Since we’ve been in the Middle East and Afghanistan, we’ve struggled with how to keep our soldiers happy and yet respect local laws and customs. In March of 2006, General Abizaid of the U.S. Central Command, signed General Order No. 1 to help clarify and determine how our men and women fighting overseas are permitted to relax and conduct themselves. One thing General Order No. 1 prohibits them from enjoying is a beer, or indeed any alcohol whatsoever.
Under Prohibited Activities:
According to a Wired report:
In part, the order is out of sensitivity to “host-nation” culture. But it’s also a major safety issue. Alcohol, firearms and heavy machinery don’t mix, and the Department of Defense doesn’t want to have to explain a rise in negligent weapons discharges to angry members of Congress.
Recently, however, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia (Dem.), during a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting, floated the idea that “U.S. military commanders should consider loosening the ban to allow ‘alcohol for stress relief.’”
Now before you jump down my throat, consider that there’s already a problem with the “increased use — and abuse of — of prescription drugs by deployed troops” with “troops popping pills to fight everything from fatigue to depression. The Pentagon is even investigating using pills as a preventive treatment for post-traumatic stress.” So his suggestion that maybe letting the troops have an occasional beer while off duty might have some benefits to the mental and physical health of our soldiers doesn’t seem too outlandish under the circumstances. During my time in the military I was never in a war zone, so I never experienced this kind of prohibition. Hell, we had a coin-operated soda machine in our day room filled with cans of beer.
But beyond respecting the “host-nation culture,” weren’t troops in World War II, Korea and other police actions permitted limited amounts of alcohol? My stepfather was in Vietnam with the Marines in the early 1960s and I know he drank quite a bit while he was there. From time to time, he’d open up about his time “in country” and what they’d do when they were off-duty, and it involved a lot of drinking, much of did in fact seem designed to relieve stress. I can’t help but think the ban is more a sign of the times than about any real danger from soldier’s drinking in moderation.
If soldiers made it through at least WWII, Korea and Vietnam safely while being able to have a drink, it doesn’t seem like they’d fare any worse today. Winston Churchill quipped that his staff should “make sure that the beer — four pints a week — goes to the troops under fire before any of the parties in the rear get a drop.” And before that John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, said. “No soldier can fight unless he is properly fed on beef and beer.” And before that Frederick the Great concluded that “many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer.” But yeah, I understand the argument that war is different now, but I’m pretty sure that argument has been used during every single increasingly modern war. I just don’t agree with it. Given all we ask of our soldiers and how badly our government has treated so many of them, I think we should be doing everything possible to help them relax and unwind whenever they get a little time away from the job.
And even within the scope of respecting cultures, it doesn’t seem too out of line to me that something like the “green zone” or some other spot that’s secluded and separated from the native population could be created where soldiers could relax and have a drink. They did just that for the Super Bowl, where an exception was made and beer was served during the game.
The Wired piece concludes:
Would the military consider lifting its ban on booze? I highly doubt it. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, banned alcohol at NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, after he noticed coalition officers dozing off at a picnic table.
Now I hope I’m not going too far here, but why were officers taking a nap at a picnic (presumably after drinking alcohol) such an Epiphanal moment for the general? What on earth is wrong with a tired, stressed soldier having a drink and catching a little shuteye while off duty? They weren’t belligerent. They weren’t fighting. They weren’t getting into any mischief. They were taking a nap. And this sight made General McChrystal worried enough that he decided, not to figure out how his soldiers could get the rest they needed, but instead to ban the alcohol that helped them fall asleep. Personally, I’m all for letting them have a beer once in a while. At the very least, they’ve earned it.