The adversary he was determined to defeat was fatigue

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

A recent comment reminded me of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, which I just read — and which I just realized is now on sale for just $2.99 on Kindle.

I had naively assumed, from the tidbits I’d picked up over the years, that the Germans had used amphetamines in small quantities, near the end of the war, in the same way that they’d used any number of experimental weapons, but Germany was a drug-producing powerhouse going into the war, and methamphetamine was an important ingredient in Blitzkrieg, a drug that was seen as largely beneficial, unlike heroin and cocaine, which had been abused in the decadent Weimar Republic:

Under the trademark Pervitin, this little pill became the accepted Volksdroge, or “people’s drug,” and was on sale in every pharmacy. It wasn’t until 1939 that its use was restricted by making Pervitin prescription-only, and the pill was not subjected to regulation until the Reich Opium Law in 1941.


In Darmstadt the owner of the Engel-Apotheke, Emanuel Merck, stood out as a pioneer of this development. In 1827 he set out his business model of supplying alkaloids and other medications in unvarying quality. This was the birth not only of the Merck Company, which still thrives today, but of the modern pharmaceutical industry as a whole. When injections were invented in 1850, there was no stopping the victory parade of morphine.


In drugstores across the United States, two active ingredients were available without prescription: fluids containing morphine calmed people down, while drinks containing cocaine, such as in the early days Vin Mariani, a Bordeaux containing coca extract, and even Coca-Cola, were used to counter low moods, as a hedonistic source of euphoria, and also as a local anesthetic.


On August 10, 1897, Felix Hoffmann, a chemist with the Bayer Company, synthesized acetylsalicylic acid from willow bark; it went on sale as Aspirin and conquered the globe.


Eleven days later the same man invented another substance that was also to become world famous: diacetyl morphine, a derivative of morphine — the first designer drug. Trademarked as Heroin, it entered the market and began its own campaign.


In 1925 the bigger chemical factories joined together to form IG Farben, one of the most powerful companies in the world, with headquarters in Frankfurt.


In 1926 the country was top of the morphine-producing states and world champion when it came to exporting heroin: 98 percent of the production went abroad. Between 1925 and 1930, 91 tons of morphine were produced, 40 percent of global production.


The local alkaloid industry still processed just over 200 tons of opium in 1928.


The Germans were world leaders in another class of substances as well: the companies Merck, Boehringer, and Knoll controlled 80 percent of the global cocaine market.


Merck’s cocaine, from the city of Darmstadt, was seen as the best product in the world, and commercial pirates in China printed fake Merck labels by the million.


Peru sold its entire annual production of raw cocaine, over five tons, almost exclusively to Germany for further processing.


When Germany’s currency collapsed — in autumn of 1923 one U.S. dollar was worth 4.2 billion marks — all moral values seemed to plummet with it as well.


The icon of the age, the actress and dancer Anita Berber, dipped white rose petals in a cocktail of chloroform and ether at breakfast, before sucking them clean.


Forty percent of Berlin doctors were said to be addicted to morphine.


In Friedrichstrasse Chinese traders from the former German-leased territory of Tsingtao ran opium dens.


An early form of sex-and-drugs tourism from Western neighbors and the United States began, because everything in Berlin was as cheap as it was exciting.


1928 in Berlin alone 160 pounds of morphine and heroin were sold quite legally by prescription over the pharmacist’s counter.


The chairman of the Berlin Medical Council decreed that every doctor had to file a “drug report” when a patient was prescribed narcotics for longer than three weeks, because “public security is endangered by chronic alkaloid abuse in almost every case.”


“For decades our people have been told by Marxists and Jews: ‘Your body belongs to you.’ That was taken to mean that at social occasions between men, or between men and women, any quantities of alcohol could be enjoyed, even at the cost of the body’s health. Irreconcilable with this Jewish Marxist view is the Teutonic German idea that we are the bearers of the eternal legacy of our ancestors, and that accordingly our body belongs to the clan and the people.”


