Monday, February 21

Wasted in War: Sometimes, losing your mind is the only option.




  I thought I might have some fun this week and put together a little something on alcohol usage in military history. However, the subject soon got way out of control and is proving way too big for a single post so I've had to narrow things down to just a select few of my favorite drinkers in military history.

   Any decent history of humans getting wasted and killing people under the influence probably starts with the moment alcohol was stumbled upon by Stone Age men. However, 'Ugg' smashing in 'Goggz' skull while hammered on fermented fruit skins and all for Ika's affections is one of countless human stories that happened in some cave somewhere but never got written down and therefore doesn't exist for us.  So the 'history of wasted' must begin, for us at least, with the recorded history of any number of ancient civilizations. It's hard to choose which one because who doesn't like a drink?

   Only one thing is for sure.

 Once alcohol was discovered, rulers were quick to control its use for their own gain. It's like anything in human history that people like. A strong man steps in and makes money off human desire. Sometimes, alcohol was used to get warriors in the mood for killing the enemy and other times it was used just to make sane people believe crazy shit.

   Either way, controlling hearts and minds is primarily a chemical affair.

   For instance, the Pharaohs knocked up the Pyramids with an army of dumb fuck worker citizens who were  duped  into believing in the Pharaoh's immortality. This worldview was administered by priests (a necessary subclass funded by the pharaohs) who expounded the virtues of citizens slaving their asses off all day under the hot sun while straining to lift multi ton rocks; all so dear leader could have an eternal life in his triangular bunker. This may seem to us today like a difficult amount of bullshit for the average Egyptian to swallow but throw in the priestly handout of two gallons of free beer per day and a tent to crash in at night and suddenly shit didn't seem so bad to the average laborer. Hey presto, the pyramids still stand today. That daily Egyptian beer ration was a serious factor in getting those things built, possibly the deciding factor.

   Score one for ancient alcoholism!

   By the time the cultivation of the grape had spread to the Greeks around 2000 BC, most of the ancient world was pretty clued in on the virtues of getting wasted. Alexander the Great liked to get black out drunk, especially after his victories at Issus and Gaugamela, when all the decadence of the Persian Empire was his. A few hundred years later, the Romans seemed to have a remarkably temperate view of alcohol use, using it just like me, that is, for 'medicinal purposes'. While habitual drunkenness was rare for the ancients, being hammered at banquets and festivals was not. The Greeks and Romans even had their very own 'god' of getting wasted, the Greek Dionysus or, in the Roman context, Bacchus, a god of wine, fertility and fucking. Our gods today are boring compared to the gods of antiquity. We today are stuck with various 'angry daddy' cloud gods with long beards and a wagging finger every time we're about to get our fun on; the ancients had gods who commanded them to get drunk and run out into the forest naked while looking for unsuspecting females to have surprise sex with. Of course, today they lock you up for shit like that and put you on the sex offender registry. In antiquity, that same  night of debauchery would just be considered a  fun  and typical night out at the festival.

   My favourite Roman drunk was Marc Anthony. A legendary boozer, he drank everyone under the table while fighting at Caesar's side in Gaul, banged legendary amounts of women including Cleopatra (after Caesar got JFKd). She was probably the hottest chick in the ancient world or, at the very least, a sultry seductress who knew how to make men think she was the hottest chick since sliced panem. Anthony avenged Caesar's death and killed the conspirators and headed off to Egypt for a few years where he fell deeply in love with the urn. Who wouldn't I suppose? He was living like a king, downing buckets and having his knob polished by Nubian beauties. But he lost it all to Caesar's adoptive son Octavian in the ill fated sea battle at Actium. He and Cleopatra offed themselves soon after, her by poisonous snake, him by 4 gallons of Chianti and a Gladius short sword. Still, not a bad outing for a boozer in human history.  Marc Anthony's ancient bender still beats the life out of the average life of a drunk hanging outside a 7 Eleven today, begging for change even if it's in our technological fantasy sci fi world.

   If you could live the life of any historical figure, who would you choose?

   Or is today's office job the best life's ever been?


Dionysus, naked and drunk as usual.

   Perhaps my favourite army of alcoholic lunatics whose actions in a single week in 900AD would get you locked up for life in 2011 were the Viking raiders. If I were given a choice of where to be inebriated in military history, I'd probably hop in a Longboat and set sail with the Norsemen.  Fun times. We're talking serious badass drinking and plenty of 'non consensual temporary marriage' to captured females. Also, you got to avail yourself of a lot of free gold and silver trinkets. I wonder how many of us today would trade in our mind numbing cubicle job to go plundering foreign shores with the Norsemen? Sure it'd be risky and there'd be no Internet but it does make you wonder if the side benefits of non prosecutable sex and violence would make up for the lack of modern medicine, traffic jams and the added ability to punch your mother-in-law every time she dropped that comment about you not having a real job.

