Drinking Far Too Much, Copulating Too Little
The soldier, especially the conscript, suffers so deeply from contempt and damage to his selfhood, from absurdity and boredom and chickenshit, that some anodyne is necessary. In Vietnam drugs served the purpose. In the Second World War the recourse was to drunkenness. In its alcoholic culture, this war was very different from its 1914-18 predecessor, at least as that earlier one was experienced by Americans. Although then drink was much sought after, the wartime atmosphere was gathering to the thunderhead that would burst into the Volstead Act. Cantonments and bivouacs, and even places fairly near the front lines in France, were frequented by thousands of do-gooders, Christers, and snoopers--YMCA secretaries, teetotal lecturers, anti-saloon-league zealots, and similar temperance fanatics who kept the troops under close surveillance and who were quick to note and repress signs of excess, or more often even indulgence. No drink, not even 3.2 beer, was available in army camps. These vocal hordes opposed to drink in any form are easily forgotten because few survived the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, and by the time of the Second World War, the notion that everyone has a perfect, even a Constitutional, right to a binge was thoroughly established in the United States.
In Britain that understanding had never gone underground. In one demoralized and unruly British unit in North Africa, we are told, "In a large marquee . . . a wet canteen was opened and Battalion Orders bore the amazing instruction that all ranks might get drunk provided they stayed within camp lines."1 Although in the States the song "Rum and Coca-Cola" was popular, nothing there went so far in brassy alcoholic