Expansion was also on the cards at Temmler. The head pharmacist, Dr. Fritz Hauschild, had heard how the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 had been influenced by a substance called Benzedrine, a successful amphetamine from the United States — and still a legal doping product at the time.


Hauschild turned to the work of Japanese researchers who had synthesized an extremely stimulating molecule called N-methylamphetamine as early as 1887, and crystallized it in its pure form in 1919.


The drug was developed out of ephedrine, a natural substance that clears the bronchia, stimulates the heart, and inhibits the appetite. In the folk medicine of Europe, America, and Asia, ephedrine had been known for a long time as a component of the ephedra plant and was also used in so-called Mormon tea.


Hauschild perfected the product and in autumn 1937 he found a new method of synthesizing methamphetamine. A short time later, on October 31, 1937, the Temmler factory patented the first German methylamphetamine, which put American Benzedrine very much in its shadow. Its trademark: Pervitin.


The molecular structure of this pioneering material is similar to adrenalin and so it passes easily through the blood and into the brain. Unlike adrenalin, however, methamphetamine does not cause sudden rises in blood pressure but works more gently and lasts longer.


Methamphetamine does not only pour neurotransmitters into the gaps but also blocks their reabsorption. For this reason the effects are long-lasting, often more than twelve hours, a length of time that can damage the nerve cells at higher doses as the intracellular energy supply is drawn into sympathy.


It was marketed as a kind of counter-drug to replace all drugs, particularly illegal ones.


“We live in an energy-tense time that demands higher performance and greater obligations from us than any time before,” a senior hospital doctor wrote. The pill, produced under industrial laboratory conditions in consistently pure quality, was supposed to help counteract inadequate performance and “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists, and whiners” into the labor process.


Ranke, the leading defense physiologist in the Third Reich, had one main enemy. It wasn’t the Russians in the East or the French or the British in the West. The adversary he was determined to defeat was fatigue — a strange antagonist, hard to grasp, one that regularly knocked out fighters, put them on the ground, and forced them to rest.


In Ranke’s words: “Relaxing on the day of fighting can decide the battle…. Often in combat perseverance in that last quarter of an hour is essential.”


A claim preyed on his mind: supposedly this substance helped subjects achieve a 20 percent increase in lung capacity and absorb greater amounts of oxygen — standard measurement parameters at the time for increased performance. He decided to explore the subject in depth, testing a rising number of medical officers — 90 at first, then 150; he organized voluntary blind tests, giving them Pervitin (P), caffeine (C), Benzedrine (B), or placebos (S, for Scheintablette). Test subjects had to solve math and logic problems through the night until 4 p.m. the following day. The results seemed unambiguous; at around dawn the “S men” had their heads on their desks, while the “Pervitin gang” were still manically working away, “fresh-faced, physically and mentally alert,” as the experimental record has it. Even after over ten hours of constant concentration they still felt “that they wanted to party.”

But after the test sheets were evaluated, not all of Ranke’s findings were positive. Procedures that demanded greater abstract achievements from the cerebellum were not performed well by consumers of Pervitin. Calculations might have been carried out more quickly, but they contained more mistakes. Neither was there any increase in capacity for concentration and attention during more complex questions, and there was only a very small increase during less high-level tasks. Pervitin kept people from sleeping, but it didn’t make them any cleverer. Ranke concluded without a trace of cynicism that this made it ideal for soldiers, according to results gathered from what was probably the first systematic drug experiment in military history: “An excellent substance for rousing a weary squad…. We may grasp what far-reaching military significance it would have if we managed to remove natural tiredness using medical methods…. A militarily valuable substance.”


Less than a week before the start of the war he wrote to a military general surgeon at High Command: “Of course it’s a double-edged sword, giving the troops a different medicine which cannot be restricted to emergencies.”


The reports by the medical service on methamphetamine use in the attack on Poland, which began on September 1, 1939, and sparked the Second World War, fill whole dossiers in the Freiburg Military Archive.


