A steady dose of Trump is exhausting, and I commiserate with the writer who said “I am giving up Trump for Lent.” Trump has surely empowered the press, at least what I read, with the Times calling him a liar in a big font, and one commentator describing him as “volatile, irrational and vindictive.” These are unprecedented times. Let me do my Passover version of Lent and choose a different topic – a new book about Hitler and the Nazis that is getting a lot of press and that really captured my attention. Some see scary parallels between the Nazi era and what we have in America today, but I think and hope there is no real comparison.
The book, “Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany,” by Norman Ohler, a Berlin novelist doing his first non fiction, gives shocking new focus to the extent that the Third Reich was fueled by drugs – all sorts of drugs, and in stupefying quantities. Millions of doses of what we call crystal meth, packaged as pills, were gobbled up in battles throughout the war, part of an officially sanctioned factory-to-front campaign against fatigue. Hopped-up soldiers would sprint tirelessly through the Ardennes at the onset of war, an adrenalized performance that left Winston Churchill “dumbfounded,” as he wrote in his memoirs. A German general would later gloat that his men had stayed awake for 17 straight days. Maybe an exaggeration, but surely the early phases of the war saw turbocharged campaigns in much of Europe.
The most vivid portrait of abuse and withdrawal in “Blitzed” is actually that of Hitler, who for years was regularly injected by his personal physician with powerful opiates, like Eukodal, a brand of oxycodone once praised by William S. Burroughs as “truly awful.” For a few undoubtedly euphoric months, Hitler was also getting swabs of high-grade cocaine, in a sedation and stimulation combo that Mr. Ohler likens to a “classic speedball.” Added to this was his ongoing regimen of injected vitamins, hormones and steroids, which included extracts from the hearts and livers of animals; starting in the summer of 1943 came the opiates. “There are all these stories of party leaders coming to complain about their bombed-out cities,” Mr. Ohler said, “and Hitler just says: ‘We’re going to win. These losses make us stronger.’ And the leaders would say: ‘He knows something we don’t know. He probably has a miracle weapon.’ He didn’t have a miracle weapon. He had a miracle drug, to make everyone think he had a miracle weapon.” Mr. Ohler believes that Hitler’s drug consumption prolonged the war, by enabling his delusions.
I was struck by how sad and scary this story is, a whole army and its leader on a steady diet of heavy drugs that overrode normal functioning. What caught my attention and has more general relevance was what I found or didn’t find in the reviews of the Ohler book. It seems that the Nazis were not the only ones whose armies were under the influence. The Post says that methamphetamines were used by various armies during World War II as stimulants to aid fatigued soldiers. In 2014, the outnumbered and outgunned forces of the Islamic State staged their own blitzkrieg attack across Syria and Iraq, with professional armies melting away before them in retreat. It was later discovered that many fighters had been taking a methamphetamine called Captagon. Other reviewers don’t talk at all about this more widespread reality. I suppose it doesn’t fit their narrative.
In the case of the Nazis, I don’t mind a narrative that makes their evil seem unique, because I believe it was. In other cases, and we see it all around us today, narratives are pretty rigid and there is little openness to alternative possibilities. “Alternative truths” we decry, for sure, but not much place is given to real alternative viewpoints or narratives. We read or watch the news outlets that agree with our viewpoint, and they don’t try very hard to be balanced. This polarized reality has many victims, which is a subject for another day.
In the meantime, ponder all this at a time where calling out injustice and keeping an open mind are just a few of the challenges that face good citizens. Best, Bill Rudolph