Sunday, May 24, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Killer High. A History of War in Six Drugs by Peter Andreas

Pre-pandemic, I was browsing in a bookstore and this one caught my eye: Killer High. A History of War in Six Drugs by Peter Andreas.

The author weaves a narrative of drug abuse and warfare throughout history by looking at 1. War while on drugs; 2. War through drugs; 3. War for drugs; and 4. War against drugs. The six drugs that he looks at are: alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, opium, amphetamines, and cocaine.

While it was no surprise that soldiers throughout the ages have resorted to various drugs to help them bear the boredom, fatigue, terror, and horrors of warfare, it was nevertheless interesting to read the details of how each of the first five of the drugs were used and how this changed over time. (Although not specifically stated, these are additive. Soldiers still utilize alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine as more modern drugs are piled on.)  Interesting, too, was how complicit the military authorities were in supplying drugs of every sort to the soldiers.

The discussion of war through drugs was newer to me, though still not surprising. Taxing drugs was a crucial source of revenue. The more addicted the populace, the greater the revenue stream. The money was then used to wage war. Since war is expensive, drug use by both the military and the civilian population was implicitly encouraged. Although the argument is simplified, it is convincing.

War for drugs and war against drugs are two sides of the same coin. The attempt to stamp out cocaine use was the best example of how a “War on Drugs” stimulated violence, crime, militarization of the production and distribution of drugs, the rise of criminal warlords, and the profitability of drug trafficking, while doing little to address the actual problem of drug abuse.

A well-organized book that looks at an age-old problem from a different perspective, this book is well worth the read.