War was seen as a task that needed to be worked through, and the drug seemed to have helped the tank units not to worry too much about what they were doing in this foreign country, and instead let them get on with their job — even if the job meant killing: “Everyone fresh and cheerful, excellent discipline. Slight euphoria and increased thirst for action. Mental encouragement, very stimulated. No accidents. Long-lasting effect. After taking four tablets, double vision and seeing colors.”


“The feeling of hunger subsides. One particularly beneficial aspect is the appearance of a vigorous urge to work. The effect is so clear that it cannot be based on imagination.”


A medical officer from the IX Army Corps raved: “I’m convinced that in big pushes, where the last drop has to be squeezed from the team, a unit supplied with Pervitin is superior. This doctor has therefore made sure that there is a supply of Pervitin in the Unit Medical Equipment.”


“An increase in performance is quite evident among tank drivers and gun operators in the long-lasting battles from 1 to 4 September 1939 and the reconnaissance division, which has used this substance with great success on tough long journeys at night, as well as to maintain and heighten attentiveness on scouting patrol operations,” another report read.


“We should particularly stress the excellent effect on the working capacity and mood among severely taxed officers at divisional headquarters, all of whom acknowledged the subjective and objective increase in performance with Pervitin.”


“Among the drivers many accidents, mostly attributable to excessive fatigue, could have been avoided if an analeptic such as Pervitin had been administered.”


“These contradictory reports make it clear beyond any doubt that Pervitin is not a harmless medication. It does not seem at all appropriate for it to be handed out at random to the troops.”


Alarmed at its prophylactic use, Ranke wrote: “The question is not whether Pervitin should be introduced or not, but how to get its use back under control. Pervitin is being exploited on a mass scale, without medical checks.”


How casually Pervitin was thought of, and how widespread its use was, is also apparent in the fact that Ranke himself took it regularly and freely reported the fact in his wartime medical diary as well as in letters. He eased an average working day with two Temmler tablets, using them to overcome his work-related stress and improve his mood. Even though he knew about the dangers of dependency, he, the self-appointed expert on Pervitin, drew no conclusions about his own use of the substance.


“It distinctly revives concentration and leads to a feeling of relief with regard to approaching difficult tasks. It is not just a stimulant, but clearly also a mood-enhancer. Even at high doses lasting damage is not apparent…. With Pervitin you can go on working for thirty-six to fifty hours without feeling any noticeable fatigue.”


As coffee had hardly been available since the start of the war, methamphetamine was often added as a substitute to pep up ersatz versions of the drink.


In November 1939 Conti made Pervitin available “on prescription only, in every case,” and a few weeks later delivered a speech in the Rathaus in Berlin to members of the National Socialist German Association of Doctors, warning against the “big, new threat of addiction, with all its side-effects, which faces us all.” But his words were not taken seriously and consumption continued to rise.


The “sickle cut” only had a chance if the Germans could drive day and night. No stopping, and, above all, no sleeping.


The so-called stimulant decree was sent out to a thousand troop doctors, several hundred corps doctors, leading medical officers, and equivalent positions in the SS.


“The experience of the Polish campaign has shown that in certain situations military success was crucially influenced by overcoming fatigue in a troop on which strong demands had been made. The overcoming of sleep can in certain situations be more important than concern for any related harm, if military success is endangered by sleep. The stimulants are available for the interruption of sleep. Pervitin has been methodically included in medical equipment.”


The recommended dosage was one tablet per day, at night two tablets taken in short sequence, and if necessary another one or two tablets after three to four hours. In exceptional cases sleep could be “prevented for more than twenty-four hours” — and was an invasion not an exceptional case? One possible negative side-effect according to the decree was “a belligerent mood.” Should that be seen as a warning or an inducement? “With correct dosage the feeling of self-confidence is clearly heightened, the fear of taking on even difficult work is reduced; as a result inhibitions are removed, without the decrease in the sensory function associated with alcohol.”