   As Europe settled down after the Dark Ages, alcohol manufacture fell into the hands of a transnational global cartel known as the Catholic Church. Monasteries with carefully maintained vineyards sprang up all across southern Europe. Monasteries had free recruitment. They were essentially the place where you stored that 'difficult' son in the family who didn't like girls and had no other excuse for not being married. To offset this, monks had a daily ration of a liter of wine which was a decent way to make life in a prison camp bearable.

   The next major impact of alcohol on world history emerged after the discovery of the New World. In the century following, the British Royal Navy emerged as a force that would soon dominate the seas. This was an outfit which practically ran on booze. As the empire expanded, there was a constant need for fit men to man ships and these were often gathered when they were passed out in a gin joint and grabbed by a gang of heavies. Wow, that puts today's otherwise uneventful stumble to the pub in a certain historical perspective doesn't it.

Getting drunk on a Friday night could result in many non voluntary years at sea with the Royal Navy.

   Once you found yourself a member of a Royal Navy crew, you were issued with a daily ration of a half pint of rum, a practice which soon got nixed because a lot of sailors were saving up their half pints over a few days so they could get well and truly wasted twice a week. By 1650, the brass decided to mix all rum with four parts water (using the rum as a water purifier and algae suppressor... tasty) and hence giving us the drink known as 'grog'. The Royal Navy still used alcohol as a pacifier on their ships and the officers fed the men just enough to keep the crew tipsy but never enough that they got wasted and wondered what they were doing 8000 miles from home in the middle of some ocean and getting paid in diluted gin for what the fuck reason nobody could explain to them.

   It wasn't so much that the British used alcohol as a motivator for its men and more that they adapted to the situation as they found it, that is, the population were already hammered on a regular basis and military service needed to adapt to this fact. It's a lot like one of those beach resorts in Spain or Greece today that gets invaded every year by British 'tourists' and we're using the term 'tourist' very loosely here. We're talking planeloads of drunken young working class men, the very same people that in 1750 the Crown dressed in Red Coats, handed a musket and daily gin ration to and shipped out to the far flung corners of the earth to bring 'civilization' to the 'savages'.

   The British could also use 'wasted' as an offensive weapon.

   They trafficked opium and shipped boatloads of the stuff into China from India in the 1800s. Low Chinese demand for European goods, and high European demand for Chinese goods, forced European merchants to purchase tea, silk and porcelain with silver, the only commodity the Chinese would accept. This quickly resulted in depleted treasuries in Europe and back then you couldn't simply 'print' more gold and silver like they do these days. This highly pissed off the British and they decided it was time to create some demand for a product they could supply. Opium. The Chinese quickly developed a taste for that particular flavor of wasted. Obviously, the Chinese authorities weren't happy about this and fought two abortive Opium Wars in 1839 and 1856 to no avail. It's so much easier to dominate a country many times your size and population if you can keep a sizable portion of the men of fighting age wasted.

   During World War I many countries tried to crack down on alcohol use for fear that it would negatively impact production. The Russians banned vodka in 1914 which resulted in lots of home made varieties that also made handy paint stripper and could be thrown at the authorities while alight. In January 1915, Lloyd George claimed that Britain was "fighting German's, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink." Times had certainly changed since the glory days of the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail. In the trenches too, the British rum ration had dried up to a few tablespoons per man on a cold winter's morning. The industrial revolution and the hourly wage had taken its toll on attitudes to inebriation. Being wasted now got in the way of all important efficiency.


   By the outbreak of WW II, alcohol found itself competing for shelf space with new varieties of mind altering chemicals. The Germans in particular experimented with a new drug called Pervitin better known to us today as methamphetamine. It was distributed to pilot and tank crews, often in chocolate, and kept them alert, sleepless, and in too high a dose, fighting off the shadow people. Hitler himself, growing ever more demented after Stalingrad, ditched the chocolate part and began injecting the stuff which may have directly affected the course of the war. Holding back the Panzer divisions at Normandy, the Ardennes Offensive, poor usage of new weapons (Me 262) may not have changed the outcome but having a deranged tweaker meddling with strategy certainly didn't help.

   Current US policy under Order Number 1A basically rules out any consumption of alcohol by any US service member while in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait. These days, a soldier can't even get a drink before dying for his country. This has led to some fun conflicts in the NATO mission in Afghanistan with the US bitching that the German Army performance is sub par due to a generous alcohol allowance. Over a million liters of alcoholic drinks were sent to troops based at German camps in Afghanistan last year.

   If you can't get wasted in war then when would be a better time?

