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ALCOHOL AND THE WAR
As a by-product of the great world conflict in which all civilized countries are engaged or by which they are affected, the alcohol question has come very prominently to the fore. Naturally, a wide use has been made of the necessity for a different control of the production and sale of alcohol for purposes of general propaganda. In consequence a great deal has been written which does not state the situation correctly or overstates it. One fact stands out, namely, that all the belligerent countries have found it necessary to curtail the manufacture of alcoholic beverages in which cereal products are used. Thus, Germany has limited the manufacture of alcohol to about 40 per cent. of the usual output and also decreased the manufacture of beer. In France similar decrees are soon to become operative. The reason for this is obvious. Alcoholic beverages are a luxury and the necessity has arisen for preserving cereals and other products of the soil for food. In England no attempt has so far been made to curtail production, but that is something which probably will be effected by the increased taxes to which it will be subjected. In non-belligerent countries, such as Switzerland, Holland and the Scandinavian Peninsula measures have been taken to prevent the usual amount of food-stuffs from being converted into alcohol.
Aside from this very natural and inevitable limitation of production, there has been a widespread agitation in order to prohibit or at least to limit the consumption of spirituous beverages. Most notable, of course, is the prohibition of the sale of vodka by the Russian Government. It has been intimated from time to time that the Czar intends to make this interdict permanent. The reports given
in the press are more or less conflicting; but it seems clear that the Government is fully resolved to forego the huge revenue, reckoned approximately at half a million dollars, derived from its alcohol monopoly. A recent tentative budget makes provisions to cover the loss on vodka by 802,000,000 rubles of new and increased taxes on other things.
Meanwhile, there is an evident desire in Russia to stop the misery flowing from the widespread use of spirits. In spite of all professions to the contrary and the subsidizing of temperance measures, the vodka monoply has proved a tempting source of rev
enue, and sales have been permitted to increase enormously. This condition must be contrasted, however, with those prevailing prior to the monopoly when home distillation of spirits ruled. It is said that grape wine may be made a Government monopoly, in which case only a fixed percentage of alcohol will be permitted, and the price made so high as to put it out of the reach of the peasants. Since Russia is among the great wine-producing countries of the world it seems most unlikely that the Government will destroy so important an economic factor.
In spite of the prohibition of vodka, it appears that strong alcoholic liquors will continue to be sold in certain restaurants, but only with hot food. This species of class legislation is wholly to be expected in a country like Russia. According to the latest information, the sale of beer of reduced alcoholic strength will be permitted under special license in cities, with the approval of the city councils. Light wines may be sold in city clubs.
How much of this restriction on alcoholic beverages pertains solely to the War Zone and is of temporary duration, it is impossible to say from available information. Some of the edicts on the subject reported in the press are not general Government measures, but orders of the commander in chief, whose authority is supreme in time of war. The whole arrangement, except the abolition of the vodka monopoly, seems to be of a temporary kind and subject to many modifications.
Any undiscriminating reader of newspaper stories about Russian temperance legislation gets the impression that within a few weeks, through the prohibition of vodka, the Russian people have turned from being a race of drunkards to one of singular sobriety and straight living. One may expect that large results will appear in the future even if the immediate changes unquestionably are exaggerated. It could hardly be otherwise considering the use which is being made of the information in certain quarters. Does not the Russian decree point a strong moral for the guidance of the United States ? "In Russia the word of the Czar is law because he is the Government, the source of law and the embodiment of constituted authority. In the United States the czarship is vested in the people as the sovereign authority, so that when the time shall come that the people themselves order the prohibition of strong drink, its sale will stop.”
The above quotation is from an editorial in the New York Sun, which finds a suggestion in the story from Russia “which may ultimately have a strong bearing upon the solution of the problem in America.” It is noted that the imperial decree is only directed against distilled liquors and not against "the lighter beverages that substituted for vodka, promote temperance and which act as a “buffer,' as it were, against any violent resentment against the new order. This fact may lead to a saner discussion of the questions here and result in a juncture of that sentiment between the extremes of prohibiting everything with a trace of alcohol in it and of licensing everything, no matter how menacing to the well-being of society, which will find a safe medium that will prevent drunkenness and inebriety, while making some concession to those who may still cling to the idea that in America the State has no right to regulate any man's personal habits."
In England the Government has contented itself with placing a very heavy tax on beer and spirits, as already stated, and curtailing the hours of sale; that is, so far as the general public is concerned. In Norway, the sale of spirits as well as of other alcoholic beverages was forbidden at the outbreak of the war. Again the chief motive seems to have been to conserve the food supply. It should be remembered also that the country mobilized its army and might naturally be inclined to take steps to prevent drunkenness. So far as is known, the prohibition still remains in force, although a very strong appeal has been made to the Government to rescind this war ordinance. Experience of two months has made it clear that the legislation does not work as effectively as had been hoped. Persons of means have combined and secured supplies for private consumption from other countries, forming so-called stock companies, while among the poorer classes illicit selling has grown to alarming proportions. Being unable to secure spirits and other drinks of the ordinary kind, resort has been had to fearful concoctions sold under the name of “Self Murder” (a name given to denaturalized alcohol flavored with oil of peppermint), and different wares parading under the name of wine, all being strongly alcoholic. So far as known, no other countries have tried to limit the output or to include within prohibitive measures the general public.
On the other hand, accepted measures have been taken to safeguard the different armies' from the abuse of drink. At the very outset Lord Kitchener announced that the English army would not be permitted to indulge in intoxicating liquors.
In Germany, during mobilization as well as after, no canteen was provided for the thirsty soldier. What steps France has taken to keep its army away from the accustomed use of wine and other liquors, is not known, except that commanding officers have been reported to demand the utmost temperance.
It is apparent, however, that some modifications of the original orders have already occurred. According to the Manchester Guardian, which is usually very well informed in such matters, both the German and English Governments have found it necessary to supply spirits for the use of the troopers in the field. This does not appear to be confined merely to the troops while under the terrific strain of work in the trenches, but generally.
Much has been said about the necessity of keeping armies totally abstinent in order not to reduce in any way their fighting capacity. Just what effect a moderate use of liquors will have upon the ability of the common soldier does not appear to be adequately established. Self-evidently, for the purpose of maintaining order and decency, unrestrained indulgence cannot be permitted and is most easily prevented by absolute prohibition. As none of the troops of any of the participating armies can be said to be made up of peoples particularly noted for abstinence, it is not possible as yet to get any data on the subject which are worth while. It is a curious fact that the various armies are drawn from peoples who are the heaviest consumers of liquors in the world, and if one may make any inference from current descriptions and reports, there does not appear to be any lack of endurance or courage on any side. Perhaps the Turkish army forms an exception, as it is supposed to be made up of men whose religion forbids them to use spirituous liquors. If one can trust current accounts, the Belgians, who are the heaviest beer consumers in the world and also liberal users of spirits, have shown uncommon pluck, endurance and ability.
But to use this fact as an argument for or against abstinence would be silly, as the qualities which make the soldier for the time being a good fighter, are not by any means all of a physical order.
Whether the war is at all likely to have any permanent effect on the liquor legislation of any country with the exception of Russia seems very doubtful. Even there beers and wines will continue to be sold if under restrictions. Fiscal considerations will play their part the world over, as well as consideration of public morality. The necessity of governments to secure revenue from whatever possible source will grow rather than diminish after the close of the war, and so long as the liquor traffic remains a large source of revenue, one can hardly look for its general abolition; nor can it be believed that on the grounds of morality a government would take so drastic