World War I, Part 5: Tobacco in the Trenches

Unlike my previous posts, today’s entry focuses on the war as a whole rather than on a specific army. Tobacco was ubiquitous at the front and ever-present in prewar society. The war ushered in several changes to European smoking culture: Pipes began to fall out of fashion as cigarettes became more popular, and women smoked more in the postwar era as wartime social changes led to questioning of nineteenth-century gender norms. This is most famously embodied in the the “Flapper” archetype.

At the war’s outbreak, pipe smoking was the most common form of tobacco smoking in the militaries of Europe. Soldiers usually received packets of loose tobacco and matches with their rations. Pipe and cigar smoking were also associated with nineteenth-century ideas about masculinity. Cigarettes, although available, were not nearly as popular as pipes and cigars during this period. The war ushered in nothing short of a revolution in American and European tobacco cultures. It was also a period where modern cigarette advertising began.

The Tsarist regime asked civilians to donate tobacco for the war effort. Source:
The Tsarist regime asked civilians to donate tobacco for the war effort.

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Texas Veterans for Medical Marijuana: Backstory on a “War Without End”

Last week, I attended a panel discussion co-hosted by Texas Monthly and the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. The subject for debate was a recent article by Bill Martin, the director of the Institute’s Drug Policy Program. “War Without End,” published in the June edition of Texas Monthly, describes how Texas veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are successfully self-medicating for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with marijuana. (Trigger warning: their stories are not easy reading). The decision to opt for cannabis over the antidepressants, sleeping pills, or psychotropic medications commonly prescribed by Veterans Administration (VA) doctors makes these veterans criminals in the state of Texas. Although Governor Rick Perry recently said he plans to “implement policies that start us toward decriminalization,” the Texas Legislature hasn’t budged in recent years. Unlike Colorado or Washington, Texas does not have a ballot initiative or referendum process, so the Legislature is the state’s main route to reform. Majority support from the public and the best efforts of groups like the Marijuana Policy Project and local chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have, so far, come to naught.

Enter the veterans. Reformers believe Texas legislators will listen to war heroes, and state Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), a panelist at the Baker Institute event, seems to agree. Huffman told audience members that, in her opinion, a focused campaign for medical marijuana legislation for veterans diagnosed with PTSD would stand a better chance of success than broader initiatives aimed at population-wide medicalization, decriminalization, or legalization.

Photo illustration by Darren Braun for Texas Monthly
Photo illustration by Darren Braun for Texas Monthly


“When a guy has done four tours in Iraq, like some of our people, and been wounded in action, it’s hard to look him in the eye and call him a slacker pothead,” one veteran and activist told Texas Monthly. This new depiction of the traumatized veteran as uniquely deserving of marijuana does more than challenge the stoner stereotype. It recalls many of the psychological, symbolic, and treatment policy developments associated with the Iraq War’s most frequently cited historical analogue: the war in Vietnam.

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World War I, Part 4: The German Army and Intoxication

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, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

The German army’s experience with alcohol during World War I was more varied than that of their Allied counterparts on the Western Front. This was due in part to the strong degree of regionalism within the German Empire and its army.  Units from Bavaria were much more likely to be issued beer as part of their daily ration than units from Prussia or the wine-producing regions of the Rhineland. The German home front also had to deal with food shortages due to the British naval blockade, which placed stresses on the alcohol industry due to an increasing demand for foodstuffs key to alcohol production such as potatoes, barley, and sugar.  This shortage eventually affected those in the front lines.

This 1917 postcard advertises "fresh Löwenbräu in the field"
This 1917 postcard advertises “fresh Löwenbräu in the field.”


When the German army invaded Belgium and France in August 1914, many soldiers took advantage of the opportunities these newly-conquered territories had to offer. Discipline in rear-echelon units was lax. Hermann Baumann, a baker in the VII Reserve Corps, recalled his unit discovering an “empty house” on September 4, 1914. The house contained 500 bottles of wine in the cellar. Half of his unit became drunk, and four men– including Baumann– took 30 bottles to carry with them during the advance towards Paris. (German supply units were horse-drawn; looting of this scale would have been impossible in the infantry). On September 8th, Baumann’s unit discovered a cellar with 15,000 liters of wine. He later recounts discovering the cellar full of wine barrels. His fellow bakers and supply train drivers tried several of the barrels until they “found something good.” They destroyed so many wine barrels during this search and the subsequent revelry that their boots turned red as they “waded through 20cm of wine” in the cellar.

