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You can learn a lot about a culture from its drug use. Robert McAlmon, an American author living in Berlin during the tumultuous Weimar years, marveled that “dope, mostly cocaine, was to be had in profusion” at “dreary night clubs” where “poverty-stricken boys and girls of good German families sold it, and took it.” Cocaine was banned in 1924, though few people noticed—use peaked three years later. For those who preferred downers, morphine was just as easily accessible. Pharmacists legally prescribed the opioid for non-serious ailments, and morphine addiction was common among World War One veterans. The market was bolstered by low prices—for Americans, McAlmon noted that enough cocaine for “quite too much excitement” cost about ten cents—and by the fact that production was more or less local. In the 1920s, German companies generated 40 percent of the world’s morphine, and controlled 80 percent of the global cocaine market.

When the Nazis rose to power, illegal drug consumption fell. Suddenly, drugs were regarded as “toxic” to the German body, and folded into the escalating discourse of anti-Semitism. Users were penalized with prison sentences, and addicts were classed—along with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals—as undesirable social elements. By the end of the 1930s, pharmaceutical production had pivoted away from opioids and cocaine and towards synthetic stimulants that could be produced entirely within Germany, per Nazi directive. The transition from cabaret cocaine to over-the-counter meth helped fuel what German journalist Norman Ohler in his new book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich calls the “developing performance society” of the early Nazi era, and primed Germany for the war to come.

The breakthrough moment came in 1937, when the Temmler-Werke company introduced Pervitin, a methamphetamine-based stimulant. (The doctor who developed it, Fritz Hauschild, would go on to pioneer East Germany’s sports doping program.) Within months, this variant of crystal meth was available without a prescription—even sold in boxed chocolates—and was widely adopted by all sectors of society to elevate mood, control weight gain, and increase productivity. It’s impossible to untangle Pervitin’s success from Germany’s rapidly changing economic fortunes under the Third Reich. As the country rebounded from economic depression to nearly full employment, marketing for Pervitin claimed it would help “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the rapidly expanding workforce. Students took it to cram for exams; housewives took it to stave off depression. Pervitin use was so common as to be unremarkable, a feature of life in the early Third Reich.

Meanwhile, in the military, Pervitin was enthusiastically embraced as the vanguard of the so-called “war on exhaustion.” As Hitler’s troops began annexing territory in the spring of 1939, Wehrmacht soldiers started relying on “tank chocolate” to keep them alert for days on end. Though Nazi medical officials were increasingly aware of Pervitin’s risks—tests found that soldiers’ critical thinking skills declined the longer they stayed awake—the short-term gains were appealing enough. Even after drug sales to the general public were restricted in April 1940, the German Army High Command issued the so-called “stimulant decree,” ordering Temmler to produce 35 million tablets for military use.

Twenty minutes later, the nerve cells in their brains started releasing the neurotransmitters. All of a sudden, dopamine and noradrenalin intensified perception and put the soldiers in a state of absolute alertness. The night brightened: no one would sleep, lights were turned on, and the ‘Lindworm’ of the Wehrmacht started eating its way tirelessly towards Belgium…

Three sleepless days later, the Nazis were in France. The stunned Allies were closer to defeat than they would be at any other point during the war. As Ohler writes in Blitzed, the Germans had claimed more land in less than a hundred hours than they had over the entire course of World War One.


Blitzed, which was a bestseller in Germany, is comprised of two main parts: A look at the effects of drugs on the German military, and on the Führer himself. While Hitler’s medical records have been scrutinized for decades—first by wartime American intelligence agencies, and more recently, by scholars Hans-Joachim Neumann and Henrik Eberle in Was Hitler Ill?—Ohler spent five years in international archives mounting a case that the dictator was not merely suffering from stress or madness, but drug-induced psychosis, which fueled his lethal tendencies.

This is Ohler’s first nonfiction book (he’s written three novels) and the first popular book of its kind, filling a gap between specialist academic literature and sensationalist TV documentaries. There’s a contemporary Berlin sensibility to Blitzed: Ohler came upon the idea after a local DJ told him that the Nazis “took loads of drugs,” and his archival research is interspersed with accounts of urban exploring at the former Temmler factory. The hipster-as-historian persona occasionally feels forced—Ohler characterizes Hitler as a junkie and his doctors as dealers a few too many times—but the book is an impressive work of scholarship, with more than two dozen pages of footnotes and the blessing of esteemed World War Two historians. From Hitler’s irregular hours and unusual dietary preferences—his staff would leave out apple raisin cakes for him to eat in the middle of the night—to his increasingly monomaniacal demands, Ohler offers a compelling explanation for Hitler’s erratic behavior in the final years of the war, and how the biomedical landscape of the time affected the way history unfolded.

Over the past half-century, discussions about Hitler’s health have touched lightly on Dr. Theodor Morell, a private practitioner who specialized in dermatology and venereal diseases before becoming the Führer’s personal physician in 1936. According to Ohler, Morell’s role was far greater than previously acknowledged. Despite being widely regarded as a fraud, Morell was granted more access to Hitler than anybody other than Eva Braun. During the nine years the doctor treated Hitler, he is believed to have given the Führer between 28 and 90 different drugs, including Pervitin, laxatives, anti-gas pills with strychnine in them, morphine derivatives, seminal extract from bulls, body-building supplements, digestives, sedatives, hormones, and many vitamins of mysterious provenance, mostly administered via injection. This all happened quietly, as the myth of Hitler-as-teetotaler was central to Nazi ideology: “Hitler allegedly didn’t even allow himself coffee and legend had it that after the First World War he threw his last pack of cigarettes into the Danube,” Ohler writes. Luckily, Morell left detailed accounts of Hitler’s medical records, likely believing that if anything happened to “Patient A,” he would be held responsible.

