barrels during this search and the subsequent revelry that their boots turned red as they “waded through 20cm of wine” in the cellar.

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“An Unmotivated and Less-Productive Populace”: Views of Drug Use in the Era of Legalization

Originally this post was going to summarize the arguments of two of the most prominent mid-century American intellectual historians and how they regarded changing notions of juvenile behavior as it involved the use of illegal drugs. But then I received something rather incredible in the mail that changed my idea for this post completely.

My husband’s parents live in northern New Jersey, and my mother-in-law was kind enough to send me an issue of their local newspaper, the Two River Times. In the May 23 edition, the letters to the editor section featured two very interesting, and two very oppositional, points of view vis-à-vis drugs and drug use. The letters, which dealt with marijuana legalization and the use of Narcan, an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of an overdose, respectively, were indicative of how far the social dialogue over drug use has come, as well as evidence of how pervasive certain myths remain.

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World War I, Part 3: The American Expeditionary Forces and Prohibition

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 third installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

The experience of American soldiers and Marines with alcohol on the Western Front was fundamentally different than that of their allies from France, Belgium, and the British Commonwealth. Unlike the French and British armies, the men of the American Expeditionary Forces were not issued alcohol in the trenches. This would have been anathema to the powerful temperance movement on the home front. The temperance movement issued anti-alcohol propaganda during and after the war and connected it with the American cause.  Behind the lines, YMCA camps offered “wholesome” entertainment for American troops free from alcohol and other vices. However, the temperance movement and YMCA ultimately failed to prevent American troops from consuming alcohol during the war.

This image, published by the United Committee on War Temperance, emphasizes the "cleanliness" of temperance. Image courtesy The Ohio State University:

This image, published by the United Committee on War Temperance, emphasizes the “cleanliness” of temperance.
Image courtesy The Ohio State University:

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The Father of the (Financial) War on Terror is the War on Drugs?

On May 31, 2014, the White House issued a cryptic press release, a brief letter from President Obama to Congress. The letter announced that the US government had decided to levy economic sanctions against Victor Cerrano, Jose Umana, and Francisco Barros, three foreign individuals from Colombia, El Savador, and Cape Verde, respectively.

Thomas Jefferson: Sanctions Pioneer?

Thomas Jefferson: Sanctions Pioneer

For some of us, it may be surprising to learn that the United States sometimes declares what amounts to an economic war [1] against individuals. If we survey the history of economic statecraft [2] from the Peloponnesian War, to Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 embargo, [3] to the growing popularity of economic coercion since the 1970s, it’s clear that sanctions against non-states actors are a relatively new development (Baldwin 1985, Hufbauer, Schott, & Elliott 2007; Drezner 2003).

Today, such economic restrictions against individuals and entities (e.g. businesses, charities) are rapidly outpacing embargoes against states, and US non-sovereign targets currently number in the thousands. In the War on Terror, non-sovereign sanctions have also emerged as a critical instrument of non-military aggression in the form of the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. [4] Those listed—either as SDNGT (global terror) or as a SDNK (global narcotics trafficker)– quickly find that they are essentially ‘locked out’ of the American economy and that their US assets are “frozen.” All US persons and organizations are prohibited from economically transacting with a SDN.

The concerted use of non-sovereign sanctions was pioneered in the War on Drugs, and not in the War on Terror. [5]

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The Points Interview: Miriam Kingsberg

Editor’s Note: Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado-Boulder, reflects on her new book Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History (University of California Press, 2013).

9780520276734Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The book is about the history of narcotics in Japan from the mid-nineteenth century (when the country opened after more than two centuries of seclusion) through the mid-1950s (when Japan regained its independence after war and occupation by the United States). The central question I ask is: how do narcotics become entangled with nation and empire-building agendas during this century? I argue that the Japanese stance on drugs became a platform to enter an ongoing global conversation about standards for political legitimacy in nations and empires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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

I am an historian, so I did write the book from a history background and for a history audience. And the book is a chronological narration of these three episodes of moral crusade, and how the persons and institutions involved in them used narcotics to assert social power and produce certain national and imperial outcomes.

But one thing I would also want to stress is that it derives a lot from interdisciplinary scholarship and methodologies that would be traditionally considered outside of history. For instance, I used a fair amount of quantitative methodology. Japan, for various reasons, collected more and better statistics on narcotics than any other power in the world at the time. That data was not necessarily meant to be used in the way that I used it, but my argument certainly derives from the data. My chapters are also organized according to the concept of “moral entrepreneurship,” which comes out of sociology. I would hope that, in addition to historians, I am talking to scholars in other fields as well.

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World War I, Part 2: The British Rum Ration

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 second installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here.

“Why don’t we get a rum issue every night, or a bottle of beer with dinner? The French get their wine.” – Frederic Manning, Her Privates We.

The British Tommy had a somewhat different relationship with alcohol than his French ally and German counterpart. Although not as restrictive as American military regulations, British policy concerning alcohol in the trenches was more conservative than that of the French, who issued wine as a matter of routine to their frontline soldiers. However, soldiers of the British Commonwealth were given a daily rum ration. The rum ration, much like the wine ration issued to the French poilu, is a key part of British depictions of the war and formed one of the few pleasures of trench life.

Two Tommies drinking rum out of the standard-issue jar in December 1916. © IWM (Q 4619)

Two Tommies drinking rum out of the standard-issue jar at the “Chalk Pit” on the Somme in December 1916. The daily rum ration was much less than that pictured; enlisted men would be hard-pressed to access the unit’s rum jars, which were strictly controlled.
© IWM (Q 4619)

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“The Drug Store of the Future”: Prohibition and Medicalization

A few weeks ago I had spent a couple of hours surfing the National Institute of Health’s fascinating online library, Images of the History of Medicine (IHM). There I came across an image that surprised me with how relevant its message about prohibition and the subsequent medicalization of banned substances was, even now, 132 years after it first debuted.

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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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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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