THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

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HEROISM AND DRUGS | 2003-10-11

We all know that a lot of junkies came back to America from the Vietnam War. Drugs were cheap and easy in Nam, and they were one of the few forms of relief our people over there had.

It is less well known that over a hundred thousand morphine addicts came back from the Union Army after the Civil War. There were no good pain-killers then except for morphine, which had only recently been developed from opium. Union Army doctors called morphine G.O.M., God's Own Medicine.

Ironically the Confederate Army had many less addicts because the Union, in direct violation of the rules of war, used its blockade to keep medicine out of the South.

But this huge "addiction problem" after the Civil War was not that much of a problem. Union veterans ordered their morphine in large quantities cheaply through the mail in the plain brown wrappers that are still being used for other things. If there had been a War on Drugs then it would have been a disaster.

The War on Drugs made criminals out of Vietnam Era addicts.

The point is that many a man who won medals in war could not throw off drugs later on, while they ruined him, his family, and everything else. If being in a war automatically made you a general-purpose hero, these post-war drug problems would never have occurred.