The Opium Wars and drugs in the wars

Everyone knows that narcotics are dangerous. Unfortunately, humans have been keen on using such harmful chemical inventions during wars for thousands of years. One such drug is opium.

Opium has been known since ancient times and it’s a kind of extract obtained from opium poppy, called by scientist “Lachryma papaveris”. The first evidence of using it are from the Mediterranean region. There were several uses of using opium and the most beneficial one was in medicine. Although opium can be helpful to people, it is also highly addictive.

And that was very problematic for the Chinese ruler when friction between China and the British appeared, due to the trading goals. In first half of 19th century (precisely in 1839), Chinese emperor recognized opium as too dangerous to his subjects. He banned opium from his country and established death penalty for distributing it. The British government responded by sending their own ships, which resulted in sinking the Chinese navy in August 1842. Even more, British ships blocked a part of the Chinese trade with other foreign traders.

You can ask “why did British government start the war? Only for the opium?” Yes, only for the opium, because it was highly profitable product for the Great Britain’s traders.

It is worth bringing up that The British East India Company helped Chinese’s smugglers sell opium in their country by providing it for them. Unfortunately for the Chinese emperor, it increased the number of people addicted to opium in his empire. However, the economic effects were worse. China’s economy began to collapse – it was defeated in military and economy. It resulted in the Treaty of Nanking, which forced China to agree to trading concessions in favor of  Great Britain. Additionally, the British took hold of Hong Kong.

This war is known as the First Opium War. However the Treaty of Nanking failed to satisfy the increasing British appetite for colonial domination. The Second Opium War, which took place from 1856 to 1860, also ended with the British success – they took over Kowloon peninsula and the Stonecutters Island.
But drugs have played other roles in wars, too. Since the time immemorial, generals have thought of the ways that could  increase soldiers’ endurance. One such idea was to intoxicate to be more effective. During World War II the German army used them to lessen the soldiers fatigue. They used methamphetamine, also known as “pervitin”. The allied armies used narcotics as well. They, mostly US and Great Britain, provided their soldiers with amphetamine. These two narcotics had similar names, as well as effects on soldiers. But none of commanders had thought about the bad consequences of using those substances beforehand. It was only in 1941 (2 years after the introduction) that the Germans recognized pervitin as dangerous and banned it. Of course, narcotics caused plague of addiction among soldiers and, what is obvious, many soldiers struggled with it for many years after the war.

Wiktor Lewczuk 2a