Morale: Banning The Cure For What Ails You

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January 5, 2011: The U.S. Air Force has banned their troops in South Korea from having a local liquor, Soju, in their living quarters, or anywhere on base. The reason is that Soju is cheap, popular and kind of sneaks up on you. Similar to vodka, but with a somewhat sweet taste, most Soju is 40 proof (20 percent alcohol). American troops find that they can drink a lot of it before they suddenly find themselves quite intoxicated. The air force considers this a problem because many airmen, while off-duty and on base, are "on call." If they have been drinking Soju, and are suddenly called in to operate or repair complex equipment, disaster can ensue. Some Soju is 90 proof, but it's the 40 proof stuff that causes the most problems.

Soju is not the only alcoholic beverage the military has problems with. Despite alcoholic beverages being forbidden for American troops in combat zones (and aboard warships no matter where, or when, they are), the troops find a way to get a drink. Sailors have been supplied by hidden shipboard stills since shortly after alcohol was forbidden aboard U.S. Navy ships in 1914. Soldiers and marines, no matter where they were, if there wasn't a lot of fighting going on, found ways to make, or obtain, alcoholic beverages. Stills or trading with the locals have been a constant headache for commanders.

Seven years ago, some American troops in Iraq came up with a better idea. Despite being forbidden alcoholic beverages by their own commanders, and local customs, soldiers opened and operated bars, and served cold beer in Iraq. And they got away with it, despite the risk of severe punishment and expulsion from the military.

The key to this was the development of palatable non-alcoholic beer. Islam forbids drinking alcohol under any circumstances, and one of the consequences of that is the popularity of non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East. Iraqis, in particular, like their beer, as this is the area where beer brewing was believed to have been invented. Thus, by 2004, some American troops in Iraq were found running bars, legally. Since most troops were accustomed to drinking in a saloon, it occurred to soldiers that it was possible to have a bar and beer, without having alcohol. Thus they could at least have the relaxing atmosphere.

Many Iraqi Moslems quaff the real stuff anyway, but they generally do so in private. The ability to drink the non-alcoholic stuff in public, while enjoying the company of friends, has become popular. This sort of thing is actually encouraged by Islamic conservatives, because for centuries they have had to tolerate local Christians who could, according to their religious customs, drink alcohol (and often legally produce and sell alcoholic beverages as well.) While Moslems were not supposed to purchase booze from the local Christians, they did so anyway, and this did little to improve relations between Christians and the Islamic purists. Even in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, where local Christians are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages, smugglers and illegal stills supplied those willing to risk the wrath of Islamic law for a drink.

All this encouraged the intrepid soldiers in Iraq who, with the approval of their commanders, set up improvised saloons. There, the troops could go to relax, unwind and have a cold beer. All legal, not offensive to the local Moslems, and there's no hangover. No alcohol either. But as any saloon keeper can tell you, many people come in, not to get hammered, but to enjoy some companionship in a relaxed atmosphere. This was a precious commodity in Iraq. 

 


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