From the American Civil War to Syria, modern conflicts come equipped with addictive substances to numb the pain of combat.
As the war between ISIS and a growing coalition of nations heats up on the Arabian Peninsula, recent reports have focused on the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s drug of choice—captagon. An early failed ADHD drug, it was banned almost globally in the 1980s, but a few Middle Eastern nations are still producing it.
A stimulant that gives some euphoria and sense of purpose, the little yellow tablets seem to be fueling much of the mayhem in Syria. But illicit drug use on the battlefield isn’t new.
During the German army’s blitzkrieg across Northern Europe in 1940, more than 35 million tablets of the methamphetamine Pervitin were distributed to soldiers in preparation for war. That’s according to Dessa Bergen-Cico, a professor of public health at Syracuse University and the author of War and Drugs: The role of military conflict in the development of substance abuse.
In fact, she states, both axis and allied nations were providing soldiers with amphetamine during the war. She says the U.S. military distributed an estimated 200 million amphetamine pills to its soldiers during World War II, and Japanese Kamikaze pilots in the Pacific used it on their final fateful missions.
In a way, each war has brought with it a particular drug of choice. Be they stimulants or depressants, Bergen-Cico says they drugs have a purpose.
“The type of substance you’re using matches with what is the mindstate you’re trying to achieve. So there is this lethal synergy between military confrontation and the consumption of mind-altering substances.”
Bergen-Cico provided us with a list of some modern conflicts and their drugs of choice…
Drug Use In Warfare: A timeline
During the American Civil War soldiers were often given alcohol prior to battle as a form of liquid courage and a means of steadying their nerves.
Historian Niall Ferguson concluded that World War I could not have been fought without alcohol.
During World War II, amphetamines were used extensively by forces on each side of the conflict including Allies.
The Nazi Einsatzgruppen was given schnapps before and after mass killings.
In 1945, Soviet troops in Berlin fueled their rape atrocities by drinking an enormous variety of substances, including toxic chemicals.
Japanese Kamikaze pilots, primed with the stimulant Philopon, were high on a form of methamphetamine during their suicide missions.
During the Second World War, the Luftwaffe surged across Europe at lightning speed, fueled by methamphetamine. The use of amphetamines and other drugs by Nazi military leaders, including Hitler, fueled their aggression, grandiose ideations, and paranoia. This paranoia and psychotic behavior of commanders, fueled by stimulant drugs, was a factor in enabling the Nazi administration to carry out heinous acts of violence against humanity.
Genocidal killers in Bosnia and Kosovo drank heavily to prepare for the ethnic-cleansingatrocities they would subsequently commit.
Child soldiers in Africa are commonly given a mixture called brown-brown which is cocaine and gunpowder. This is ingested by inhaling it into the nostrils a method that rapidly affects the user and is conducive to addiction.
Today ISIS has taken a page from the history books of World War II and is using Captagon a stimulant to fuel their behavior.