Eight hundred thirty-three thousand tablets could be pressed in a single day. An adequate amount; the Wehrmacht had ordered an enormous quantity for the army and the Luftwaffe: 35 million in all.


Methamphetamine was one such unusual means, and the men desperately needed it when General Guderian ordered: “I demand that you do not sleep for at least three days and nights, if that is required.”


The first battle began in the morning. The Belgian defenders had entrenched themselves near Martelange, a small border community, in bunkers on a hillside. In front of them lay a slope, several hundred yards of open terrain: impossible to take except by a frontal attack, which was apparent suicide. But that’s exactly what the pepped-up infantrymen of the Wehrmacht did. The Belgians, shocked by this fearless behavior, retreated. Rather than securing their position, as military practice would normally have decreed, the completely uninhibited attackers immediately chased after them and set their enemies unambiguously to flight. This first clash was symptomatic.


Until their capitulation the French were no match for Germany’s chemically enhanced dynamism. They kept acting too slowly, were surprised and overrun, and continually failed to grab the initiative. A Wehrmacht report dryly states: “The French must have been thrown into such confusion by the sudden appearance of our tanks that their defense was carried out very weakly.”


“We encountered the Germans everywhere, they were crisscrossing the terrain,” Bloch writes, describing the crazed confusion that the attackers were sowing: “They believed in action and unpredictability. We were built on immobility and on the familiar. During the whole campaign the Germans maintained their terrible habit of appearing precisely where they shouldn’t have been: they didn’t stick to the rules of the game…. Which means that certain, hardly deniable, weaknesses are chiefly due to the excessively slow rhythm that our brains have been taught.”


Contrary to later accounts, it had never been conceived consistently as a Blitzkrieg, but had, after the breakthrough at Sedan, boosted by the large-scale use of Pervitin on the German side, developed a dynamic of its own that was countered only by Hitler, who didn’t understand its speed.


Ranke’s superior, Army Medical Inspector Waldmann, also traveled to the warzone and praised Pervitin without directly specifying it: “Maginot Front broken through. Extraordinary marching achievements: 60–80 km! Extra supplies, increased performance. Evacuation — all much better than 1918.” In this war the German troops dashed over the summer countryside with unparalleled speed. Rommel, who by now was avoiding roads to go round the last French defense positions, often drove cross-country, and on June 17, 1940, traveling 150 miles, established a kind of “military world record.” The head of the Luftwaffe staff noted: “The marching achievements are incredible.”


Ranke, who was driving with Guderian and who had traveled over three hundred miles in just three days, was given confirmation by a medical officer of the Panzer troop that units were using between two and five Pervitin tablets per driver per day. German propaganda, however, tried to depict the surprisingly fast victory as proof of the morale of the National Socialists, but this had little bearing on reality.


  1. Graham says:

    This touches on a couple of things I have always been curious about-

    1. Drug use by all the combatants in WW2. I was under the impression the US military also made extensive use of stimulants, and so I have long just assumed the British and Commonwealth forces did too. The Russians, I could go either way. Either they doped up with even more callous disregard, or they didn’t provide anything for the same reason.

    2. I always wondered about the seemingly overwhelming use of and apparent addiction to, uppers and downers in postwar America, at least as represented in pop culture. In war, needing to stay awake, I get it, so that could explain some of the men postwar. But pop culture and some historical writing, memoirs, and so on seem to convey that everyone needed uppers in the daytime and sleeping pills at night.

    I mean, we’re all on something, really. But it still seemed like a lot of drug use by people without diagnosable illnesses, or with vague neurasthenic complaints.

    What was all that about?

  2. Kirk says:

    See what I started…?

    In any event, the use of Pervitin did not end with the war; Germany’s post-war Wirtschaftwunderland was fueled on it, too. The reason the Army put German pharmacies off-limits to soldiers was that they were still selling Pervitin over-the-counter as a pick-me-up in minor doses, and it seemed as if most Germans were using it.

