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Do newspapers from the 1930s influence today?

Yes, it's possible that media from nearly a century ago influences today. Prompting associations is a form of messaging. Those associations can either get stronger, weaker, or evolve when it comes to public opinion and individual perspective.

July 28, 1935

'No Common Cause' In Soldiers' Suicides

Deaths of 4 Men at Fort Clayton in Panama are Unexplained - Findings Called 'Whitewash.'

Special Cable to the New York Times

Panama R.P., July 27 - No common cause has been found for suicides of American soldiers at Fort Clayton, according to the headquarter's report of the findings on the investigation of four cases of suicide and one of attempted suicide at Fort Clayton.

The report says neither the requirements of the training or fatigue at Fort Clayton nor the smoking of marihuana had influenced in any way any of these five men. The findings state "no common cause or general reason that had influenced the five men" had been found. The investigation covered suicides beginning with that of Private H. N. Solomon on May 20, Private Gustave Nashe on June 1, Private Robert W. Johnson on June 8 and Sergeant R.D. Reeder July 5. The date of the attempted suicide of an unnamed private was not given.

The investigation followed publication of charges by Nelson Rounsevell in The Panama American that the suicides resulted from harsh treatment, overwork and other conditions at Clayton, together with the smoking of marihuana by the soldiers. Marihuana consists of the leaves of the flowers of Indian hemp which grows in the wild jungles here, also in many parts of the United States. Two investigations of its effects by the Panama Canal medical authorities have not revealed marihuana as a habit-forming drug and they brought out its allegedly bad effects had been exaggerated. There is no medical record of insanity from smoking marihuana.

The publication of such charges against Fort Clayton authorities causes many mothers to write letters here concerning their sons.

Mr. Rounsevell in a signed story calls the investigation "whitewash" and demands an investigation by "unprejudiced investigators from Washington."


Messaging comes from direct language and indirect suggestions. If a reader in 1935 was reading about 'marihuana' for the first time, what conclusions might be reached? From the 1920s on, the positioning of cannabis in the media (and other sources) continued to be just like this piece, intensifying as the subject became more and more politicized. This article encourages people to associate cannabis with negative outcomes. That's why it's imperative for any adult to ask themselves what has contributed to their views of cannabis.

Some things to ask yourself

- What message is sent by the linkage of marihuana to suicide, even with some language negating correlation?

- How many contradictory messages exist here, based on other historical context and data?

- What conclusions might someone reading this story in the NYT in 1935 come to about marihuana and people who use it? How could those conclusions be passed on? What short-term and long-term effects are then possible?

- What insight, if any, does historical data provide about military suicide? (Hint: David S. Jones' 2019 piece "In Search of Historical Insight Into the Problem of Military Suicide" explores the question "What was it about the Army in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that drove such high rates of suicide?")

- What does the US-initiated studies involving cannabis during the Panama Canal indicate, in regards to this report?

Exploring cannabis history often results in more questions than answers, but that's the only way to fully understand how the perceptions of individuals as well as the public have formed over the last century.

Contact Elucidation Strategies for cannabis education consulting services.


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