   Humans in the 21st century and especially in the US are becoming dangerously prudish it seems. Sex and drugs are deemed decadent because pleasure is dangerous. While killing and maiming for one's country are seen as good and one's patriotic duty. You know humans are fucked if this continues. Think of it, you can turn on the TV anytime and witness a high number of violent deaths per hour. This is considered 'normal' entertainment. Yet the depiction of sex, the loving act by which humans create new humans, is considered obscene. Think what an alien intelligence might make of us upright apes. We've managed to glorify destruction and abhor creation, the very thing that got us here in the first place. We've somehow managed to get the whole purpose of life exactly backwards. We prefer killing to creating. We prefer pain to pleasure. From the aliens point of view, we're probably the most fearsome species in this sector of the galaxy. Thank the heavens, say the hypothetical aliens that we're not a space faring species and we'll probably wipe ourselves out before we ever are.

   And many of us are confused and wonder why there are so many wars.

   I do know and that is probably why I drink. 

  

  





12 comments:

  1. humans in the 21st century and especially in the US, are becoming dangerously prudish

    Personally, I agree with you on this. I would like to add that it might be due to increased legalism in the Western world, in regards to sex. Now having addressed the getting laid part of the equation, it would be interesting to get an American's perspective on the threats to replace teachers with State level reservists
    You have Bahrain worthy news out of Wisconsin, and apparently you were at the Jon Stewart rally. May I ask what your take is on the people power demonstrations RIGHT IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY?

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  2. beginning of a new low grade war between citizens and corpo governments

    Dude, you floated this idea yourself. We think something like this might be what's beginning.

    Ball's in your court War Tard.

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  3. You should use the stuff you left out to make one or more additional posts about alcohol. Nice post btw, liking the variety of subjects you write about.

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  4. This post was amazing, I had no idea the ancient Egyptians practically fed alcohol to the slaves building the pyramids.

    But really, it was double amazing because I was drunk as I read it. Keep it up! I love reading updates on this blog.

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  5. War Tard please keep drinking. You went for two weeks without a post and I was jonesing.

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  6. "Monasteries ... were essentially the place where you stored that 'difficult' son in the family who didn't like girls and had no other excuse for not being married."

    Funny, they never mentioned that particular detail back in Catholic school, where they depicted all god-men as hyper-obedient conformists.

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  7. "This post was amazing, I had no idea the ancient Egyptians practically fed alcohol to the slaves building the pyramids."

    Current evidence suggests that the pyramids were built not by slaves, but by skilled and unskilled laborers who were paid for their services (or worked in lieu of paying taxes to the Pharaoh). Evidence suggests that workers worked in 3 month shifts, which is partially why some may have worked instead of paying taxes. It is thought that a lot of the unskilled labor came from farmers who worked on their pyramids in the off season, and while their fields lay fallow, who otherwise wouldn't have had much to do in that time.

    There's also evidence of workers' cemeteries that indicates they were not slaves, but rather fully respected members of society.

    There was probably some form of slavery involved in the construction (given that slavery was rampant in ancient times), but the myth of countless slaves toiling to build the pyramids mostly stems from Heredotus' account from ~450BC.

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  8. Jebediah SpringfieldFebruary 26, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Well keep in mind that "beer", historically, wasn't as strong as it is today. In most cultures where beer was regularly consumed, you brewed your own beer. In part because of the extra sustenance it provided (beer contains alot of calories) but mainly because very few had access to clean and safe water.

    Bearing that in mind, I'm not sure the slaves of ancient Egypt qualifies as "drunks".

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  9. 2 Gallons is a lot of liquid, much less a lot of beer to drink. Even if it was like a modern driving beer at 4%, that's still the equivalent of downing nearly a pint of Vodka a day.

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  10. Not alcohol is responsible for the sub par performance of the German army in Afghanistan, but 60 years of rampant pacifism and self-flagellation culture.

    Those soldiers are no warriors, they are what is called "citizens in uniform" in Germany. Many come from families in which even letting your kids play with toy guns is frowned upon and from a country in which a court has ruled that it is OK to call soldiers "murderers". If you walk around in a uniform in Germany, you are likely to get verbally abused or spat on.
    And that is not a result of the engagement in Afghanistan, but was like that since at least the 60s.

    In such a climate it is hardly a wonder that the German government lies to the people and the soldiers and tells them that they only send the army to Afghanistan to build girl schools and drill wells.
    Only a year ago or so the first German politician used the word "war" for the first time in regards to Afghanistan.

    It is an army of delusional goody good shoes, led by soft officers that look, talk and think like elementary school teachers in uniforms because everybody who even looks as if he might have balls or a tough edge is immediately suspected to be a Nazi and never reaches the higher ranks.

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  12. I thought the US Air Force also had a similiar program with "Go" and "No-Go" pills. Psycho-pharmacology is the new means of producing warriors. Some insurgents killed during the Iraq War and in the later Syrian Civil War have been found with large doses of high-quality amphetamines on their persons. If fear, fatigue, and hesitation can be taken away with just a pill than why not pass it around to the troops?

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