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As the drug war turns 50, the US is still public enemy number one

Fifty years in the past, on June 17, 1971, United States President Richard Nixon convened a press convention with a grave message for his fellow residents: “America’s public enemy number one, in the United States, is drug abuse”. To vanquish the enemy, he declared, it was “necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive”, which might be “worldwide” in nature and would naturally require “more money” from Congress.

To make sure, it was lucky that Nixon included the geographic specification “in the United States” – lest Americans overlook the horrible communist menace that was allegedly additionally imperilling their lives at each second and that required, inter alia, a large number of US troopers to go kill and be killed in Vietnam.

As it turned out, a part of Nixon’s professed motive for launching the so-called “war on drugs” needed to do with none apart from the Vietnam War, which had spawned an epidemic of heroin abuse and related phenomena in the US navy. It was hardly rocket science: in case you are a poor American dispatched to kill and die for no different motive than imperialism, you might be in all probability extra more likely to search a narcotic-fuelled escape from stated depressing actuality.

Nor did it assist, by way of combatting “public enemy number one”, that the US had been as much as its ears in the international drug commerce for many years so far, together with – shock shock – in southeast Asia. A 1993 New York Times article, for instance, specifies that in the Vietnam War and the attendant clandestine slaughter perpetrated by the US in neighbouring Laos, the merchandise from a heroin lab in the Laotian north have been “being ferried out on the planes of the CIA’s front airline, Air America”.

Granted, US hypocrisy is as previous as the nation itself, however the entire “drug war” constitutes its personal particular stage of hypocritical overdose. As the acclaimed American historian Howard Zinn famous in his guide A People’s History of the United States, the CIA in the Fifties “administered the drug LSD to unsuspecting Americans to test its effects: one American scientist, given such a dose by a CIA agent, leaped from a New York hotel window to his death”.

And but it was not solely this scientist who may need been forgiven for pondering that it was the truth is the US authorities that was public enemy number one.

Recall, for instance, the rationalization of the origins of the drug war that former Nixon adviser and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman supplied to journalist Dan Baum. The Nixon White House, Ehrlichman stated, “had two enemies: the anti-war left and Black people … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

And disrupt they did. After all, what is the level of capitalism if to not create a social hierarchy predicated on racism and discrimination that permits the obscene enrichment of an elite minority at the expense of the plenty?

In one other occasion of acute hypocritical overlap in the Eighties, the US Contra War on Nicaragua additionally entailed a narco side, wherein the US facilitated the enrichment-by-drug-trafficking of the right-wing mercenaries who have been dutifully terrorising the nation in query.

One byproduct of the association: a crack cocaine epidemic that devastated Black neighbourhoods in Los Angeles.

Talk about public enemies.

This epidemic, in flip, helped spawn the Anti-Drug Abuse Act throughout the administration of Ronald Reagan, which established necessary minimal sentences for crimes involving sure portions of medicine and wreaked disproportionate distress on poor communities of color.

The legislation institutionalised a 100-to-1 disparity in jail sentence lengths for possession of crack – a drug related to Black individuals – versus powder cocaine, related to wealthier whites.

Indeed, the mass incarceration of poor Black individuals in for-profit prisons is a positive approach of capitalistically “disrupting communities”.

Abroad, too, lots a group has been disrupted over the previous half-century of a “war on drugs” that has truly largely been a war on poor individuals. Colombia involves thoughts, the place the US has flung billions of {dollars} at right-wing governments totally implicated in the drug commerce, who’ve used their imperial backing to bloodbath peasants, leftists, social justice activists, and anybody else standing in the approach of neoliberal dystopia.

And in Mexico, tons of of hundreds of individuals have been killed in the context of a home US-backed drug war that was formally launched in 2006. While engaging in zero of its ostensible objectives – due to the persevering with US demand for medication and the criminalisation that makes their trafficking so profitable in the first place – the war has succeeded in rendering Mexican cities a few of the most violent locations on earth.

Back in the US, in the meantime, the drug war was given a brand new lease on life by penultimate President Donald Trump. Although optimistic observers have detected prospects for enchancment in the new administration of the much less transparently sociopathic Joe Biden, Biden additionally occurs to be one of the architects of obsessive drug-related over-incarceration in the US – together with on the subject of the 100:1 sentencing disparity for crack versus cocaine.

A Newsday article reminds us that, in 1991, Biden “lamented” that the demise penalty was not often utilized to individuals who bought medication.

But merely present in the US can virtually represent a demise sentence, in gentle of the nation’s firmly capitalist dedication to denying its inhabitants correct healthcare and different primary rights of survival. Given the oppressive panorama, it is lower than stunning that many individuals flip to medication.

Now, as the US drug war turns 50 and an opioid epidemic rages in the US, due to lethally predatory practices by the pharmaceutical business, one can’t assist however assume a vastly totally different type of war on medication is so as. Or higher but: a war on the war on medication itself.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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