Hitler did not have any serious medical conditions at the start of the war—he suffered from painful gas, believed to be the result of his vegetarianism—but over the years, he came to rely more and more on Morell’s injections. After the fall of 1941, when the war began to turn in the Allies’ favor—and, Ohler observes, the “dip in Hitler’s performance became obvious”—they took on greater potency. One night in the summer of 1943, Hitler awoke with violent stomach cramps. Knowing he was scheduled to meet Mussolini the next day, Morell gave the Führer his first dose of Eukadol, an Oxycodone-based drug that was twice as strong as morphine. It had the desired effect: Hitler ranted through the meeting, preventing Mussolini from pulling Italy out of the war. The Führer was delighted; Morell remained firmly in Hitler’s good graces.

Records show that Eukodol was administered only 24 more times between that night and the end of 1944, but Ohler suspects that the coded reports disguise a much higher number. “This approach to the dictator’s health,” he writes of the injections, “could be compared to using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.”

Aside from power and prestige, there were lucrative reasons for men unconcerned with morality to work for the Third Reich. Before becoming Hitler’s physician, Morell made a name for himself in the emerging field of vitamins, becoming one of the first doctors in Germany to promote them as medicinal. Following his appointment, Morell used his role to develop his vanity vitamin business, enlisting Hitler as his “gold standard” patient.

To this end, Morell developed a preparation called Vitamultin that he marketed across Europe, with special packaging for Hitler’s personal vitamins, and another for those of high-ranking Nazi officials. Though they mostly consisted of dried lemon, milk and sugar, the SS ordered hundreds of millions of tablets; the Nazi trade unions requested nearly a billion. Pleased with his returns, Morell went on to take over an “Aryanized” cooking-oil company in Czechoslovakia, which he converted into a factory for vitamin production. Soon after, he advanced plans to construct an “organotherapeutic factory” which would manufacture hormones preparations from slaughterhouse leftovers.

By 1943, Morell was a one-man empire, and not even a ban on introducing new medication to the German market could stop him. “The Führer has authorized me to do the following,” he wrote in a letter to the Reich Health Office. “If I bring out and test a remedy and then apply it in the Führer’s headquarters, and apply it successfully, then it can be applied elsewhere in Germany and no longer needs authorization.”

A number of books have covered the same material as Ohler, but none have focused as strongly on how pharmaceuticals ran in the blood of the Third Reich. Pervitin, Eukodal, and other “wonder drugs” of the time were seen as the magic bullets that would allow German productivity to reach new heights, German soldiers to march farther, stay awake longer, and, ironically, cleanse the country of its toxic elements. It was only later, Ohler notes, that the effects would become clear:

Studies show that two thirds of those who take crystal meth excessively suffer from psychosis after three years. Since Pervitin and crystal meth have the same active ingredient, and countless soldiers had been taking it more or less regularly since the invasion of Poland, the Blitzkrieg on France, or the attack on the Soviet Union, we must assume psychotic side-effects, as well as the need to keep increasing the dosage to achieve a noticeable effect.

As it became obvious the Nazis were going to lose, military efforts became increasingly desperate, and life was cheaply traded for grasping attempts at victory. Teenage recruits were dosed with amphetamines and shipped to the front; Navy pharmacologists tested dangerous mixes of high-grade pharmaceuticals on pilots. At a wine bar in Munich, Ohler meets with a Navy official who tells him how in the final months of the war, members of the Hitler Youth were loaded into mini-submarines and sent to sea with not much more than packets of cocaine chewing gum.


The last days of the Third Reich were marked by a combination of delirium and exhaustion. In January 1945, with the Russians and Allies closing in, Hitler was transferred to an underground bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. By that point, his addiction and physical deterioration were apparent: He was barely able to sleep or focus, and was regularly receiving Eukodol injections for painful constipation and seizures. Or, at least he had been—in the weeks leading up to the new year, the British bombed the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured Eukadol and cocaine, threatening Hitler’s supply. In the months that followed, his reserve of drugs drawing down, he likely went through a brutal withdrawal. He sacked Morell on April 17, and two weeks later, shot himself.

Ohler’s book makes a powerful case for the centrality of drugs to the Nazi war effort, and had he wanted to, he could have easily made it two or three times as long. He only briefly touches on drug experimentation in concentration camps, and doesn’t explore the structural ties that existed between the Third Reich and German pharmaceutical companies, which would come to light during the Nuremberg Trials. Without these relationships, it’s unlikely the German war machine would have run for as long as it did. After supporting the Nazis’ rise to power, pharmaceutical conglomerate I.G. Farben developed the nerve gas used in the camps, and produced oil and synthetic rubber for war efforts. In 1942, Farben set up Auschwitz-Monowitz, a smaller concentration camp within Auschwitz, to provide slave labor for the company’s nearby industrial complex. Tens of thousands of inmates died as a result of experimentation and forced labor, and the development of thalidomide, notorious for causing deformities in fetuses, has been linked to Monowitz.

Ohler also doesn’t mention that the amphetamine craze didn’t only happen in Germany. While Germans were dosing with Pervitin, British and American troops were doing the same with Benzedrine, an amphetamine developed in the ‘30s as the first prescription anti-depressant. (Benzedrine was the ancestor of medications now prescribed for attention-deficient disorder.) The Germans eventually decided to drop Pervitin as the war dragged on, but the American military stuck with “bennies,” and by the end of 1945, production was up to a million tablets a day.

The notion that substances play an outsized role in shaping society—and especially during wartime—does not just belong to history. Amphetamines still factor heavily in conflicts in Syria (Captagon), Afghanistan (Dexedrine), and West Africa (cocaine mixed with gunpowder). Thanks to pharmacological advances, we’re now more able than ever to grasp how drugs may have altered behaviors and influenced certain moments. Knowing that Eukadol and Pervitin contributed to the grotesqueries of Nazi military strategy, for instance, places a new lens on a disturbing chapter of history.

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This article is specific to Germany, but could probably apply to most European countries currently. We have friends in Austria who report essentially the same story as the article.