    Few GIs knew about it, as far as I could tell. One of the guys used to get these things from his wife’s father, and he thought they were just caffeine pills like you get in a truckstop here in the US. It was a very fortunate thing for him that someone with a bit more savvy spotted what he had, and clued him in before the next big drug test. On the other hand, they weren’t looking for meth back then, but opiates and THC, so maybe he would have been OK.

    Given the post-WWII German and Finnish experience, I’m not too sure that meth is really that harmful, so long as you can keep the product pure, and don’t overdo it. We still issue “go-pills” to pilots and SF troopers, and they don’t seem to suffer severe issues. Of course, that’s also because it’s carefully supervised, and done on classified missions, but…

    Amusing little tale, involving a Finnish reconnaissance trooper:

    The Axis use of meth was potentially a war-winner, but only down at the lower levels; the use of it by Hitler’s physicians and later on (ironically…) JFK’s… Not such great results.

  3. Graham says:

    That was quite a tale about Koivunen.

    An affirmation of the importance of “take only as directed” and “prescription dose”. Jesus.

    Also, that was one very unfortunate Siberian Jay. Normally I don’t expect undoped humans to be quick enough to successfully capture wild songbird type birds. That one just landed the one human operating fast enough to do it.

  4. Kirk says:

    The thing I take away from Koivunen is “Don’t screw around with Finns…”. Seriously. Just… Don’t.

    I grew up around a bunch of those folks who’d emigrated to the US, and you’d never think they were like that, but… I served with one in the Army, and I have to say it was about like working with a melancholy, pensive Terminator that had outbursts of occasional manic violence. I do not know if it’s cultural or biologic, but those stereotypes about stand-offish Finns who’ll knife you in a heartbeat? I recognize those, and I think I’ll just stand waaaaaaayyy over here, while you persist in poking at your Finn. It. Will. Not. End. Well.

  5. Paul from Canada says:


    You are right, all sides used them, but only the Germans did so in a systematic and official way.

    The author Farley Mowat mentioned in his memoirs that officers were given an E&E kit that contained Benzedrine, and that is was generally obtainable, and that he used it constantly in Italy.

    The Youtube channel Military History Visualized has an episode dedicated to the subject of Pervitin.

    It is also not just Germany that had over the counter drugs like this. In the ’60s and ’70s, most so called diet pills were mostly amphetamine derivatives, useful because they increased energy and suppressed appetite. Even today, a lot of “herbal” diet pills and grey market health food “supplements” contain ephedra.

    Kirk is right about the lack of harm if it is used correctly. We are used to meth as a dangerous drug today, because of the poor quality and potency of the current black market stuff. German soldiers didn’t turn to prostitution on mass, or lose their teeth and claw their skin off the way modern tweakers do, becuase Pervitin was pure, high quality and correctly dosed.

  6. Kirk says:

    The side-effects of all that Pervitin, though…

    You have to wonder if some of the atrocities and crimes committed by the Germans didn’t derive, at least in some cases, from meth-fueled paranoia and rage. The Pieper massacres in Belgium, for example, strike me as having a potential connection. Among so many others.

    I don’t think the Germans could have won, in 1940 France, without it, but the pernicious effect of it on judgment and performance in other theaters…? Not to mention, in the high command? It may have been what lost them the war on the strategic scale.

  7. Paul from Canada says:

    ..Having just re-read my last paragraph, that is actually true of almost all drugs.

    Opiates are an analgesic and the main clinical effect is pain relief. If the pain is bad enough (late stage cancer patients, for example), there is no euphoria or “high”. In illicit use, you get the euphoria and stimulation, but medically speaking, the only side effects of a correct dose are addiction and constipation. (An overdose kills by suppressing breathing). Bit of trivia, opium was long used as a treatment for severe diarrhea, from cholera for example.

    The negative effects (ulcerated veins, miocarditus, hepatitis) and so on, are again, like with Meth, side effects of the inconsistent doses, lack of purity and quality control and the substances used to adulterate black market product, and re-using diabetic sub-cutaneous needles to administer it.

