December 22, 2008:
In a rare event, U.S. troops
watching the Super Bowl next year, will be allowed to drink beer (two per
viewer). This is a big deal, because, since the 1990s, the U.S. Army has banned
the use of alcohol in combat zones. One side effect is fewer alcohol related
disciplinary problems. That means there are fewer cases of U.S. troops getting
in trouble with local civilians. Far fewer brawls, murders and rapes.
For example, last year, the U.S. Army had 2.6 cases
of sexual assault per thousand troops. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rate
was .86. There were even sharper drops in the number of assaults and murders.
The army has noted a gradual decline in alcohol related problems throughout the
force since the combat zone prohibition went into effect. At the same time,
there is a spike in alcohol related problems in units that have returned from
Iraq, as some troops try and catch up on missed drinks. This is also related to
an attempt to cope with the stresses related to serving in a combat zone. But
the months without access to alcohol has helped many troops learn how to do
without it, or get by with a lot less booze.
Some troops in Iraq, when they learned of the Super
Bowl exemption, wondered if they ought to pass it up. That's because many
soldiers are liable to be called away from the game to deal with some kind of
emergency, and they fear that, after months without a drink, two beers might
give them a buzz that could dangerously impair their performance during an
The use of alcohol has not been completely
eliminated in the combat zone, but it has to be obtained (from locals, or
stills run by troops) and consumed clandestinely. That alone greatly reduces
the amount alcohol related misbehavior. The "Super Bowl exemption" is
not unique. In the last six years, there have been a few similar exemptions.
This is not the first time the military has tried
to modify troops behavior. Anti-smoking campaigns have been a big success, and
drug testing has, for all practical purposes, eliminated drug addiction from a
commanders list of "things to fret about." For over a century, the
military has tried to convince the troops to not drink. The U.S. Navy, in 1914
(six years before Prohibition), outlawed alcohol aboard ships. Despite much
grumbling, this worked, and has worked ever since. But once the sailors hit
land, demon rum takes over. However, it was the navy experience with shipboard
prohibition that led army generals to believe it could work in combat zones. It
has, but imposing a no-alcohol rule at home is seen as not practical. Well,
maybe not yet?