  • More than 1.5 million Germans, many of them highly educated, left Germany during the past decade.Die Welt.
  • Germany is facing a spike in migrant crime, including an epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults. Mass migration is also accelerating the Islamization of Germany. Many Germans appear to be losing hope about the future direction of their country.
  • “We refugees… do not want to live in the same country with you. You can, and I think you should, leave Germany. And please take Saxony and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) with you…. Why do you not go to another country? We are sick of you!” — Aras Bacho an 18-year-old Syrian migrant, inDer Freitag, October 2016.
  • A real estate agent in a town near Lake Balaton, a popular tourist destination in western Hungary, said that 80% of the Germans relocating there cite the migration crisis as the main reason for their desire to leave Germany.
  • “I believe that Islam does not belong to Germany. I regard it as a foreign entity which has brought the West more problems than benefits. In my opinion, many followers of this religion are rude, demanding and despise Germany.” — A German citizen who emigrated from Germany, in an “Open Letter to the German Government.”
  • “I believe that immigration is producing major and irreversible changes in German society. I am angry that this is happening without the direct approval of German citizens. … I believe that it is a shame that in Germany Jews must again be afraid to be Jews.” — A German citizen who emigrated from Germany, in an “Open Letter to the German Government.”
  • “My husband sometimes says he has the feeling that we are now the largest minority with no lobby. For each group there is an institution, a location, a public interest, but for us, a heterosexual married couple with two children, not unemployed, neither handicapped nor Islamic, for people like us there is no longer any interest.” — “Anna,” in a letter to the Mayor of Munich about her decision to move her family out of the city because migrants were making her life there impossible.

A growing number of Germans are abandoning neighborhoods in which they have lived all their lives, and others are leaving Germany for good, as mass immigration transforms parts of the country beyond recognition.

Data from the German statistics agency, Destatis, shows that 138,000 Germans left Germany in 2015. More are expected to emigrate in 2016. In a story on brain drain titled, “German talent is leaving the country in droves,”Die Welt reported that more than 1.5 million Germans, many of them highly educated, left Germany during the past decade.

The statistics do not give a reason why Germans are emigrating, but anecdotal evidence indicates that many are waking up to the true cost — financial, social and cultural — of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow more than one million mostly Muslim migrants to enter the country in 2015. At least 300,000 more migrants are expected to arrive in Germany in 2016, according to Frank-Jürgen Weise, the head of the country’s migration office, BAMF.

Mass migration has — among many other problems — contributed to a growing sense of insecurity in Germany, which is facing a spike in migrant crime, including an epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults. Mass migration is also accelerating the Islamization of Germany. Many Germans appear to be losing hope about the future direction of their country.

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‘All of Gaul is divided into three parts,’ wrote Julius Caesar at the start of his Gallic Wars. ‘No, four,’ corrected one author writing slightly later, ‘for one small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the Roman invaders.’ It was, of course, the French comic-book hero Asterix’s unnamed Breton village. The secret of the success of Asterix and his fellow villagers was their superhuman strength – that is, when their druid was willing to make them some of his secret potion. One gulp made Asterix’s Gauls invincible, irresistible in attack and extraordinary in defence. The only thing the potion could not cure was the village bard, Cacophonix, whose terrible voice alone was immune to the magic drug of Getafix, the village’s druid and superchemist.

Having grown up reading the Asterix books, I wondered about supplements that turned normal soldiers into heroes. Valour, bravery and virtue were all prized characteristics in the ancient texts that captivated me. In fact, in Greek and Latin, the words for courage (‘ἀνδρεία’ and ‘virtus’) derive from the word for man (‘ἀνδρὸς’ and ‘vir’). Being a man in the classical world meant being brave. Heroes such as Hector, Ajax, Agamemnon and Odysseus relied on their wits, muscles and character alone. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Augustus likewise took difficult decisions, earning the respect of both their lieutenants and their foot-soldiers.

Further east, Kings of Persia presented themselves as just and brave rulers. In China, the philosophy of Mengzi (Mencius) taught men to consider personal bravery as an essential part of a purposeful life. Being strong meant being blessed by the gods – or even being part-divine, as was the case with Herakles, son of Zeus, or Achilles, son of the nymph Thetis. Ancient heroes sometimes turned to substances in order to alter their moods, or their minds. In the Odyssey, for example, Odysseus and his men find themselves in the land of the Lotus Eaters, which is populated by ‘men who make food of flowers’. The Lotus Eaters are extraordinarily relaxed. Odysseus’s scouts sink into repose as soon as they taste the ‘honeyed fruit’ of the lotus flower, which makes Odysseus’s men so deeply indolent that they refuse to return to their own camp. Resolving not to move, they ignore all orders and give up any thought of returning home.

Ancient China, the Arabic-speaking world and Europe all showed deep interest in the remedial and medicinal qualities of plants and seeds. For example, cinnamon was used in treatments of the heart, stomach and head in China, Persia and the Eastern Mediterranean, where it was prescribed by Dioscorides 2,000 years ago as being helpful in establishing regular cycles of menstruation. Cinnamon was also prescribed in medieval medical manuals as helping ‘the man whose head is heavy and stuffed’ with mucus. Later pharmacy books produced in Spain outlined at length how useful nutmeg oil was as a treatment for diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as fighting the common cold, and also reported that cardamom oil soothed the intestines and helped reduce flatulence.

The list of uses of spices and herbs is a long one. In the eighth century, Charlemagne ordered the large-scale cultivation of mallow after becoming convinced of its healing powers when it came to battlefield wounds. Some ancient medical research extended beyond the treatment of injuries into more adventurous pursuits. An Arabic manual written in the Middle Ages contains a chapter entitled ‘Prescriptions for Increasing the Dimensions of Small Members and for Making them Splendid’. It suggests rubbing a mixture of honey and ginger onto the private parts. The medical manual promised an effect so powerful and productive of such pleasure that the man’s sexual partner would ‘object to him getting off her again’.

