Don’t Fight Sober

The full text of a review of Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare by Łukasz Kamieński is available to subscribers of the London Review of Books. This is a summary.

In October 2013 a Time magazine article entitled “Syria’s Breaking Bad” alerted Western media to the prevalence across the region of a little-known stimulant drug, Captagon. Lebanese police had found five million locally produced tablets, embossed with a roughly stamped yin-yang symbol, sealed inside a Syrian-made water heater in transit to Dubai.

In October 2015, Captagon made global headlines when the Saudi prince Abdel Mohsen was intercepted at Beirut airport with 32 shrink-wrapped boxes and eight leather suitcases containing two tons of top-grade pills, valued at £190 million. By this time, rumours abounded on all sides in the Syrian war that Captagon was fuelling a grim cult of battlefield atrocities. An investigation by Vanity Fair in France last April uncovered a trail of testimonies and video images of pumped-up soldiers and “zombies roaming, all smiles, across fields of ruins and severed heads.” Caches of pills in ports and abandoned villages supplied the evidence.


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