This war, instigated by the United States government, in turn supported by many other countries at international level, has surpassed its so-called objective now it has failed to restrict the drugs trade, control the supply, and push back the demand for and use of narcotic substances. But what if the war had a different objective? It is clear that narcotic substances risk being connected with the criminal world through association with so-called undesirable social classes, and that criminalisation of certain substances is a technique that facilitates social control. By controlling only certain social groups, the war that is now raging is in reality not a war on all drugs, but a war on 'certain' drugs.
Truth is the first casualty of war,” Aeschylus, Greek tragedian, 525-546 BC.
When one tries to analyse the current “war on drugs”, it is easy to see that the truth – in this case the truth about drugs – is once again the first casualty of a war that has raged for far too long.
This war, instigated by the United States government, in turn supported by many other countries at international level, has surpassed its so-called objective now it has failed to restrict the drugs trade, control the supply, and push back the demand for and use of narcotic substances.
But what if the war had a different objective? It is clear that narcotic substances risk being connected with the criminal world through association with so-called undesirable social classes, and that criminalisation of certain substances is a technique that facilitates social control. By controlling only certain social groups, the war that is now raging is in reality not a war on all drugs, but a war on ‘certain’ drugs.
The real objective of the war on drugs
It is difficult to consider the ‘war on drugs’ as a serious pretext. The war has been raging for nearly forty years, and in some parts of the world – such as Colombia – intensively for ten years, without a noteworthy impact on the use of drugs and no impact whatsoever on the price of drugs at street level. The reasons are obvious, according to Chomsky.
Studies conducted by governmental and semi-governmental bodies lend convincing evidence that prevention and treatment are far more effective than vigorous measures to repress drug abuse. An important study demonstrated that prevention and treatment were ten times more efficient than the ban on narcotics, and 23 times more effective than the interventions in other countries, such as the eradication in Colombia, which – to be precise – could be described more aptly as chemical warfare. Historical facts support these conclusions. It has become clear that shifts in mindset and outlook are very effective in suppressing harmful habits. Despite everything we now know, drugs policy remains chiefly focused on minimally effective and exceptionally expensive measures, supported by the institutions involved.
According to Chomsky, these and other facts leave only two credible assertions which could be used to explain the current situation, and which can be summed up briefly as follows: “Either US leaders have been behaving like fools systematically for forty years, or the goal of the war on the drugs trade is completely different to what we have been told.” If we exclude the theory of collective insanity, we can only guess as to the true reason for this so-called war. Chomsky firmly believes that the war has not failed as such, because it was meant to fail in the US and the rest of the western world, and that it serves a different purpose to what is claimed.
‘Certain’ drugs, ‘certain’ social groups
Chomsky notes that the start of the war on drugs at the national level in the US coincided with the implementation of neo-liberal programmes for the financing of the economy and with an attack on the government’s social welfare system – an actual attack – albeit curbed by international rules. A direct result of the war on drugs is the huge increase, both in terms of size and seriousness, in the number of people locked up in prisons in this country in the last thirty years. According to the most recent reports, the US is presently the world leader as far as the number of prisoners is concerned. The majority of victims are Afro-American men, and men who belong to other ethnic minorities, while the vast majority of them were sentenced for drugs offences that claimed no victims. Their level of drug use is more or less equal to the level of that among more privileged white ethnic groups, but the majority of them do not end up in these circumstances.
To sum up, in this country – at the national level – the war on drugs functions as a sort of social cleansing in which the demographics that have become superfluous through national dismantling of the productive apparatus during the course of neo-liberal financing of the economy, are disposed of. An added advantage is that, just like the ‘war on crime’, the ‘war on drugs’ is intended to instil fear in the population and encourage obedience, because national policy benefits the very wealthy at the expense of the vast majority, who experience staggering inequality that surpasses anything experienced previously.
The history of the ban in the United States
At this point in the cycle, we must pause for a retrospective look at and an analysis of the history of the ban on drugs in the US. Without going into too much detail, we can see that in a broad sense, the ban is targeted at control of groups regarded as ‘undesirable social classes’, people who represent a threat to the rights and welfare of the ruling and privileged minorities. This is witnessed throughout the world where this theme has been studied, but it has a special significance in the US in the context of the history of those ethnic minorities that make up the country’s largest populations.
In the 20th century, it became apparent that at various stages in US history, it proved far cheaper to employ Chinese and Latin American immigrants, and Afro Americans, than white American citizens, because these groups were easy to exploit and were content with low wages. However, during the recession of several years, immigrants and ethnic minorities became a nuisance and too numerous as the list of unemployed grew. The way in which they were vilified was one of the motives for the war on drugs – the criminalisation of “certain” drugs, under the guise that all Chinese immigrants used opium, Latin Americans used cannabis and Afro-Americans used cocaine. That way, public opinion was swayed to believe that the cause of social unrest, murder and other forms of violence was the fact that those groups used those types of substances. Thus, drug use was linked to the behaviour of the ethnic minorities that people feared, because they threatened the privileged position of the ruling classes, or simply because they were looked down upon because they were not regarded as equals.
The end of the war on “certain” drugs
It is easy to see that those who really experience and continue experiencing the consequences of the war on drugs, both in the US and in the rest of the world, are only ‘certain’ social groups who are criminalised because they are regarded as ‘undesirable elements’. It is clear that, rather than being undesirable, they are groups that have fallen out of favour. As Thucydides said, the weak suffer as they must. How much longer must they suffer?
For reasons such as these, it can be expected that the ‘war on drugs’, a war that has surpassed its objectives, will continue yet; a war that has succeeded only in associating the poor with the criminal underworld. This war will not end before the public’s realisation and knowledge, and the activist movement against the ban, leads to governments and the United Nations being called to account for the true cost of this war on all fronts and to search for alternatives. Only then can we develop a new drugs strategy, based on evidence, based on reality; a new strategy that finally puts an end to the war that is based on a lie, a war that is not as it seems and of which the objectives are not as claimed. Truth was the first casualty of this war.