Roughly contemporary to the Homeric epics are the Sanskrit Rig Vedas. More than 3,000 years old, they espouse cannabis as ‘a source of happiness’, ‘a liberator’ from anxiety, and ‘a joy-giver’, such that a guardian angel was said to live within its leaves. Ancient Chinese texts that mention hemp say nothing about the effects of cannabis – until the first century BC, when one text, the Pen Ts’ao Ching, notes that ‘if taken in excess [the fruit of the hemp] will produce hallucinations (literally ‘seeing devils’). If taken over a long term, it makes one communicate with spirits and lightens one’s body.’

The use of cannabis as an intoxicant was known in India and Iran 3,000 years ago, and became so widespread in the Middle East that some practitioners warned of the long-term effect of regular usage. Not all listened. In the late 11th century, young men flocked to a charismatic leader named Hasan i-Saban. Marco Polo referred to i-Saban as ‘the old man of the mountain’. According to the Venetian traveller, he gave his followers copious amounts of hashish (literally, ‘grass’ in Arabic). He also supplied them with sensuous women, and – in return – they murdered Hasan’s political rivals. His followers became known as the Hashishiyans, lending their name to today’s assassins.

He ‘was quarrelsome and fought with one of the wooden pillars of the porch until he had little skin upon the knuckles of the fingers’

Importantly, cannabis is not a stimulant. That means it is highly unlikely that cannabis served as the key to the assassins’ success designing and carrying out brilliantly planned and daring strategic operations. The effects of cannabis are more likely to be stupefying. That is why one sultan of Syria in the 14th century ordered that all cannabis plants be uprooted and destroyed, and that those who ate hashish should have their teeth pulled out as a warning about how the mellifluous effects ultimately rendered able-bodied men useless.

In short, cannabis usage was hardly likely to improve performance in battle. Take the case of Thomas Bowery, a 17th-century English merchant sailor. In India, he and his friends bought a pint of ‘Bangha’, a cannabis-infused drink.One ‘sat himself down upon the floor and wept bitterly all afternoon’; another, ‘terrified with fear… put his head in a great jar and continued in that posture for four hours or more’; ‘four or five lay upon the carpets highly complimenting each other in high terms’, while another ‘was quarrelsome and fought with one of the wooden pillars of the porch until he had little skin upon the knuckles of the fingers’.

Such effects of drug use were well known. They did not lend themselves to warfare, in contrast to the exceptional situation of Asterix’s (fictional) little village, and its druid chemist, in northern Gaul.

The world of the Vikings was more cosmopolitan and dangerous. Arabic and medieval Greek accounts make clear the Vikings’ extensive activity and engagement with societies around the Black Sea and the Islamic world between 800-1000 AD. The Viking way combined elements of the street gang with that of the organised crime cartels.

First, the Vikings looked scary: ‘from the tips of his toes to his neck, each man is tattooed in dark green, with designs and so forth’, wrote a 10th-century Arabic writer. The same writer noted that Scandinavians always carried ‘an axe, a sword and a knife’. They behaved as hardened criminals, never trusting each other and showing no hesitation to steal or kill anyone, even one another. Another Arabic commentary noted that the Vikings ‘never go off alone to relieve themselves, but… with three companions to guard them, sword in hand, for they have little trust in each other.’ These were tough men for tough times.

The Vikings – like later successful conquerors such as the Mongols – revelled in the fear that their very names struck into the hearts of men. Like the Mongols, the Vikings meant to terrify, and this fear gave them an advantage. As modern sportsmen understand, scared and nervous opponents are easier to defeat than confident, strident ones. Also like the Mongols, the Vikings liked to present themselves as invincible, as imminent victors. The self-presentation helped both groups establish great empires. For the Vikings, that meant not only control of the North Sea and the British Isles, and a small North America outpost, but also vast lands to the east. Ambitious Vikings headed south along the Volga, Dnieper and Dniester river systems. There, they made fat profits from trade, protection rackets and human trafficking. In due course, they founded the cities of Kiev, Novgorod and Chernigov. Ultimately, these cities wove together to become important lineaments of the Russian state.

Neither fire nor sword had any effect on them. This was what ‘Berserkergang’ was

Acumen, hustle and fear helped the Vikings acquire their eastern assets and interests, but they also relied on stimulants that made them seem – and feel – invincible. Scandinavian warriors ingested a potent mixture that made them seem superhuman. Old Norse literature talks of men entering a state of altered consciousness that made them go ‘berserk’. The word has entered common usage, and is still used to describe individuals, or groups on the rampage.

The term ‘berserk’, however, simply describes an item of clothing – a bearskin – rather than a specific act or behaviour. Viking men wore bearskins to show off their hunting prowess, to evoke the strength of a bear, and to win the protection of Odin, the Norse God of War. However, when it came to battle, it was not the Viking fashion sense that was important, as the ninth-century Haraldskvæði (literally, ‘The Deeds of Harald’) makes clear. The toughest, most terrifying warriors carried ‘bloody shields’ into battle, while their spears turned ‘red with blood’ as soon as they made contact with the enemy. They formed a closed group, fighting with such ferocious intensity that ‘the prince in his wisdom would put trust in the men who would hack their way through the shields of their opponents’. These men, the most trusted warriors, fought with apparent superhuman strength in battle.

A 13th-century source puts it clearly: ‘men rushed forwards without armour. They were as mad as dogs or wolves, biting their shields as they advanced. They were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people with a single blow. Neither fire nor sword had any effect on them. This was what “Berserkergang” was.’ This was going ‘berserk’.

Scholars used to think that large quantities of alcohol contributed to such astonishing scenes. Perhaps, scholars speculated, a change to the regular fermentation process, or an additional form of hyper-arousal that linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, made possible the Vikings’ ‘berserkergangs’. Eye-witnesses clearly thought that something had elevated these warriors to a trance-like state. They were most likely right. Almost certainly, the superhuman strength and focus was the result of ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms found in Russia, specifically of the amanita muscaria – whose distinctive red cap and white dots often features in Disney movies. They are most familiar, however, as the suburban garden decorations with a gnome sitting on top.

