How Methamphetamine Became a Key Part of Nazi Military StrategyBreaking News
tags: Nazis, military, drugs, World War 2
Peter Andreas is the author of Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote that speed is “the essence of war.” While he of course did not have amphetamines in mind, he would no doubt have been impressed by their powerful war-facilitating psychoactive effects. Amphetamines—often called “pep pills,” “go pills,” “uppers” or “speed”—are a group of synthetic drugs that stimulate the central nervous system, reducing fatigue and appetite and increasing wakefulness and a sense of well-being. The quintessential drug of the modern industrial age, amphetamines arrived relatively late in the history of mind-altering substances—commercialized just in time for mass consumption during World War II by the leading industrial powers. That war was not only the most destructive war in human history but also the most pharmacologically enhanced. It was literally sped up by speed.
Few drugs have received a bigger stimulus from war. As Lester Grinspoon and Peter Hedblom wrote in their classic 1975 study The Speed Culture, “World War II probably gave the greatest impetus to date to legal medically authorized as well as illicit black market abuse of these pills on a worldwide scale.”
Japanese, American and British forces consumed large amounts of amphetamines, but the Germans were the most enthusiastic early adopters, pioneering pill-popping on the battlefield during the initial phases of the war.
Nazi ideology was fundamentalist in its antidrug stance. Social use of drugs was considered both a sign of personal weakness and a symbol of the country’s moral decay in the wake of a traumatic and humiliating defeat in World War I.