    Another piece of trivia that I read in the memoir of a famous pathologist. In (I think), New York, in the early part of the 20th century, dealers started cutting heroin with quinine, because the M.E. had noticed Malaria infections in addicts.

    He surmised that sailor addicts who had contracted Malaria at work in the tropics, and were passing it to local addicts by sharing needles. I’m not sure if the information was passed deliberately to the dealers via the cops, of if the fact just became known. I also have no idea if it had any effect in reducing non insect vector malaria transmission among the New York heroin addict population.

  8. Paul from Canada says:

    “… but the pernicious effect of it on judgment and performance in other theaters…? Not to mention, in the high command….”

    It is also worth pointing out the Pervitin was just the legal and official drug, at the high command level, more traditional opiates were also likely widely used.

    I seem to recall reading that when they came to arrest him, Fegelein, was found in the apartment of his mistress, and they had been using cocaine.
    Given the notorious drug and sex culture between the wars, and that morphine would also be readily available from military doctors, (vis. Herman Goering), I suspect that good old fashioned cocaine and heroin use, not to mention alcohol would be just as, if not more likely, and more detrimental.

    As for what you say about the contribution to atrocity, that is VERY interesting, and not something I had thought about before. The pilot who bombed a Canadian Infantry unit in Afghanistan was on “go pills” and the contribution of this to his unjustified aggression was brought up at his trial.

  9. Kirk says:

    The connection between drugs issued the troops and their subsequent behavior doesn’t just apply to things like methamphetamines, either–There’s a strong correlation between some of the other stuff they casually issue, like Lariam, and subsequent behavioral issues.

    I believe there was a solid connection between Lariam interactions/side effects in the Canadian Paras who were convicted of abusing Somali thieves, which led to the shutdown of that storied Regiment. I heard a lot of “word-of-mouth” about that, and the Canadian government of the time refusing to look into the actual cause of the whole thing.

    As well, there’s been a bunch of issues with US troops and officially-prescribed drugs. The guy who went off the reservation (literally…) and killed all those civilians one night was someone whose commanders were advised not to take him back to Afghanistan, because of multiple TBI and the fact that they had him on all kinds of psychotropics trying to treat his PTSD from the first few tours he was on… They insisted on taking him, and Hey! Presto!, we’ve got us a war crime.

    Friend of mine knew him in the unit, and said that he’d presented so much change and weird shit in his behavior that he was certain they weren’t going to take him back home from that last tour–He was expecting either a suicide or a death in combat through him being so out of it that he wouldn’t be able to cope. Instead, they got a bunch of dead civilians, and the fact that the doctors had said he shouldn’t deploy was never allowed to be brought up in his court-martial. Woulda made his commanders look culpable, donchaknow?

    Strikes me as really funny about how you’d get all these warnings about how things like khat would influence the enemy’s behavior, but the idjits at large running the show on our side never paid attention to all the crap they were handing out to our guys. That Lariam thing? I know for a fact that stuff does weird shit to the psyche, because I roomed with a guy for awhile who was straight-up deranged for the entire time he was taking it. I had to go to the medics and tell them that they either stopped his dosage, or I was going to start sleeping in the clinic out of sheer self-preservation. Took like a month for that crap to work its way out of his system, and he was back to normal, but while he was on it? Oh, holy shit… You’d hear him having bad dreams and talking to his literal demons, which would leave you laying there at night and going “Uhmmm… Is this the night he loses it, and cuts my throat…?”.

    The phenomenon of human consciousness and sanity is a hell of a lot more fragile than anyone wants to admit, and it’s more like a spinning top than anything else. Push that bugger off center, and weird shit starts happening with the entire thing.

  10. Paul from Canada says:

    Lariam and the Airborne in Somalia? Oh hell yes!

    Although that was likely a contributing or triggering factor, not the root cause. I knew a couple of people who were there, and there was some really, really serious leadership failure, as well as the usual overtasking, mission creep, crap ROE etc.etc.etc.

