If there’s one thing synonymous with war, it’s drug use. The impact of narcotics on war doesn't get a ton of publicity, but history is littered with armies that did drugs. From ancient warriors tripping balls to modern soldiers buzzed on dangerous combinations of steroids and speed, drugs have been handed to soldiers to improve their performance in battle since the dawn of large scale combat.
In some respect, drugs are almost necessary for the most vicious aspects of war. Since science suggests people are basically good, it’s no small stretch to suggest the average person isn’t adequately equipped to go out and kill a bunch of strangers simply because a superior told them to. That’s where the drugs come in.
In some cases, historians argue several ancient cultures made their fierce reputations on the back of mind-altering substances. Hell, drugs have fueled pretty much every army ever, and there’s no sign the trend is set to change any time soon. So read on to learn about drugs that fueled armies, and how drugs won wars.
The Wehrmacht Were Given Assault Pills That Were Basically Crystal Meth
When the might of the Nazi army was unleashed on the world a new term was coined to describe the speed and savagery of the attack: blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” At the time of Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland, the Wehrmacht was viewed with such fear they were considered to have superhuman stamina and strength, and willingness to kill without hesitation.
The basis for that reputation was a pill called Pervitin, which Hitler dispensed to every member of Nazi society in order to improve their mood. On the battlefield, the drug helped soldiers go abnormally long periods of time without eating or sleeping, while also keeping their spirits up in spite of the horrible conditions around them. Of course, it’s easy to keep smiling when all you crave is a little pill that’s handed out by your superiors. And the pill is a methamphetamine.
Viking Beserkers Supposedly Dosed Themselves on Bog Myrtle to Reach an Animal Frenzy
Centuries before the Nazis invented the word “blitzkrieg,” a small group of Viking warriors were crafting a legend of ferocity unparalleled in the ages since. They even got their own word to describe the rage in their attacks: “berserk.”
Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlson once wrote of beserkers, “(Odin's) men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them.”
While the theory is debated, some historians believe that one of the primary ingredients in Scandinavian alcohol, bog myrtle, may have caused the berserker behavior. They may also have taken magic mushrooms, or had mental problems or special genetic qualities that helped induce a state of psychotic frenzy.
Roman Soldiers Were Rationed Wine Every Day
In Ancient Rome, everybody was trashed pretty much all the time. From the ground up, there was basically no stigma associated with even severe addiction to drugs like opium. And everybody drank. What’s more, ancient Roman wine (which was essentially just fermented grapes) had crazy high alcohol content.
Since science was in its infancy, the popular belief was that Roman wine was medicinal. As such, Roman soldiers were rationed wine every day; it was used to boost morale and help keep the soldiers energy up in time of duress and near exhaustion. Who cares if you can’t see straight if you’re awake and moving forward, right?
Child Soldiers in West Africa Are Hooked on Brown-Brown
If you close your eyes and imagine the worst existence possible, you’re probably still about a mile north of child soldier. Throughout the world, small squads of young boys — mostly orphans whose parents were killed in whichever conflict drew them in — are handed machine guns and told to fight for their country.
In the 11-year-long civil war in Sierra Leone that began in 1991, child soldiers were given a substance called brown-brown to increase the intensity of their fighting (and keep them loyal to whichever warlord had them in his thrall). Brown-brown is a potent mix of cocaine and gunpowder. Said former child soldier Ishmael Beah:
You mix cocaine with gun powder. When you sniff it at first it hurts inside of our nose but as time goes on you get used to it. But the potency is greater than just cocaine itself. And these things altogether numb you to everything. You have no have no sympathy. You actually begin to enjoy what was happening once you are in.
Somewhat confusingly, brown-brown may also refer to a type of heroin smoked in Sierra Leone. According to a study of drug and alcohol use in post-war Sierra Leone, heroin was smoked by boys and young men, though was a relatively marginal phenomenon, on account of it being a cost prohibitive habit.