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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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.