war "Truth is the first casualty of war," Aeschylus, Greek tragedian, 525-546 BC. Naturally, the ancient Greeks already knew what history through the centuries would prove: in every war, in addition all the tribulations that accompany war, the truth gradually loses its meaning, or even disappears completely. The reason is the untruths that are generated to serve other agendas and which are perpetuated via the gullibility that stems from fear, which is in turn used as a form of control.
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 is a controversial campaign for a ban on drugs, instigated by the United States government and supported by many other countries. The so-called objective of the campaign is the restriction of the drugs trade, control of the supply, and repression of the demand for psychotropic drugs, seen as immoral, harmful, dangerous, or undesirable.
However, the objectives of the US national drugs policy are not being achieved and politicians are only too aware of that. Well, if the objective is not to combat drug abuse, then what is it? It is precisely in relation to this point that we must realise that both through the actions currently taking place, as well as what has occurred during the course of history, it is now very clear that drugs are increasingly connected with the criminal world through their association with so-called undesirable social classes, and that criminalisation of certain substances is a technique that facilitates social control.
Thus, it can be concluded that by controlling specific classes or specific social groups, this war is in reality not a war on all drugs, but a ‘war on certain drugs’.
Unravelling the war on drugs according to Noam Chomsky
After all these years, many well known people, institutions, organisations and citizens across the world are questioning this war and are analysing, pondering and asking questions about it. In this article, we unpick the arguments that are used to support this war, according to Noam Chomsky, described by The New York Times as “possibly the most important living intellectual.” His bibliography is incredibly voluminous: he has written over 150 books, has been seen in over 100 documentaries and is regarded as the only living intellectual most often quoted in academic publications. His personality and his work are so relevant that – just to name an example – he was on the Unabomber’s list of targets.
He is Professor Emeritus at the faculty for Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has been working for over fifty years. Although he is viewed as the father of modern linguistics, the work of Avram Noam Chomsky (Philadelphia, United States, 7 December 1928) actually goes much further than this field and covers or touches upon other areas such as information technology, mathematics, philosophy, psychology and even genetics. He is seen as an influential figure, both in his own country and the rest of the world. In addition, Chomsky is known for his activism and political commentary, even though he keeps his scientific work completely separate from politics.
In his many works, articles, interviews, conversations, etc., Chomsky provides us with the tools to understand this war by examining and exposing the links between the power and the authority of the government on one hand, and on the other, the war on drugs, including the role of the government in perpetuating a system that ‘controls citizens’.
The war on drugs is a front for restricting liberties
Chomsky says that the use of language in this war is misleading and calls this war “the war on certain drugs.” The American intellectual asserts that education is a better strategy than confrontation. He is a proponent of education and prevention instead of military or political tactics as a means of curtailing drugs use. In countless interviews and articles, Chomsky asserts that the government takes not one drastic or forceful measure against stimulants like tobacco, while other non-profitable crops like cannabis have become a specific target thanks to the successful effect of the prosecution of certain demographics that have fallen out of favour.
Chomsky notes that tobacco addiction is far more deadly and harmful than alcohol addiction, simply because tobacco is far more lethal than alcohol; alcohol in turn is more harmful than cocaine or heroin, and these in turn are more harmful than cannabis. That is to say, the deadly effect of nicotiana tabacum worldwide is greater than that of all other drugs together. The total number of deaths resulting from harmful products inhaled by both smokers and ‘passive’ smokers – of which the precise number of the latter is difficult to ascertain – is frightening. According to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco kills almost six million people annually, of whom over five million are or were active smokers, and over 600,000 non-smokers who smoke passively. Unless measures are implemented quickly, the number of people killed annually by this poison could rise to eight million in 2030. Therefore, it would be far more sensible to regard tobacco producers as criminal, rather than the producers of cocaine or cannabis.
Imperialist mentality and intervention
For decades, the US has had countless military bases in Latin America and is still expanding this number with new bases, as can be seen in Colombia in recent years. The ‘war on drugs’ is cited as justification. Chomsky: Imagine if Colombia, China or whatever country claimed the right to set up military bases in Mexico to carry out their programme for the eradication of tobacco in the US, and thus eradicate and destroy the tobacco plantations found in North Carolina and Kentucky since time immemorial. In addition, they could isolate production areas with air and sea support from the police, following which inspectors could be sent to check whether the poison had been completely eradicated. Their only aim would be to prevent tobacco export to the countries affected by it.
It is clear that this scenario is unrealistic and that there are also many other reasons why tobacco is not prohibited in most countries, while many types of drugs are. Yet one has to question why the justification used by the US to apply this policy in South America is accepted and even applauded. Why is it logical and obvious that the US – claiming to experience the adverse effects of drugs that enter the country via its southern borders – stations its troops in Colombia to wipe out the coca growers there, while it is unthinkable that another country should do something similar if its interests were suffering detriment in a similar manner. The fact that this is even worthy of debate, illustrates all the more how deeply rooted the imperialist mentality is and that the truth, as expressed by Thucydides in his maxim, still applies: “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer as they must, while the intellectual elite invent stories about the worthiness of power” – a sentiment that illustrates the most important themes of history throughout the ages.
For Chomsky, the answer to the questions above is simple and it is unquestionable that everything stems from the imperialist mentality that still prevails in the US and is so deeply rooted in the spirit of that country that it is no longer noticed. However, to a lesser extent, this mentality also still prevails in many other Western countries, as is clearly seen in Europe.
In the second part of this article, we analyse the real objectives of the ‘war on drugs’ and to what extent these are linked to the control exercised over specific social groups. We go back in time to examine the history of the ban on certain drugs in the US and to see the situation to which this has given rise.
It can be expected that the war on drugs will be continued; a war that has surpassed its so-called objectives and one that 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.