THE TIPPLING POINT | Banning Booze Isn’t Easy. First Failed Attempt Was in 50BC
History teaches us that where alcohol is banned, illicit booze flourishes, for man’s relation with booze runs centuries deep. King Barebista of Trace tried to ban liquor in 50 BC. Some drunkard later drove a knife through royal abdomen.
‘Prohibit alcohol. Ban it!’ — A slogan that that every country in the world might have heard resonating in its streets at one time or the other. The Church wants it to go. Temperance groups want to see its back. Most women too hate it like hell.
But, banning alcohol is not easy as one might imagine it. Check history. King Barebista of Trace tried it in 50 BC. Six years later some drunkard indirectly lifted the ban by driving a knife through the royal abdomen. Another Chinese ruler banned it later; his son being more patient waited until his father died to bring back the banished.
Countries like Russia did everything they could to wrest the power to influence their people from alcohol in vain. Even some states in our country, too, got their hands scalded in the process. History teaches us that where alcohol is banned, illicit booze flourishes, for man’s relation with booze runs centuries deep.
Take America. A look into state’s resistance against alcohol will not be complete without studying the US prohibition in early 20th century.
First things first. What drives a country so mad to impose a ban on alcohol business?
You point at any country where prohibition has been imposed, I will show you its immediate history drowned in alcohol. A lot of drinking, binging, throwing up on streets, driving along the streets madly in chariots and cars all lead countries in different times to impose prohibition.
Though temperance movements were strong in America even in the 19th century, they lacked some bite only a strong woman could give. Enter Carry Nation, a six feet brawny woman, briefly married to an alcoholic, so already a victim.
At Kansas, she and her friends from various temperance groups did everything to get alcohol banned in the state. They sat outside a saloon, read Bible aloud presuming that the passages would either change the mind of the drunkards or prompt the Almighty to intervene on their behalf to get the job done. Nothing happened.
The customers to the saloon now began to mock the women sitting outside and praying. Often on their way back, they emptied buckets of beer on the women’s heads. Poor meek women. But not everyone.
One evening Carrie Nation got impatient with the Almighty, lost her cool, and stormed into the saloon with a hatchet. What happened was sheer pandemonium. Single-handedly, she brought the establishment to smithereens as customers fled through whatever openings they could find in the saloon.
She might have thought, the Almighty has entrusted her with a mission, Joan-of-Arc-like, this time, to destroy the liquor industry in America single-handedly. With hatchet in her hand, Carrie became terror in human shape.
“Smash, ladies smash,” her charismatic war cry boosted the sagging energy of the women’s movements against alcohol. They rolled out in large numbers to the street sending tremors down the spine of the alcohol world.
America now witnessed roving bands of women all over the country with hatchets tearing down salons and chopping down apple trees that supplied cider.
Between 1900 and 1900, Carrie Nation was arrested thirty times for still holding an axe inside what had until recently been a saloon. She paid her fine from lecture tours and sales of those souvenir axes. In her own words she was “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn’t like.”
John Sulliven, the then heavyweight boxing champion of the world had a nightmare of a day when he saw Carrie Nation with her hatchet storming into the salon he was in. He leapt out through the backdoor and ran away with his life.
Boxing after all is another sport!
All these protests on and off the streets put the politicians of America into serious thinking mode. A new legislation was soon made; it sailed through the Congress without much opposition. So, on January 16, 1920, America went dry.
The production and sales of alcohol was banned in the country. Salons were sealed. Shocked drunkards were carted home. Wine producers were stunned out of business.
What happened later? We will see that next week. To be continued…
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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