These poisonous fly agaric mushrooms, when parboiled, produce powerful psychoactive effects, including delirium, exhilaration and hallucination. The Vikings learned of the amanita muscaria in their travels along the Russian river systems. Local shamans used diluted amounts in tribal rituals, which were known as early as the time of Herodotus. He talks of the inhabitants living north of the Black Sea as being whipped into a state of euphoria by a smoke ‘that no Greek vapour-bath can surpass’ and being ‘transported’ to another plane as a result, one that induced them to shout manically. The Vikings would have witnessed this, and learnt from it. Here was an almost precise equivalent to the secret of Asterix’s village: a natural ingredient that needed careful preparation by someone with druidic, semi-religious powers. It could kill if not properly prepared, but could give extraordinary powers – or the impression of extraordinary powers – if handled properly.

As new Russian towns and cities flourished, Viking contact with the native peoples in what is now Russia dwindled. Urban life replaced the thuggish, winner-takes-all existence of the past. New elites emerged and were keener to enjoy the fine things in life than to ingest potions prepared by local shamans from the nomad world. Being civilised meant dropping the habits of indigenous peoples in favour of more refined tastes – such as Christianity, law and order, and militias that were ordered and organised, rather than chaotic and euphoric.

Nicknamed ‘Panzer chokolade’, the Nazis handed out pervitin in huge quantities

Of course, the ‘recreational’ drug trade grew into a major component of global exchange in the 19th century, especially when the British shipped opium to China, to the despair of its rulers. It was with the Second World War that narcotics began to play a major role in warfare. German pharmaceutical companies led the way in investigating the effects of synthetic substances and their commercial application – especially with regards to Hitler’s well-funded army, the Wehrmacht.

The Germans were, in particular, interested in pervitin, a substance chemically similar to crystal meth. The pharmaceutical company Temmler in Berlin produced pervitin in industrial quantities, and it was one of the reasons behind the fearsome reputation and success of the German military at the start of the war. The effects of pervitin seemed to confirm theories of the Übermensch – the superman, or superhuman – first developed by Friedrich Nietzsche, whose theories had been embraced by the Nazi leadership in support of their representation of the German people (or rather, its ‘Aryan’ members) as a master race. Pervitin made frontline soldiers feel like supermen. Nicknamed ‘Panzer chokolade’ (Panzer chocolate), the Nazis handed it out in huge quantities. In the space of three months in 1940 alone, they distributed some 35 million tablets of pervitin and Isophan (a similar product made by a different producer) to German troops. It seemed to be a wonder drug, producing feelings of heightened awareness, focusing concentration and encouraging risk-taking. A powerful stimulant, it also allowed men to function on little sleep.

Recent research by the German author Norman Ohler shows that the effects could be dramatic, especially on the eastern front where bitter cold of up to -30ºC and failing morale caused some men to ‘simply lie down in the snow’. Things changed dramatically when given a dose of pervitin: sprits improved, alertness spiked and confidence grew. By 1944-5, new variants were being produced, such as D-IX, an even more potent blend of cocaine, morphine and pervitin, tested on prisoners held at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and again administered to German troops in large quantities.

It was not just those on the front line whose faculties were boosted by stimulants. So too were those in Berlin, including Hitler himself. The Nazi leader habitually used Eukodal, a substance closely related to heroin. He also received shots of methamphetamine, testosterone and other opiates. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel consumed pervitin so regularly that he called it his ‘daily bread’. And it was not just the Germans who turned to drugs to boost performance: so did the British. General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery issued Benzedrine to his troops in North Africa on the eve of the battle of El Alamein – part of a programme that saw 72 million Benzedrine tablets being prescribed to British forces during the Second World War.

Use of drugs to improve military performance continued following the Second World War. Although large parts of the Soviet and US chemical development programmes have remained classified for the post-war period, it is clear that considerable attention has been paid to research into ‘supplements’ that can have a positive effect on members of the military. The US Air Force, for example, has administered dextroamphetamines to its pilots undertaking long missions, to improve their alertness and reduce fatigue. And of the US pilots who took part in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, 65 per cent used stimulants, with just over half reporting that they were either beneficial or essential to operations.

Not all experiences proved positive. Serious side-effects can include confusion and psychosis. Investigations into an exercise at the Tarnak Farms training camp in Afghanistan in April 2002 that left four Canadian servicemen dead and eight wounded as a result of friendly fire revealed that US F-16 pilots had been sanctioned to use Dexedrine. The development by the US Army of chemical stimulants has also not been without consequences: two soldiers died after being issued with Dimethylamine, a performance-enhancing drug banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

So extensive is the research into better, more focused combat forces that, for more than a decade, the US has supported a biochemical programme whose aims include finding ways to allow servicemen to function better in hostile environments, use less energy, and improve battlefield performance.

The production of stimulants for use by rebel and ISIS forces has soared and, with it, videotaped beheadings, mass executions and indiscriminate slaughter

Given the well-documented, widespread use of narcotics in modern warfare, it is no surprise to find ISIS also supplying soldiers with stimulants. In the fall of 2015, the largest drug bust in Lebanese history took place at Beirut airport when a Saudi prince tried to board a private jet that was about to fly to Ha’il, in northern Saudi Arabia. Two tons of Captagon were recovered – a drug whose use outside the Middle East is negligible, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Originally developed in the 1960s, Captagon was designed to treat narcolepsy and attention-deficit disorder. It was banned in most countries because of its addictive nature. Captagon produces feelings of euphoria, a boost in energy and heightened awareness – as well as surging aggression levels, says Richard Rawson, co-director of the Integrated Substance Abuse Programme at the University of California, Los Angeles. A Reuters report from 2014 demonstrated just how widespread the use of drugs has become in Syria since the start of the civil war, and especially how production of stimulants for use by rebel and ISIS forces has soared. The fact that the levels of violence have risen, too – not only with videotaped beheadings, but also mass executions and indiscriminate slaughter – might not be entirely coincidental.

