As some readers might know, I grew up as a military brat. When I was a teenager in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, I spent some time getting high on good hashish with friends of mine who happened to be in the service. On occasion, we would be getting high in the barracks when the word would come that agents from the Army’s Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) were conducting a drug raid. This word was usually spread by an observant GI who saw the jeeps drive up and would then go running down the halls shouting “Pigs in the lot.” Since these raids were quite thorough and included searches of lockers, beds, and clothing, this alarm was usually followed by toilets flushing and lots of hash and other mood modifiers flying out the barracks windows. The drug use was so rampant in the service at the time that Rhein Main airport-the departure point for millions of servicemen and their dependents-had trash cans in the bathrooms where one could anonymously get rid of any drugs they might have on them before they went through customs to board their plane “back to the world.”
So, it was with those memories that I read a recent press release about increased drug testing of service men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the release, there are now even more random drug tests of soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The release mentions that since there has been an increase in opium production in Afghanistan, most of the drug testing would occur among GIs stationed there. According to Mary Beth Long, the Defense Department’s (DoD) deputy assistant defense secretary for counternarcotics, “One of the lessons that we have learned from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (in the late 1970s through the late 1980s) is that those troops went back to Russia with a drug problem.”
Long went on to say that “(US) forces are obviously very, very different. We certainly have no expectation that they would suffer the same kind of issues.” How US forces (or why) they are different, Long did not say. Nor did she acknowledge the history of drug use and abuse among service members in Vietnam during that conflict. Indeed, even since then the military has waged an ongoing battle against its members over non-approved drug use. This battle, along with the nature of recruiting, has certainly diminished detectable drug use in the military dramatically, yet it is important to remember that, until the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, there have not been large numbers of regular soldiers serving in countries where drug cultivation and production is rampant. Now that the US military is in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is no longer the case.
Afghanistan is once again one of the world’s largest producers of opium and will probably remain so for a while. This factor alone increases the likelihood of GI narcotics use. Adding to the easy availability of opium products is the increased stress of combat and life in a foreign culture. This is a combination that causes humans to look for an escape. Since there is no local alcohol (and troops are discouraged from drinking anyhow), the prospect of an opium high could start looking pretty good to those soldiers so inclined. In addition, Afghanistan produces some of the world’s best hashish. One can only wonder how long it will be before foreign soldiers discover this fact.
High Times magazine ran a piece by freelancer David Enders earlier this year that detailed the easy availability of marijuana in Iraq after the US invasion. “There are few laws in Iraq right now,” wrote Enders, “so although drug possession was punishable by death before, you can now pass a spliff openly in front of the cops.” One wonders if some of those being court-martialed for prisoner abuse might have been a little too stoned on the herb to realize what the repercussions of the photos they took and shared with the world might be. Maybe they thought they were in a stoned-out scene from the Oliver Stone flick, Natural Born Killers or the protagonist of some gangsta-rap tune.
It would be interesting to speculate how much of the Afghani opium is being bankrolled by the CIA and other US intelligence organizations to fund their black-ops and other skullduggery. Unfortunately, this type of information usually does not become public until after the damage is done. Alfred McCoy’s incredibly detailed study of the politics of heroin in Southeast Asia (The Politics of Heroin) provides some useful hints at how intelligence agencies use drug money to fund their counterinsurgency operations, as does Doug Valentine’s 2004 book, The Strength of the Wolf. Both tell the story of a world where murder and deceit are the modus operandi and where a small coterie of individuals determines the fate of millions. A side note to the CIA involvement is the presence of the Israeli Mossad in these operations. Once again, one can only speculate as to the extent of their involvement in any current drug production and running operations underway in today’s situation.
The use (and abuse) of intoxicants is part of the human condition. One need only watch US television to see how much our society depends on the use of chemicals to enhance or, in some cases, diminish our daily experience. Soldiers are no different. Indeed, rumors continue to pop up on various websites and in conversations with military members of pilots and others being given amphetamine-like drugs to help them stay awake during the 24 hour bombing runs on Afghanistan and Iraq during the early periods of the US military operations there. For those GIs who haven’t found a religion to provide solace yet find themselves needing something to get away from their predicament as these wars drag on, the opium and hash all around them may start looking pretty inviting, the stockade/brig be damned.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org