The Coke side of war

Kids these days, eh? In my day, soldiers in Vietnam would get stoned on marijuana, listen to the Doors or Jimi Hendrix and draw peace-signs on their helmets (I may be relying somewhat on Hollywood for that picture). Today, our squaddies are hyped-up on Cocaine, listening to Britney Spears and James Blunt. It’s enough to break a parent’s heart. Primarily because everyone knows (particularly former hippies) that nice people don’t do Coke. To someone unfamiliar with drugs and drug users, the distinction may not be clear, but to give an illustration: the music of the 60s and early 70s (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, everyone who played at Woodstock and hundreds more great artists), was fuelled by Marijuana (heretofore referred to as ‘Dope’ for the sake of both brevity and not sounding like an old man) and to a certain extent LSD. The first Cocaine generation of the 80s, however, gave us Phil Collins and MC Hammer.  

I’m not going to get into a discussion of the relative merits of various illicit drugs. Long-term use of Dope, in my experience, makes you lazy and stupid. Coke makes you loud, arrogant, unjustifiably over-confident and, well, a bit of a @#!*%. Neither is a good idea, but I think the fact that last week’s news revealed that  18 British servicemen in Iraq are testing positive for illicit drugs every week, with Cocaine topping the list, should trouble us. It should trouble us for several reasons. First off, it’s obviously a bit unnerving to know that there are stoned people running around with guns (though I guess better there than here, eh?). That’s probably not going to help our reputation in the country we’ve liberated anyway, but the fact that it’s Coke, a drug that tends to make one cocky and aggressive, rather than Dope, which tends to make you passive and indolent, that tops the list must be particularly troubling in an already volatile situation.

More than all that, as Christians (who have very specific tastes when it comes to getting involved in global issues and prefer not to get ‘too political’), there is something we should all be worrying about. Are these drugs FairTrade? Sure, the MoD tells us that the drug is cheaper these days, but, as we’re told again and again, someone is paying for it. How can we be sure that the Coke our soldiers are using comes from farmers who were paid a decent wage to grow it? For that matter, is it organic? Is this yet another crop that we learned about last week, which the government has given chemical giant BASF permission to genetically modify? Discovering that ministers have secretly been funding research into GM food crops while claiming neutrality is bad enough. But mess with our drugs? Just say no.

Luckily, Cocaine’s raw materials are mainly grown in South America, rather than Afghanistan (where the Heroin comes from), so we don’t yet have to deal with the moral quagmire so bedevilling diamond buyers and wonder if our military are snorting ‘Conflict Coke’. These things, rather than the larger, ‘overly political’ questions, are important, after all.

In seriousness, though, the fact that troops representing this country, risking their lives to make us safe, need to resort to drugs, according to experts quoted by last week’s Independent, as a form of self-medication, a way of dealing with the stress and trauma of the fear and violence they are having to deal with on a daily basis, should make us think. It’s a small indicator of what we are putting these brave young people through, and another thing that should give us pause, the next time someone cries ‘War!’ when we are frightened. 



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