Most certainly, trying to become superhuman involves playing with fire. Attempting to be stronger, better, more focused and more brutal in conflict situations might be understandable. But as Getafix used to chide the villagers in northern France, performance-enhancing drugs are to be used only on special occasions, and only when all else has failed. Always trying to achieve military supremacy means losing the ability and willingness to negotiate, compromise or rely on (and develop) native wits. As Buddy, the evil genius in the movie The Incredibles puts it: when everyone’s super, no one is. Maybe it’s time to address a challenge more difficult than making temporary supersoldiers: making people better at peace.

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A century ago this weekend, my great-grandfather – a corporal in the Liverpool-recruited King’s Regiment – was waiting to go “over-the-top” at the Somme.

Sent to pick up the company rum ration before the assault, he wound up drinking it and woke up after the action – or at least, that’s the story he told the family after World War One was over.

Perhaps his superiors were in an unusually forgiving mood. Or perhaps, like many others, he was just looking for a way to avoid retelling his experiences. By the end of the first day, the Allies had suffered almost 60,000 casualties for precious little ground. By the time the offensive was canceled later in the year, there were more than 800,000, over half of them fatalities.

With the two world wars increasingly passing from living memory, it’s becoming easier to forget just how much they dominated the lives of almost every family on the continent.

Quietly, though, that is changing. When NATO states meet in Warsaw at the end of the week for the annual heads of government meeting of the alliance, they will be doing so amid the most serious tensions with Moscow since 1989.

Virtually no one, it must be said, thinks that either side is anything other than very keen to avoid a devastating conflict. Europe remains home to more than half the world’s nuclear weapons. No one doubts that should a third major war overwhelm the continent, it would almost certainly be worse than any of those that preceded it.

And yet, a growing number believe, the risk is quietly increasing. In May, retired British General Sir Richard Shirreff – who served as NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander at the time of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 – wrote a book  explicitly suggesting all-out war with Russia could happen as soon as next year.

On the surface, the book is a novel – but Shirreff has underlined in multiple interviews, including with this reporter, that he views it a highly plausible scenario. His former NATO boss, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, underlines the point in a hard-hitting introduction.

In Shirreff’s book, all sides are essentially operating from a position of weakness. His unnamed Russian president – clearly modeled on Vladimir Putin – initiates hostilities with both Ukraine and the NATO member Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to distract from economic woes at home, particularly a falling oil price.

Western leaders, meanwhile, overplay their limited military hand. Politicians on both sides have their eyes as much on their domestic politics as anything else. The result is a chain of errors with potentially devastating consequences.

These real-world tensions have been a long time coming. Even in the 1990s, Russian opinion – both within the military and political elite and wider country – was incensed at what felt like growing Western disdain and encroachment into what Moscow had long seen as its exclusive sphere of influence. Restoring what Russia sees as its self-respect has been at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s rule.

In Crimea in particular, Moscow showed itself adept at what military thinkers increasingly call “hybrid warfare”, using political manipulation and deniable forces – particularly troops without insignia – to achieve effects without resorting to conventional force. It is an area, some Western officials say, where Russia has developed a considerable lead over the West.

The lesson of the last decade, however, has also been that when it does choose to escalate to all-out military action – as it did in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014 and Syria last year – it tends to do so with much greater force and speed than Western analysts anticipated.

The problem, of course, is that no one really knows what the best way of avoiding conflict is. For Shirreff and many others, particularly in NATO’s more exposed eastern states, the answer is assertive deterrence, putting enough military forces in the region to make any conventional Russian assault difficult.

Much of that is already happening, at least up to a point. The United States has dramatically ramped up its military activity in Europe since 2014, sending tanks, special forces and other personnel to frontline states as well as making high profile deployments of heavy military equipment. That includes the return of U.S. Army tanks to Europe as well as visits by state-of-the-art F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and aging Cold War-era workhorses such as B-52 heavy bombers and A-10 “tank busters”.

Baltic, Nordic and Eastern European nations are ramping up defense spending – albeit several steps behind Moscow, which has poured oil revenue into its military over the last decade with the specific aim of being able to deliver overwhelming force in its very immediate neighborhood. Already, some estimates suggest, Russia has more than enough firepower to swiftly overwhelm local and NATO forces in its immediate neighborhood.

As in Ukraine and Georgia, the most likely flashpoints look to be regions with large ethnic Russian populations – essentially, the border districts of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The governments of those countries have already stepped up development and political efforts in those regions to reduce the risks – but some analysts worry NATO’s activities may end up overly militarizing the situation.

As non-NATO members, neither Ukraine nor Georgia could count on Western military support when they wound up fighting Russia in 2008 and 2014. The Baltic states are a different matter – under NATO’s founding charter, an attack on one is an attack on all.

During the Cold War, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe [SACEUR] – always the senior U.S. officer who also commands all U.S. forces on the continent – had operational control of European NATO forces facing Russia. That is no longer the case, however, meaning many decisions now also require political authorization from member states. It’s the sort of messy situation that would make handling of confrontation much more difficult.

Russia has placed its nuclear arsenal at the center of its strategic approach to this kind of confrontation. According to Western experts, its recent military exercises have relied heavily on what it calls a single “de-escalatory nuclear strike”.

It’s a very simple – but possibly phenomenally dangerous – concept. The theory is that if Russian forces are engaged with an enemy like NATO, once they have won the conventional battle they would launch a single nuclear strike with the aim of intimidating the West into standing down and accepting the results.

In major exercises in 2013 that simulated an invasion of one or more of the Baltic states, the scenario appeared to end with a nuclear strike on Warsaw, NATO officials say. More recently – perhaps worrying that such an approach might make a NATO nuclear response inevitable – Russian exercises have tended to target a single purely military target, for example a NATO flotilla of warships.

