Saturday, May 11, 2019

Our Whack-A-Mole U.S. War on Drugs

We once had a ‘war on alcohol,’ which we called Prohibition. We Americans are good at war with things, but they seem quite regularly to fail us.

Prohibition was a constitutional amendment, no less and its end required another constitutional amendment. Complicated stuff.

Interesting things happened, 14 years later, after repeal.

Joe Kennedy (who made a family fortune from bootlegging) became the American Ambassador to Britain and sired a son, later to become our 35th president.

The Mafia calmed down a bit and got into quieter activities such as extortion and mob-run businesses that, if you didn’t sign on, got your windows (or your legs) broken.

But that was then and now is now, although the parallels are fascinating between drugs and alcohol.

Either of these was supported by an uncontrollable thirst by their users. Americans who choose to do drugs in various forms do so by choice

Admittedly a poor choice, yet we are the major end-users of every substance war upon which we have chosen to fight. How can there possibly be a successful end-game for such a fruitless battle?

Arguably, there can’t. Yet we mindlessly plow onward (and downward) as if there were some purpose to it all, much like we have pursued other unwinnable wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

The cost is beyond comprehension and the results are endlessly the same.

Military and non-military graveyards are full of brave young men who (honorably, it is said) gave their lives for their country. Well, that’s simply bullshit in its most contemptible and dishonorable form. They gave their precious lives and futures for political purposes that turned to dust in the hands of the politicians who dragged us there.

The Domino Theory comes to mind. Did the failed war in Vietnam bring on an avalanche of communism in Asia? It did not. Did our misadventure in the Middle East bring democracy to the area? It did not.

What it did bring us was two separate generations of the walking-wounded from those wars who may never be functional for the rest of their lives. Plus a worldwide understanding of the powerlessness of our military against the most rag-tag relentlessness of those willing to absorb our punishments and hold out.

Whack-a-Mole defeats the most overpowering military force in the world. That was the message that an unknown trillions of dollars bought for us. If the Pentagon and United States Congress were two branches of an advertising agency, they wouldn’t have a client in sight.

So what did we learn that’s relevant to our War on Drugs? Nothing. Absolutely zero, except that our political geniuses are more than willing to substitute the walking-wounded of endless wars for the rag-tag relentlessness of our self-inflicted drug culture.

Self-inflicted, you say? Absolutely. As we approach the half-century mark of Nixon’s War on Drugs, let’s take stock.

With the dawn of the 1960s, marijuana became synonymous with a counter-culture revolution and of course they were all liberals, threatening a culturally conservative ruling political class. President Nixon had  re-election looming and was having none of this nonsense.

So, being Nixon, he devised the double-whammy of securing his conservative base and damning them liberal (Democrat) pot-smokers. 

He had the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claim falsely that marijuana was causing people to be overly sexual, go insane, act irrational, and commit violent crimes. Posters and film reels were widely distributed warning citizens to beware of marijuana because it would lead to murder, insanity, and death.

Congress quickly passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act and thus was born Nixon’s War on Drugs, a brilliant political move that resulted in his landslide reelection in 1972.

No one knows the total costs related to this insane and ineffective war, because the side-costs of judges paid off, customs agents paid three or four years their salary to look aside, murders among dealers and the ruination of such countries as Mexico and Columbia are incalculable. But the hard costs are said to exceed $2 trillion.

That’s two thousand billion, nearly 48 billion a year and somewhat short of small-change. But it wasn’t all for naught, don’t ever believe that.

It bought us an incarceration rate that surpasses China as the largest per capita in the world.  In 2016, we had about 6.6 million total prisoners, 45% of whom were in for drug charges. 

That’s close to three million and at $45,000 per year (about the cost of a year at Harvard) for keeping them there, you do the figures—there’s too many zeroes for me.

All of this, all of it for a drug policy that hasn’t made a dent in drug use. The human animal has done drugs of one kind or another since it first walked the earth.

Archaeological records indicate the presence of psychotropic plants and drug use in ancient civilizations as far back as early hominid species about 200 million years ago. 

Face it folks, we humans like to get high. Fire off those dopamines in our unusually large brains and we’re happy as can be and have always been so.

The sad fact is that, just like admitting we haven’t won a military war since WWII, politicians simply can’t bring themselves to admit these facts and call it quits.

It’s time to take that radical step and admit it. Time for us to stop wrecking other countries, as well as our own, messing with other people’s lives and making bets that never win. To do any less is to admit a gambler’s addiction.

Unfortunately, that addiction is never (or rarely) that of the lawmakers, yet its misery and failure is always paid for by the man on the street. To paraphrase Nancy Reagan,

Just say no to the War on Drugs.”

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