A story in Sunday's New York Times offers a balanced assessment of amphetamine use in the military, prompted by the case in which two U.S. pilots claim that "go pills" contributed to their mistaken bombing of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Among other things, the story suggests that sleep deprivation is a far more plausible culprit than the stimulants taken to compensate for it.
Although remarkably calm for a story about the nonmedical use of psychoactive substances, the article does include some quotations that nicely illustrate the prohibitionist mentality. Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, who banned the use of amphetamines when he was the Air Force chief of staff, explains:
"I was a fighter pilot for 37 years, and I had been issued `go pills' on occasion for long, over-water flights and so on….I always just threw them away. Most of the guys I knew just threw them away."
General McPeak said his decision to ban the pills was prompted by personal experience, and not based on any formal research. "I have absolutely no science in back of that," he said. "It was entirely subjective. It just didn't match my style. Jedi Knights don't need them."
Here we have two principles that, writ large, go a long way toward explaining the war on drugs:
1. If I don't use a drug, no one should.
2. Subjective judgments trump scientific evidence.
Also, it's hard to believe that Yoda wasn't on something, given the way he was leaping around in Episode II.