“Methedrine wins the Battle of London”

Rachel Cooke claims in a book review in The Guardian:

German writer Norman Ohler’s astonishing account of methamphetamine addiction in the Third Reich changes what we know about the second world war.

To some of us, it is not news that servicemen and civilians on both sides of WWII used methamphetamines on a large scale. Thomas Dormandy, “a pioneer in the field of free radical pathology” and “the author of a series of compulsively readable books,” wrote in The Worst of Evils: The Fight Against Pain:

Millions of methamphetamine tablets were distributed with the food rations to British, German, Italian and Japanese troops. From Britain most of the initially limited supply went to hard-pressed troops in Africa. It made the heat and the sand more bearable. Did it help to stop Rommel’s advance? Perhaps. But the drug also sustained morale on the Home Front, easing the suffering both of the bereaved and of those trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. A tablet or two helped to pass the night in crowded improvised air-shelters. In 1941 the Evening News carried the headline: ‘Methedrine wins the Battle of London’.

Amazingly, it did not lead to mass addiction. (Some have suggested that the double-shot vodka rations dispensed to Soviet soldiers on the front line during the war resulted in mass alcoholism.) In Dormandy’s account, meth helped lots of people on the right side of history to get through some hard times. The Guardian‘s reviewer seems to be saying the drug was all bad: Hitler took it, his soldiers took it, and Trump-leaning white trash are taking it.

The word pervitin and the associated home brewing process should be familiar to every observer of post-Soviet Russian literature. Not from personal experience, since it’s not exactly a book lover’s drug, but from this novel, published on the net to great critical acclaim in 1997 and on paper in 2001.

Update. What’s missing is a distinction between the mass use of methamphetamine by troops and civilians and the drug addiction of prominent Nazis. If Pervitin sustained Rommel in his incursion into France, it was only appropriate that British troops should receive it when fighting his tanks in North Africa, at least at some critical moments in the battle. The dependence of Hitler and his lieutenants on the designer cocktails and/or witch’s brews provided by Dr. Morell is in a different class.

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