US Forces in war zones are not going to be banned from smoking, as the Pentagon is worried that to do so might add to their stress. Smoking rates are ‘thought to be as high as 50%’ among those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m amazed they are that low.
There is a telling quote from the photographer who took the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of the soldier in Iraq smoking, here:
I flashed back to the chaos of combat in Falluja. In the tight spaces, we were scared mindless. Everybody dragged deeply on cigarettes.
Managing to quit the demon weed earlier in the year might allow me to feel a little smug about a ban, however I would imagine that if I were to find myself in either ‘theatre’ of war with a lack of vital equipment and a vague sense of not knowing what the heck I was doing there, my replacement vice of nail-biting might not be enough to keep me from going AWOL or blowing a hole in my own foot to get sent home.
What the IOM are missing is that the logic of protecting a soldier’s health from things that might kill them in later years is redundant if not part of a package of measures designed to protect them from the elements that are trying to kill them on a daily basis. Most would probably rather play the odds on emphysema and lung cancer while remaining really quite fundamentally against IEDs, snipers and suicide bombers.
Plus, the killjoys are failing to grasp another essential truth: war is hell, but war without cigarettes is a dismal pit of despair. War and cigarettes go together like strawberries and cream. Even having your legs blown off is something that a good Woodbine can assist with:
Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seem to question why:
With both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.
A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.
So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the ‘dresser’ drawing near;
And winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.
But when the dreaded moment’s there
He’ll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his woodbine cigarette.
‘Pluck’ by Eva Dobell
Those First World War generals might have been murderous bastards who thought nothing of sending half a generation of men to their deaths before breakfast, but even they would have balked at stopping the tobacco rations. It is likely that the non-smoking soldiers would also complain, as my Grandad’s tales of bargaining his ration in the Second one for everything from extra days leave to a new pair of boots can attest to. Stop the smoking and the entire unofficial economy of the army collapses, and with it morale.
A final word, as ever, to Mr Orwell, who in Homage to Catalonia proclaimed tobacco to be one of the five essential needs of a soldier at the front. (The other four being firewood, food, candles and the enemy). I hope the IOM take note:
The use of tobacco in field hospitals is to be recommended … on account of its sedative qualities. No one can doubt that it has a soothing effect on men suffering from the pain of wounds, and produces a state of calm which is very beneficial under the circumstances … Perhaps none of the presents from aid societies as in time of war have been so much appreciated in hospitals as the presents of tobacco …