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“An Unmotivated and Less-Productive Populace”: Views of Drug Use in the Era of Legalization

Originally this post was going to summarize the arguments of two of the most prominent mid-century American intellectual historians and how they regarded changing notions of juvenile behavior as it involved the use of illegal drugs. But then I received something rather incredible in the mail that changed my idea for this post completely.

My husband’s parents live in northern New Jersey, and my mother-in-law was kind enough to send me an issue of their local newspaper, the Two River Times. In the May 23 edition, the letters to the editor section featured two very interesting, and two very oppositional, points of view vis-à-vis drugs and drug use. The letters, which dealt with marijuana legalization and the use of Narcan, an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of an overdose, respectively, were indicative of how far the social dialogue over drug use has come, as well as evidence of how pervasive certain myths remain.

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World War I, Part 3: The American Expeditionary Forces and Prohibition

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 third installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

The experience of American soldiers and Marines with alcohol on the Western Front was fundamentally different than that of their allies from France, Belgium, and the British Commonwealth. Unlike the French and British armies, the men of the American Expeditionary Forces were not issued alcohol in the trenches. This would have been anathema to the powerful temperance movement on the home front. The temperance movement issued anti-alcohol propaganda during and after the war and connected it with the American cause.  Behind the lines, YMCA camps offered “wholesome” entertainment for American troops free from alcohol and other vices. However, the temperance movement and YMCA ultimately failed to prevent American troops from consuming alcohol during the war.

This image, published by the United Committee on War Temperance, emphasizes the "cleanliness" of temperance. Image courtesy The Ohio State University:
This image, published by the United Committee on War Temperance, emphasizes the “cleanliness” of temperance.
Image courtesy The Ohio State University:

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The Father of the (Financial) War on Terror is the War on Drugs?

On May 31, 2014, the White House issued a cryptic press release, a brief letter from President Obama to Congress. The letter announced that the US government had decided to levy economic sanctions against Victor Cerrano, Jose Umana, and Francisco Barros, three foreign individuals from Colombia, El Savador, and Cape Verde, respectively.

Thomas Jefferson: Sanctions Pioneer?
Thomas Jefferson: Sanctions Pioneer

For some of us, it may be surprising to learn that the United States sometimes declares what amounts to an economic war [1] against individuals. If we survey the history of economic statecraft [2] from the Peloponnesian War, to Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 embargo, [3] to the growing popularity of economic coercion since the 1970s, it’s clear that sanctions against non-states actors are a relatively new development (Baldwin 1985, Hufbauer, Schott, & Elliott 2007; Drezner 2003).

Today, such economic restrictions against individuals and entities (e.g. businesses, charities) are rapidly outpacing embargoes against states, and US non-sovereign targets currently number in the thousands. In the War on Terror, non-sovereign sanctions have also emerged as a critical instrument of non-military aggression in the form of the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. [4] Those listed—either as SDNGT (global terror) or as a SDNK (global narcotics trafficker)– quickly find that they are essentially ‘locked out’ of the American economy and that their US assets are “frozen.” All US persons and organizations are prohibited from economically transacting with a SDN.

The concerted use of non-sovereign sanctions was pioneered in the War on Drugs, and not in the War on Terror. [5]

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In Memoriam: Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin (1925-2014)

We’re sure that most readers of Points are already familiar with Sasha Shulgin and are aware of his passing on June 2. But the death of the man responsible for popularizing MDMA in the United States cannot go unremarked upon, especially as the slew of related news reports are bringing up important questions about the drug’s therapeutic use.


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The Points Interview: Miriam Kingsberg

Editor’s Note: Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado-Boulder, reflects on her new book Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History (University of California Press, 2013).

9780520276734Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The book is about the history of narcotics in Japan from the mid-nineteenth century (when the country opened after more than two centuries of seclusion) through the mid-1950s (when Japan regained its independence after war and occupation by the United States). The central question I ask is: how do narcotics become entangled with nation and empire-building agendas during this century? I argue that the Japanese stance on drugs became a platform to enter an ongoing global conversation about standards for political legitimacy in nations and empires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

 What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I am an historian, so I did write the book from a history background and for a history audience. And the book is a chronological narration of these three episodes of moral crusade, and how the persons and institutions involved in them used narcotics to assert social power and produce certain national and imperial outcomes.

But one thing I would also want to stress is that it derives a lot from interdisciplinary scholarship and methodologies that would be traditionally considered outside of history. For instance, I used a fair amount of quantitative methodology. Japan, for various reasons, collected more and better statistics on narcotics than any other power in the world at the time. That data was not necessarily meant to be used in the way that I used it, but my argument certainly derives from the data. My chapters are also organized according to the concept of “moral entrepreneurship,” which comes out of sociology. I would hope that, in addition to historians, I am talking to scholars in other fields as well.

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