    I was Airforce and we were specifically not allowed to be given it, because of the side effects and the Flight Surgeons just would not permit it. Aircrew got massive antibiotics instead (tetra or doxycycline, I forget which).

    So it was too risky to give to aircrew because of the psychological side effects, but troops with all sorts of weapons in a stressful environment? No Problem!

    Everyone who took it talked about how it fucked them up. There was even a term for the crazy dreams and borderline psychosis (“Meflo-mares”).

  11. Kirk says:

    It’s rarely just the drugs, but they sure as hell exacerbate the problems.

    Canadian Forces does some very smart things–The decompression phase during redeployment, with the weeks-long layover in Cyprus is a bit of genius I think we need to copy. You simply cannot take a guy out of a high-stress combat situation, and then drop him at home driving through suburbia with the wife and kids, then expect that there will be no psych problems stemming from that. It’s too quick, too different, and I think a lot of our PTSD issues spring from such idiocy.

  12. Paul from Canada says:

    While we do some very smart thing (like the Cyprus pre-return decompression), I think the Israelis have us beat.

    They tell their soldiers that certain reactions are normal. Euphoria over having killed the enemy before he kills you is NORMAL. NOT feeling any immediate guilt over killing the enemy is NORMAL.

    I agree with you that the belief that troops are supposed to feel bad and get PTSD is in large part what causes PTSD, or the cognitive dissonance when they don’t but feel that they should.

    Many “primitive” cultures had specific rituals. When their warriors came back from battle, there was a period of isolation and religious or quasi-religious rituals to “purify” the returning warrior.

    Likewise, many cultures have rites of passage into adulthood that we lack, to our psychological detriment.

  13. Kirk says:

    Fully agree with you on the Israeli policies. The really interesting stuff of theirs is encoded within the whole “Purity of Arms” thing, and they integrate all that into routine training–There will always be a moral component to an exercise, where the soldiers have to work through some sort of decision.

    The other thing is that the Israelis are dead serious about enforcement–Things that would get a shrug and a “Oh, well… Things happen…” in the US Army or Marine Corps will put an Israeli officer in jail for a lengthy sentence. I think there was a case back in the early 2000′s where some knucklehead had a negligent discharge on an operation where they were taking prisoners in Gaza, and the officer who was in charge was court-martialed, found guilty of negligence himself for not emphasizing weapons safety enough in his leadership for that operation, and then jailed for a long time. I know of similar cases in the US Army from Iraq where they actually killed civilians inadvertently, and that was written off as an accident.

    Things like that are why I laugh every time I hear some jackass activist talk about the IDF committing atrocities. The Palestinians are in for a harsh shock the first time they deal with anyone besides the goody-two-shoes Israelis. Were they bordering on the US, I think we’d have probably carpet-bombed Gaza and the West Bank sometime in the 1970s, and turned both locations into training areas a la Vieques down in Puerto Rico. And, more than likely, there wouldn’t have been a peep out of the usual suspects, who’d have quite sensibly recognized that arguing for leniency with regards to the Palestinians would be a good way to get lynched by the rest of us.

    You look at the numbers, and start comparing percentages, and the Israelis have taken staggering losses, losses we would simply not tolerate, and which would have likely led to the general public demanding outright genocide to stop it. As in, probably well beyond what happened to Germany and Japan…

  14. Kirk says:

    Along with drugs, one of the other usually-ignored influences on history is that of diseases like syphilis that affect mental state and cognition. Plague? Sure, we’ll write that in as Big Deal, but when you start looking at some of the really bad decisions made by historical figures, it’s mind-boggling to note how many of them apparently showed signs of latent or tertiary syphilis–And, of course, Hitler is one of them.

    It would be very interesting to go back and be able to do a really thorough medical history on a lot of these characters, and find out what the hell was really going on. Morell, who was the doctor who was dosing Hitler with all kinds of really weird shit, including meth, was a syphilis specialist in the twenties and thirties… You line up some of the available information, and it looks a lot like Hitler may have gotten syphilis early in his life (one book has it that he acquired it from a Jewish Viennese prostitute he was in love with…), and was operating for much of WWII in a state of syphilitic madness. Plus, drugs.

