Why Are So Many Service Members Responsible For Safeguarding America's Nukes Reportedly Tripping Balls?

Analysis
The Operation Teapot blast in 1955 is one of many tests that LLNL's newly released films show from never-before-seen angles.
DoD photo

The scientist who discovered LSD knew it, and apparently, U.S. service members know it, too: Nothing goes together better than acid and nuclear weapons.


At least 14 sailors assigned to the nuclear reactor department aboard the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier are on the crosshairs "in connection to LSD abuse," Navy Times first reported on Tuesday, with another 10 Reagan sailors were disciplined on " LSD-related charges."

The incident comes less than six months after 14 airmen assigned to Air Force security units at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyomingresponsible for protecting the Pentagon’s nuclear missile silos were disciplined for dropping acid between shifts.

Two batches of service members. Two different critical nuclear-related facilities. One big question: What gives?

Yes, the U.S. military spent years during the Cold War surreptitiously dosing various service members with the psychedelics to explore its various strategic applications. But as far as illicit drug consumption goes, research shows that not only is LSD rarely consumed compared to alcohol and prescription drugs, but consumption of illicit substances by sailors and airmen trails behind that of soldiers and Marines.

Indeed, the zero-tolerance policy implemented by the Pentagon stamped out tripping almost entirely as a recreational activity of choice: A 2013 study revealed that the new policy "led to a life-long reduction in hallucinogen use among those who served," according to a Department of Health & Human Service.

If anything, these incidents reveal that LSD consumption never disappeared from the armed forces — it just went underground. Navy Times reported that the Reagan court-martials are tied to a broader "LSD ring" spearheaded by two NCOs; the Air Force trips took place  “as part of a ring that operated undetected for months," the Associated Press reported at the time.

And it makes sense why these LSD exchanges sprouted up where they did: those assignments suck. Sure, life aboard an aircraft carrier may be exciting, but a lot of those assignments involved being cramped, bored, and sleep-deprived. Same go for security forces assigned to silos in the middle of Southwest Bumfuck, USA. For service members assigned to these relatively dull functions, acid may seem like a welcome relief.

Of course, the DoD doesn't see it that way, and officials were quick to reassure reporters that no, nobody was playing with nuclear materials while tripping balls, even thought one airman involved in the Warren LSD ring told investigators he “felt paranoia, panic” for hours after taking a hit.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland assured the AP at the time of the Warren sting that “there are multiple checks to ensure airmen who report for duty are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are able to execute the mission safely, securely and effectively.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, Ronald Reagan leadership reviewed the work previously performed by the accused sailors and no improper work was identified,” a 7th Fleet spokesman told Navy Times. "Due to the defense in depth of the design and operation of the propulsion plants, the reactors aboard (the Reagan) remain safe."

The whole saga is scary as hell, but not surprising. After all, LSD and nuclear power came of age in the same time period. Even the Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman, the man who first developed consumable LSD int he first place, saw the connection in 1996:

Considered from a personal perspective, the psychedelic effect of lysergic acid diethylamide would not have been discovered without the intervention of chance. Like many tens of thousands of substances annually synthesized and tested in pharmaceutical research, then found to be inactive, the compound might have disappeared into oblivion, and there would have been no history of LSD. However, considering the discovery of LSD in the context of other significant discoveries of our time in the medicinal and technical field, one might arrive at the notion that LSD did not come into the world accidentally, but was rather evoked in the scope of some higher plan. In the 1940s the tranquilizers were discovered, a sensation for psychiatry. These constitute the precise pharmacological antipodes of LSD. As indicated by their name, they tranquilize and cover-up psychic problems; while LSD reveals them, thus making them accessible to therapeutic treatment. At about the same time nuclear energy became technically usable and the atomic bomb was developed. In comparison to traditional energy sources and weapons, a new dimension of menace and destruction became accessible. This corresponded to the potency-enhancement realized in the field of psychopharmaka, something like 1:5000 or 1:10,000-fold, comparing mescaline to LSD.

One could make the assumption that this coincidence might not be accidental, but rather was brought on the scene by the "Spirit of the Age." From this perspective, the discovery of LSD could hardly be an accident.

Groovy, man. Just maybe wait a bit after your last acid trip to cozy up to a nuclear engine of destruction, OK? The rest of us thank you.

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Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.

Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.

Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.

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