A strike like that could kill thousands if not more – and what would happen next is almost impossible to predict. Putin might well hope such an action might fraction NATO, leaving countries hopelessly divided on how to respond. Already, opinion polls suggest German voters in particular would be reluctant to fight to defend NATO allies, while U.S. presidential contender Donald Trump has explicitly questioned the long-term survival and purpose of the alliance.

In the era of social media and 24-hour news, however, it’s equally easy to imagine a furious U.S. electorate demanding a savage retaliation. In the post-Cold War world, after all, the United States has become used to doing what it wishes. Nor, as the UK’s referendum has shown, is European politics currently particularly predictable.

Miscalculation is not inevitable. But it is arguably becoming more likely.

Just over a century ago, shortly before the Somme, future Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a battalion commander on the Western Front. He found himself in a briefing on the perceived lessons of the Battle of Loos, a bloody and unsuccessful earlier engagement that used the same tactics.

“I wanted to say ‘Don’t do it again,’” he wrote to his wife after. “But they will.”

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Apparently a number of US military drones have been lost [full story here] The problem is of course, the propensity of humans to copy and imitate. Now US enemies will be able to replicate the technology and use this weapon against the US and others. It is after all the perfect terrorist weapon.

Spain would be at some point a possible destination for the missus and I. Reading this, you just have to wonder at the future in Europe.

Barcelona (Editorial). – The Association of Spanish soldiers returned to the charge. The AME explained in an interview with Dutch television Nieuwsur that, in his opinion, “in the event of tampering or separatism” should be declared “a state of war, state of emergency or a state of siege” in Catalunya.

This has manifested forcefully president of the association, one of three in Spain that brings together active and retired military, Colonel Leopoldo Munoz Sanchez quartermaster. The AME, specifically, make 3500 partners.

“Spain is a nation totally inseparable and if split or threat of separatism us, in accordance with Article 8 of the Spanish Constitution, we must ensure the territorial integrity, so our view is to declare a state of war, state of emergency or martial law “, said Muñoz Sánchez in a Dutch documentary about the Catalan question.

Not the first time that the AME is expressed in this regard. On September 24 threatened to bring before military tribunals President of the Generalitat , Artur Mas, and all Catalans institutional positions that promote the independence of Catalonia, if the military is forced to intervene to “guarantee the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity “of Spain.

Nor was the only military threat to Catalonia in recent times. In late August, the Army Infantry excoronel Spanish, Alaman Francisco Castro, said in an interview with confidential Digital Alert willingness to respond with their own lives to defend the state of eventual independence of Catalonia. So the military has been expressed, it considers that the separation of any autonomy only be “over my dead body.”

I had a comment from guido with regard to Dalio’s comments about Hitler and economic hard times. I have grabbed a section of that comment:

How was that ever possible in nine years? Where did the money come from particularly in light of the fact that Germany was under embargo and could not trade freely?

In trying to acquire more information on how the German miracle could have been possible financially, you will come across MEFO bills.

You want throw away comments? Everything that surrounds MEFO bills in the public domain is a throw away comment.

MEFO bills essentially cut out the central bank. Ergo, MEFO bills were a fiat currency but crucially, it was interest free. This meant that the profit of all enterprise undertaken with MEFO was plowed straight back into the economy rather than being leaked out to the central bank.

Can this particular historical point by itself explain the fantastic rebirth of Germany in nine years? Hard to say as serious study is lacking and what study there is, it is heavily biased and emotionally charged.

The answer is the prototype Central Banker of the 20’th century. Hjalmar Schacht. I have provided from the Nuremberg Court war criminal trials, excerpts from Schacht’s testimony etc, the economic policies enacted. Germany under National Socialism became a command economy, orchestrated by Schacht. The economic “miracle” was his work.

I will take individual posts to look at the various economic policies underlying and provide some criticism. You have to wonder though, FDR, looking at Germany’s revival under a war footing…did it lead his thoughts?

Germany was virtually prostrate in the early part of 1933; she was faced with dwindling revenues from taxation and seemingly unable to raise money either through external or internal loans. Hitler entrusted to Schacht the task of wringing from the depressed German economy the tremendous material requirements of armed aggression, and endowed him with vast powers over every sector of German industry, commerce, and finance to carry out that task. Some of the devices which Schacht employed to fulfill his mission will now be examined.

(a) Mefo bills. The financing of the conspirators’ huge rearmament program presented a twofold problem to Schacht First, was the need of obtaining funds over and above the amount which could be obtained through taxation and public loans. Second, was the conspirators’ desire, in the early stages of rearmament, to conceal the extent of their feverish armament activities. Schacht’s answer to the problem was the “mefo” bills, a scheme which he devised for the exclusive use of armament financing (EC-436).

Transactions in “mefo” bills worked as follows: “mefo” bills were drawn by armament contractors and accepted by a limited liability company called the Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft, m.b.H. (MEFO). This company was merely a dummy organization; it had a nominal capital of only one million Reichsmarks. “Mefo” bills ran for six months, but provision was made for extensions running consecutively for three months each. The drawer could present his “mefo” bills to any German bank for discount at any time, and these banks, in turn, could rediscount the bills at the Reichsbank at any time within the last three months of their earliest maturity. The amount of “mefo” bills outstanding was a guarded state secret (EC-436). The “mefo” bill system continued to be used until 1 April 1938, when 12 billion Reichsmarks of “mefo” bills were outstanding (EC-436). This method of financing enabled the Reich to obtain credit from the Reichsbank which, under existing statutes, it could not directly have obtained. Direct lending to the Government by the Reichsbank had been limited by statute to 100 million Reichsmarks (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1924, II, p. 241). Schacht has conceded that his “mefo” bill device “enabled the Reichsbank to lend by a subterfuge to the Government what it normally or legally could not do” (3728-PS).