    Makes you wonder, it does.

    And, as an ironic afternote? Guess who was treated by one of Morell’s understudies, a man popular in the celebrity circles of post-WWII America? Yeah; JFK. Indicators show that he was high as a kite during the first meeting he had with Khruschev, and that the impression Khruschev took away was that Kennedy was a nutty pushover. It wasn’t until just before the Cuban missile crisis that some of Kennedy’s advisers pushed “Dr. Feelgood” out of his circle, and dried him out.

    There is a lot of history that we think we know, but we really don’t. Maybe all it would take to stop WWII in its tracks would be to go back in your time machine, and cure Hitler of his syphilis, instead of kill him.

    Makes ya wonder, doesn’t it?

  15. Paul from Canada says:

    If you want to look at Syphilis and other diseases as a contributer to history, there are other things to consider as well.

    I think it was in a Barbara Tuchman book that I read something about medieval kings being impulsive and making poor decisions, which may have been a result of F.A.S.

  16. Graham says:

    Are we still assuming syphilis was the eastward traveler in the Columbian exchange? Or has that theory been definitively rejected.

    Still not a smallpox armageddon, but between syphilis and sugar the Old World certainly took a couple of lumps to leaven the gains.

    Parallel question: what STDs did definitely exist in the Old World before circa 1500?

  17. Paul from Canada says:

    I’m not sure that it is definitively rejected, but there was a documentary (Secrets of the Dead?) that mentioned a skeleton found in a medieval grave that had syphilis indicators, but was dead and buried long before Columbus.

    There is a book I want to pick up, but haven’t got around to about the effect of syphilis on the Tudor dynasty.

    I can’t be a hundred percent sure, but I suspect that “gleets” (i.e. gonorrhea) would definitely have been around in the old world, and certainly crabs and so on. On the other hand, with sanitation and hygiene being what they were at the time, it would be hard to tell STDs from other run of the mill dermatological complaints.

  18. Graham says:

    Interesting. The syphilis from the new world thesis was never unchallenged but it was around a long time. A medieval carcass that shows convincing evidence would seem to disprove that, unless a couple of Norsemen brought it back via Greenland a couple of centuries earlier and it had a reservoir in Scandinavia for a while.

    Robert Harris ["Fatherland"] wrote a novel about the Dreyfus affair a few years ago. The main character is a French army colonel who assumed command of the statistical section of the General Staff 2eme Bureau. At one point he meets the ruined wreck of a man who is his outgoing predecessor. I still more or less remember the line, something like, “Colonel XXXX paused to reflect on the implications of inheriting command of an intelligence unit from a man dying of tertiary syphilis.”

    Implications, indeed.

  19. Graham says:

    Also, good threads recently. We’ve gone from guns, to drugs, to syphilis.

  20. Graham says:

    The Wikipedia article on methamphetamine includes the claim that the German army, at least, cut back after 1940:

    “Side effects were so serious that the army sharply cut back its usage in 1940.[147] Historian Lukasz Kamienski says “A soldier going to battle on Pervitin usually found himself unable to perform effectively for the next day or two. Suffering from a drug hangover and looking more like a zombie than a great warrior, he had to recover from the side effects.” Some soldiers turned very violent, committing war crimes against civilians; others attacked their own officers.[147]”

    The war crimes line might be a little ingenuous, but may explain some cases. I’ll bet the Wehrmacht did not care for fragging officers too much.

    The citations are from this book:

    Lukasz Kamienski (2016). Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War. Oxford University Press. pp. 111–13. ISBN 9780190263478.

  21. Paul from Canada says:

    The Youtube documentary on Pervitin by Military History Visualized mentioned this, basically, the military tried to bring um-authorized use under control/

    By the way, I highly recommend this Youtube channel. The host is a serious academic, and the host being German with a thick German accent, adds a certain something to his analysis of WWII.

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