December 24, 2002
Dead Snakes Kept Too Long In a Jar (Go/No-Go)

The history of amphetamines and war is a rich and trembly one (and I do not mean Speed and Politics, which is something else entirely. OK, not entirely.) Speed and combat are old good friends, as it turns out.

It's that vivid image from Michael Herr's Dispatches,:

Going out at night the medics gave you pills, Dexedrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar. [...] I knew one 4th division Lurp who took his pills by the fistful, downs from the left pocket of his tiger suit and ups from the right, one to cut the trail for him and the other to send him down it. He told me that they cooled things out just right for him, that could see that old jungle at night like he was looking at it through a starlight scope. "They sure give you the range," he said.

So we're talking army docs with bennies; it seems absurd that the government wages Wars On Drugs and Wars With Drugs, but life's too complicated for policy, isn't it? It's that combination of actually increasing mental capacity with the side effect of psychotic behavior that makes for better soldiers. Truth is, the use of amphetamines and methamphetamines to build better soldiers goes back further and wider than vietnam, all the way to an earlier axis. 72 million amphetamines issued in WWII on all sides led to fierce post-war addictions, including Japan, Germany and the US.

Even through the gulf war, there were go/no-go pills, like those from the Lurp's tiger suit. From the pbs documentary on the gulf war, no-go pills were to knock them out after a long night of flying. Missions that would last for five, six, seven hours and then the go pills were to get them up and running the next night.

And if you're the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, it makes sense that, as a soldier yourself, you might require some of those same benefits, whether you are the Fuehrer or the President. Which is terrifying, considering the buttons those shaky fingers were on.

It's important to note that the United States army and air force were among those who believed that speed made war better. Because now that our computers are making a lot of decisions for us, bad ones often enough, we still look for human causes, when it fucks up beyond all. This is particularly sensitive in the case of Canadians, because they are so easy to mistake for Taliban troops from a few miles in the air, and I'm not even kidding. I mean, try it at Mach one. And also, on a really fast plane.

Because at the same time we're looking to blame somebody in particular for bad intelligence and the piled up body parts that go with it, we're also still investigating how to keep everybody up just a little longer, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and tinkering and tampering with the genome. We have to optimize the soldiers we've got; it's not like we're getting more and more of them; the Army's missed it's numbers for three years. So while the Army used Leo Burnett to come up with "An Army of One" to get more army, the Navy hired Campbell-Ewald to follow a different tack and tagline: Accelerate Your Life.

Speed is our secret friend, hidden from scrutiny and light; the light is not what speed is for. There are those who say you can smell it on a user. But it's fatigue that changes body chemistry, you sweat ammonia and god knows. It's not the speed that smells bad: it's the exhaustion.

Posted by at December 24, 2002 01:35 PM

I just started reading black hawk down, and was struck by (let me paraphrase) the description what it's like to quick-drop out of a black hawk in the middle of Mogadishu. Senses buzzing, everything perfectly clear, ready and able to do anything at all. As Cagney once said, Top of the world. This is what speed feels like, too. I imagine it's also what it might be like to play professional sports; for that hour, the world much have such clarity. Meth lasts longer. Much longer.

Posted by: dbrown on December 25, 2002 02:52 PM
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