During the Vietnam War marijuana wafted in on a breeze of rebellion and self-criticism, filling the lungs of an American army that been had been willing to see a whole country burn to block the advance of Communism. But, ironically, it watched as its own convictions were those that went up in smoke ... of the spicy, pungent kind from Vietnam's landrace, inspiring many soldiers to rebel against the slaughter and the barbarism they witnessed daily.
By 1968 (seven years after the start of the war), more than 25% of US soldiers were marijuana smokers. Traditional Vietnamese Sativa had become their last refuge from the horror of one of history's bloodiest wars. In jungles that saw more than 2 million people die, grass became, for many combatants, their last resort to maintain their sanity and survive the brutality that surrounded them.
How marijuana gradually turned US soldiers into pacifists
At the same time that cannabis had become a tool to mentally escape from the conflict, it also made soldiers more inclined to pacifism and opposed to the war - something unprecedented in American history. A study of the army revealed that by the end of '69, 37% of the soldiers sent to the former Indochina were opposed to the war in Vietnam. And more than a few created clandestine publications calling for an end to the armed conflict.
That same year, the US Department of Defense launched a program to eradicate cannabis in the army, apprehending 1000 cannabis smokers per week during the first months of its implementation. Critical voices pointed out that this campaign was accompanied by the military's promotion of large amounts of heroin and amphetamines to make combatants in Vietnam less critical and more docile.
Wielding joints in the struggle for peace
“In one of the few public demonstrations by American soldiers in Vietnam, more than 1000 people went to Chu Lai Beach on the 4th of July, 1971. When they got there they didn't know what to do, so they organized the biggest marijuana celebration in the history of the war'.” A People’s History of the Vietnam War features an account of this event, one of the few anti-war protests that have ever occurred in an army. And one “sponsored” by Vietnamese cannabis.
Lighting up a joint was clearly an act of rebellion. But this didn´t stop thousands of recruits from lighting up thick spliffs of Vietnamese marijuana and adorning their helmets with slogans like Fuck the Army. They no longer wanted to belong to a society in which killing was a daily routine. They were with the people on the streets of the United States. With those who, to the sounds of the Stones, Hendrix and Dylan, lit up pipes of ganja and demonstrated against the war.
Smoke of solidarity, in the midst of the conflict
The extreme violence of the Vietnam War ultimately left many of the American combatants traumatized. 31% of them would suffer (PTSD), haunted by traumatic images of what they had seen. Smoking cannabis with their fellow soldiers was for many a form of psychological decompression that allowed them to open up to others and talk about it.
In fact, the cannabis smoked at them was able to break down long-standing barriers in the American Army, including those of race and rank. African-Americans, for example, were almost segregated from others; they had their own tables to eat and went to their own bars. But when it was time to smoke, all those barriers of race and rank disappeared, and there was just a varied group of men, lost in a crazy war they did not understand.
Saigon Connection: the war's “green” cigarettes
Many young middle-class Americans had their first experiences with marijuana thanks to the contraband grass brought back from Vietnam. It was top-quality marijuana; genuine landrace buds, 100% Sativa that packed a powerful punch among the pantheon of Southeast Asia's finest marijuanas, very similar to Double Thai, Wild Thailand and Mama Thai.
The soldiers got it in Vietnam, hidden in packs of tobacco, for a couple of dollars each. It was a very cerebral weed, with a lot of THC. Ironically, it was traditionally grown near the Golden Triangle, in territory held by the enemy North Vietnamese Army. It potent effects were a means of escape for at least one out of every four US soldiers, who knew full well that it could cost them punishments, like the withholding of their veteran pensions. Many of them admitted that grass did not save their lives, but it did help them to deal with the war.
Cannabis and rebellion: an army split from within
The United States withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, incapable of controlling public opinion, or its soldiers. Historical re-examination demonstrates that many of the combatants smoked marijuana as a form of “light resistance” to the conflict, which could be coupled with other more active forms of resistance, like fragging (killing a superior with a fragmentation grenade) or refusing to participate in a battle, arguing that he did not want to form part of an illegal and unjust conflict.
Towards the end of the ‘60s the number of desertions and acts of insubordination was very high. (Foto)
The United States did not lose the Vietnam War because its Army was inferior to that of the Vietnamese. It lost because many of its citizens (both in the ranks and on the home front) no longer wanted to wage an immoral war. It lost because the boys who it had sent to the jungles of Vietnam could no longer become killing machines after sampling Vietnam's pungent marijuana. It lost because the “counterculture” had been born - and cannabis played a great role in that.