The History of Drugs and War is Long and Sordid to Say the Least
In 1834, the British Government could not have sent a worse person with the worst set of instructions to China. The British Parliament chose William Napier, a Scottish lord, to be the Chief Superintendent of Trade in East Asia. Lord Napier had no experience with Chinese culture or traditions, but was nonetheless sent to Canton to take-up residence as the King’s representative and to ensure unfettered access to the Chinese market. However, setting up residence on Chinese soil without first visiting the Chinese Imperial court and kowtowing to the emperor was a violation of the Middle Kingdom’s laws. The importation of opium, something the British had been smuggling into China well before the arrival of Napier, was also illegal, and he ensured that it continued.
Through an epic series of miscommunication between Napier and representatives of the Chinese Emperor, naval clashes between the two sides erupted shortly after his arrival. The British use of naval power to force the Chinese to accept a drug that was illegal in both China and Great Britain laid the foundation for the Opium Wars. By the time of his death from typhus, Napier would still not know that the Chinese translated his name, not as Lord Napier, but as“Laboriously Vile.”
Laboriously vile might have also described the widespread opium abuse that deeply affected the kingdom’s ability to protect itself. The Chinese may have lost the Opium War due to the mismatch in firepower, but it did not help that 90 percent of the Emperor’s forces were addicted to opium. Strung out or high is no way to face the Royal Navy.
The drug fueled atrocities that pevade today’s world can also be described as laboriously vile. Consider the Libyan army’s perverse use of Viagra as part of a campaign of rape against women in the communities that rose up against Gaddafi in 2011. Consider also ISIL forcing captive women to ingest contraceptives to maintain its supply of sex slaves.
That war has been pharmacological, Lukasz Kamienski, author of a new book on this subject, could not be more correct. As he argues, homo furens (fighting man) has also been homo narcoticus (drugged man). While Clausewitz described war as a duel on a grander scale, Hobbes said that in war there is a great running away. The mediating substance between the two descriptions has been narcotics — drugs help shore one up for the grand duel. War might be, as Clausewitz argues, an extension of policy, but it is also an extension of pharmacology.
Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks