Shooting Up

A History of Drugs in Warfare

March 2016 9781849045513 392pp
Temporarily out of stock


Shooting Up is a comprehensive and original history of the relationship between fighting men and intoxicants, from Antiquity till the present day. Łukasz Kamieński explores why and how drugs have been issued to soldiers to increase their battlefield performance, boost their courage and alleviate stress and fear — as well as for medical purposes. He also delves into the history of psychoactive substances that combatants ‘self-prescribe’, namely those taken either for self-medication, recreation or to improve fighting capabilities, most notoriously by GIs in the Vietnam War, but also as far back as the Vikings.

From hallucinogenic mushrooms to LSD, from opium to opioids, from coca to cocaine, from amphetamines to ecstasy; from Homeric warriors to the first Gulf War, from the Assassins to today’s global insurgents — Kamieński tells how drugs have sustained warriors in the field and how they will determine the wars of the future in unforeseen and remarkable ways. Also discussed is how intoxicants have been used as weapons of warfare, either as a feasible non-lethal psychochemical weapon or as a means of subversion.

This remarkable study concludes by delving into the risks of intoxication for fighting power, military discipline and veterans’ lives.


‘Fascinating, immensely detailed and surprisingly sober … [A] rich and compendious book.’ — The Sunday Times

‘In this compelling book about the history and prevalence of alcohol and drugs throughout the history of warfare, Kamieński reveals in copious detail the countless ways “intoxication, in its various forms, has … been one of the distinctive features” of human life.’ — The Guardian

‘Kamieński can be methodical and give detailed figures. Much of his narrative is fascinating, plenty of it is new, and he advances some serious arguments.’ — The Spectator

‘An engaging read … a pharmacopoeia of interesting military history, medical research & cultural anecdote.’ — VICE Magazine

‘For those who like their history broad and quirky, Łukasz Kamieński’s Shooting Up is well worth a look at. He argues warfare can only be understood with a knowledge of what narcotics soldiers take and uncovers a surfeit off binge drinking and pill popping. From drunk Greek hoplites to substance-abusing child soldiers, he reveals a little-known side of war.’ — BBC History Magazine

‘In this profound, troubling, and deeply informative book, Kamieński investigates the relationship between intoxicants and warfare.’ — Foreign Affairs

‘Kamieński’s book is the first comprehensive history of drugs in combat … sure to become a classic.’ — Irish Examiner

‘A historical sweep from the Battle of Hastings to Waterloo or ancient Greece to Vietnam suggests that war has rarely been fought sober.’ — London Review of Books

‘An original and weighty survey of drug use by combatants … [Kamieński] deserves promotions and rewards. He deals in ideas of danger, risk-taking, euphoria, pain, disinhibitions and fright. … He demonstrates conclusively that intoxication is a natural and necessary state for most fighting men.’ — The Oldie

‘Absorbing and comprehensive’ — The Intercept

‘The author takes the reader on a journey through time … Shooting Up is a great contribution to the literature on that fundamental resource that is essential to combat’ — The World Today

‘This in-depth analysis of the “highs” of war tells a largely untold story — of the role drugs played over the centuries in supporting troops on the battlefield, and the role they will play in future in driving the course of war. Kamieński’s book will undoubtedly come to be regarded as a classic text.’ — Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics

‘Traditional military histories make only passing references to soldiers’ use of alcohol and various drugs. Łukasz Kamieński, however, provides us with a very non-traditional and fascinating overview of the panoply of drug use in wartime. From providing “Dutch courage” to soldiers, to actually serving as a casus belli, drugs have shaped the very nature of war itself. Shooting Up highlights the pervasiveness of drug use in war, giving us an entirely new perspective on this important dimension of the human, operational and diplomatic history of combat.’ — James J. Wirtz, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California

‘In Shooting Up, Łukasz Kamieński provides a diligent examination, keen view, and detailed discussion of the implications of the long standing, and often controversial use of drugs in military operations. Shooting Up is a most interesting read that makes an excellent contribution to the literature.’ — James Giordano, Department of Neurology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA

‘Who knew that an historical, scholarly psychopharmacology of soldiering could be a page-turner? Kamieński’s book shocks, encourages self-reflection, intellectual excitement, fury at hypocrisy, and that third Aristotelian catharsis: mental clarification. Above all, this is a book for citizens.’ — Jonathan Shay, MD, PhD., Former MacArthur Fellow, and author of Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming

‘If you think you understand the nature of armed conflict you’d better think again. This book shows how warfighters since ancient times have used narcotics to prepare for, endure, and live with fear and violence. A stunning new look at the way wars are fought.’ — Jonathan D. Moreno, David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of Ethics, University of Pennsylvania

‘Not only the definitive history of intoxication in warfare, this beautifully written book offers a deeply informed humanistic perspective on the addictiveness of war itself. Insights from Nietzsche, first-person accounts from combat, military scholarship and biological explanations are woven together into a seamless analysis that should be required reading.’ — Chris Hables Gray, author of Postmodern War: The New Politics of Conflict

‘Flipping the war on drugs, Kamieński gives us drugs at war, from the Greeks to high-tech armies, from drugs as tools of combat to combat as a drug itself. Starting with alcohol and opium, and ending in Hurt Locker territory, Shooting Up offers a novel and ambitious survey of a most timely topic.’ — David Courtwright, author of Forces of Habit


Łukasz Kamieński is Associate Professor at the Faculty of International and Political Studies, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.

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