American Liberty

February 8, 1902


An argument for temperance outlines the dangers of alcohol to soldier’s “moral nature,” efficiency in action, and physical strength.


Will alcohol help the soldiers maintain it?- Six strong indictments against the evil.
It goes without saying that our army should represent our best American citizenship. The character of the men who wear the United States uniform should represent the flag that floats over them; that flag stands for the upholding and defense of liberty under law. Its defenders, therefore, should be not only brave but morally and physically strong, law-abiding men.
Abundant testimony might be cited on this point, showing that alcohol blunts the sense of duty and obligation, that it disqualifies for devotion, even at the cost of risk and sacrifice, to the good of one’s country and its principles. Such devotion constitutes the sublimest patriotism and true courage. In all climates, in all conditions, and in all countries, that such patriotism is lowered in the soldier by beer drinking is the testimony of both science and experience.
The thought of liberty as freedom from all restraint except such as duty to God and the rights of others prescribe, has been a slow evolution through centuries of human experience at countless cost of blood and treasure. It has found its highest expression in government in our republic. To the American soldier is intrusted the defense of this priceless liberty.
Our first indictment against beer is, then, that it lowers the soldier’s moral nature and thus weakens his efficiency to meet the demands of his high calling.
Modern warfare demands intelligent alertness, coolness, self-restraint, strength and precision of muscle and protracted endurance in action. Among the experiments performed in Prof. Kraepelin’s laboratory was one which shows how alcohol affects that precision of muscle which is an essential requisite in the man behind the guns. The subject held down, with a finger of each hand, two Morse keys, one of which he was to release on a given signal, the ‘right hand upon one signal, the left upon another. After taking alcohol the subject would often release the keys a little sooner than he would in his normal state, but he released oftener the wrong key. Muscular movement was precipitated without proper control. The cool head and steady eye and nerve necessary to the unerring marksman are sacrificed by the use of alcohol.
Our second indictment against beer for the soldier, therefore, is that it impairs his physical strength. For a modern military authority to ignore this testimony of science that alcohol weakens a physical strength is utter folly.
A famous military authority said: “The army moves upon its stomach.” That being true, it is very important to learn how the alcohol in beer will affect the process of digestion and its organs. In the very elaborate experiments on the effect of alcohol and digestion reported by Chittenden and Mendel, in the American Journal of Physiology, they found that the digestive process took from one-half to three-quarters of an hour longer when alcohol was given with meals than it did when it was not.
Recent experiments made by G. Rosenfeld, of Germany, to ascertain the effect of alcohol on the liver, showed that alcohol caused an accumulation of fat in the liver which may appear as fatty degeneration or fatty infiltration and that it also diminished the amount of glycogen in the liver. Since glycogen is the substance which is burned or oxidized in the muscles to afford muscular energy it is easy to see why alcohol weakens the muscles.
Third indictment- beer will hinder the soldier’s digestion of his hardtack.
Other vital organs affected by the strain of military life are the heart, kidneys, lungs, etc.
Fourth indictment against beer in the canteen-- Science and experience show that alcohol instead of helping any organ of the soldier’s body to do its best work has the power to injure any one of them, although not necessarily every organ at the same time.
Military statistics show that the proportion of men killed or fatally wounded in battle during the war is only a small fraction of the large number of soldiers who die of diseases, largely epidemic diseases. Experimenters have found that alcohol greatly increases susceptibility to disease and diminishes the ability to resist disease germs. This is true not only of large amounts of alcohol, but of what is called its moderate use. The most recent experimenter on this point, Laitinen, says:
“Alcohol under all circumstances increases the susceptibility of the animal body for infection, whether it be given before or after the inoculation and whether in a few large doses or in numerous small ones extending over a long time.”
Fifth indictment against beer for the soldier- Alcohol predisposes to the diseases that are more to be readed by the soldier than bullets or bayonets.
All this, perhaps you say, may be true of taking too much, but the limited amount of beer the soldier is allowed to drink in a post exchange or canteen ought not to be forbidden him because someone else has drunk too much….
The sum of it all is this: moral and physical strength are needed alike in civilian and soldier in all our land in order that both may be true representatives and defenders of our blood-bought liberties.
To repeal the anti-canteen law and restore government consent to the sale to the soldiers of beer or any alcoholic liquors would be to announce to the world that we have decided to weaken our defenses and to invite attack. Abolish alcohol from the habits of the 75,000,000 inhabitants over whom the stars and stripes are floating, then, with God’s blessing, we may safely trust that the heart, brain and brawn of this people will be equal to the demands of the future and that liberty will be safe in their hands.-- Mary H. Hunt, in Union Signal.
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Brooke Royer


“American Liberty,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed June 20, 2024,