(b) Use of funds of opponents of Nazi regime. In his efforts to draw upon every possible source of funds for the conspirators’ rearmament program, Schacht even used the blocked funds of foreigners deposits in the Reichsbank. In his memorandum to Hitler of 3 May 1935, Schacht boasted:

“The Reichsbank invested the major part of Reichsbank accounts owned by foreigners, and which were accessible to the Reichsbank, in armament drafts. Our armaments are, therefore, being financed partially with the assets of our political opponents.” (1168-PS) .

(c) Taxation and long term indebtedness. “Mefo” bills and the funds of political opponents of the conspirators were, of course, not the only sources from which Schacht drew to finance the armament program. Funds for rearmament were likewise derived from taxation and an increase in public debt — channels through which part of national income is ordinarily diverted to public authorities. But what distinguished the conspirators’ program of public indebtedness was the fact that the German capital market was completely harnessed to the expanding needs of the Nazi war machine. By a series of controls, they reduced to the minimum consistent with their rearmament program, all private issues which might have competed with Government issues for the limited funds in the capital market. Thus, the capital market was, in effect, pre-empted for Government issues (EC-497; EC-611) .

(2) The New Plan. The conspirators’ grandiose armament plans obviously required huge quantities of raw materials. Schacht was a proponent of the view that as much of the requisite raw materials as possible should be produced within Germany. At the same time, however, he recognized that large imports of raw materials were indispensable to the success of the conspirators’ gigantic armament program. To that end, he fashioned an intricate system of controls and devices which he called the “New Plan” (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1934, I, pp. 816, 829, 864; Reichsgesetzblatt, 1935, I, p. 10).

There were three main features of the “New Plan” as devised by Schacht: (1) restriction of the demand for such foreign exchange as would be used for purposes unrelated to the conspirators’ rearmament program; (2) increase of the supply of foreign exchange, as a means of paying for essential imports which could not otherwise be acquired; and (3) clearing agreements and other devices obviating the need for foreign exchange. Under the “New Plan”, economic transactions between Germany and the outside world were no longer governed by the autonomous price mechanism; they were determined by a number of Government agencies whose primary aim was to satisfy the needs of the conspirators’ military economy (EC-437).

Schacht accomplished the negative task of restricting the demand for foreign exchange

“by various measures suspending the service on Germanys foreign indebtedness, by freezing other claims of foreigners on Germany, by a stringent system of export controls and by eliminating foreign travel and other unessential foreign expenditures.” (EC-437).

There remains for consideration that aspect of the “New Plan” which involved extensive use of clearing agreements and other arrangements made by Schacht to obtain materials from abroad through the expenditure of foreign exchange. The principle of the clearing system is as follows: The importer makes a deposit of the purchase price in his own currency at the national clearing agency of his country, which places the same amount to the credit of the clearing agency of the exporting country. The latter institution then pays the exporter in his own currency. Thus, if trade between two countries is unequal, the clearing agency of one acquires a claim against the agency of the other. That claim, however, is satisfied only when a shift in the balance of trade gives rise to an offsetting claim.

This device was used by Schacht as a means of exploiting Germany’s position as Europe’s largest consumer in order to acquire essential raw materials from countries which, because of the world wide economic depression, were dependent upon the German market as an outlet for their surplus products. Speaking of his system of obtaining materials abroad without the use of foreign exchange, Schacht has stated:

“It has been shown that, in contrast to everything which classical national economy has hitherto taught, not the producer but the consumer is the ruling factor in economic life. And this thesis is somewhat connected with general social and political observations, because it establishes the fact that the number of consumers is considerably larger than the number of producers, a fact which exercises a not inconsiderable social and political pressure.” (EC-611)

Schacht’s clearing agreements were particularly effective in Southeastern Europe, where agricultural exports had been considerably curtailed by competition from the more extensive and efficient overseas agriculture. The success of Schacht’s ruthless use of Germany’s bargaining position is indicated by the fact that by August 1937, there had been imported into Germany approximately one half billion Reichsmarks of goods in excess of the amount delivered under the clearing arrangements. In his letter to Goering dated 5 August 1937, Schacht stated:

“*** in clearing transactions with countries furnishing raw materials and food products we have bought in excess of the goods we were able to deliver to these countries (namely, Southeastern Europe and Turkey) roughly one half billion RM ***.” (EC-497)

Thus, through this device, Schacht was able to extract huge loans from foreign countries which Germany could not have obtained through ordinary channels. The device as developed by Schacht was subsequently used during the war as a means of systematically exploiting the occupied countries of Western Europe.

In addition to the clearing agreements, Schacht devised the system which came to be known as the “aski” accounts. This scheme likewise obviated the need for free currency (i.e. Reichsmarks freely convertible into foreign currency at the official rate-U. S. dollars, pounds sterling, etc). The system worked as follows: The German foreign exchange control administration would authorize imports of goods in specified quantities and categories on the condition that the foreign sellers agreed to accept -payment in the form of Mark credits to accounts of a special type held in German banks. These accounts were called “aski”, an abbreviation of Auslander Sonderkonten fuer Inlandszahlungen (foreigners’ special accounts for inland payments). The so-called “aski” Marks in such an account could be used to purchase German goods only for export to the country of the holder of the account; they could not be converted into foreign currency at the official rates of exchange. Each group of “aski” accounts formed a separate “island of exchange” in which the German authorities, under Schacht’s leadership, could apply their control as the country’s bargaining position in each case seemed to warrant.

Schacht’s ingenious devices were eminently successful. They admirably served the conspirators’ need of obtaining materials which were necessary to create and maintain their war machine. On this point, Schacht has stated:

“The success of the New Plan can be proved by means of a few figures. Calculated according to quantity, the import of finished products was throttled by 63 percent between 1934 and 1937. On the other hand, the import of ores was increased by 132 percent, of petroleum by 116, of grain by 12 and of rubber by 71 percent.”

“These figures show how much the New Plan contributed to the execution of the armament program as well as to the securing of our food.” (EC-611 )

(3) Production Control. As an additional means of assuring that the conspirators’ military needs would be met, Schacht adopted a host of controls over the productive

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