Nixon declared war on drugs, a major investment of America in itself – but one that’s gone bad
This is the next in a series began with Looking in the mirror tells our future. How has American invested in its future? What are the major investments the government has made in America, following the long tradition of canals, railroads, the Civil War, highways, and Apollo? This series looks at the 4 big investments of modern America. This post examines #2 (the good part is at the end).
Introduction: How has American invested in its future? Where have we put our money?
1 The Great Society, one of history’s boldest social engineering projects
2. The war on drugs
3. A massive military and intelligence establishment
4. Three foreign wars
Nixon started the war on drugs in his Special Message to the Congress on Control of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs on 14 July 1969 (source). This set forth all the major themes that have consumed so much money, diminished our Constitutional rights, and wrecked so many lives — with almost nil results. He declared the war on drugs on 17 June 1971.
This post looks back at those days, the bold words of Richard Nixon — our Chief Social Engineer. Words which gave employment to thousands of policemen, secret policemen, attorneys, and social scientists. Note he does not use the phrase “War on Drugs.” He uses war-like language and declares a war against heroin addiction. Similarly confident speeches have been given by every President since then. But before we start, here’s a look at one metric of success (from Steven Taylor’s article below).
President Nixon’s remarks at a press briefing on 17 June 1971 about an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention and Control (source) — Opening, red emphasis added:
I would like to summarize for you the meeting that I have just had with the bipartisan leaders which began at 8 o’clock and was completed 2 hours later. I began the meeting by making this statement, which I think needs to be made to the Nation: America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.
I have asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive. This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world. It will be government wide, pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled, and it will be nationwide in terms of a new educational program that we trust will result from the discussions that we have had.
Excerpt from Special Message to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, 17 June 1971 (source):
We must now candidly recognize that the deliberate procedures embodied in present efforts to control drug abuse are not sufficient in themselves. The problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency.
… Therefore, I am transmitting legislation to the Congress to consolidate at the highest level a full-scale attack on the problem of drug abuse in America. I am proposing the appropriation of additional funds to meet the cost of rehabilitating drug users, and I will ask for additional funds to increase our enforcement efforts.
… The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 provides a sound base for the attack on the problem of the availability of narcotics in America.
… To wage an effective war against heroin addiction, we must have international cooperation. In order to secure such cooperation, I am initiating a worldwide escalation in our existing programs for the control of narcotics traffic, and I am proposing a number of new steps for this purpose.
Results after 4 decades
Lots of drugs available on the street, of many kinds. Used by inner city folks with little fear of arrest. Affluent folks can use almost with impunity. As explained in these articles.
- “After 40 years, $1 trillion, US War on Drugs has failed to meet any of its goals“, AP, 13 May 2010
- “Back to the Drug War: The Street Price of Cocaine“, Steven L. Taylor, Outside the Beltway, 16 May 2010
While the benefits have been few or none, the war has had casualties. In 2008, over 7.3 million people were in jail, on probation, parole or conditional release — 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults. Parole or conditional release: 5.1 million. In prison or jail: 2.4 million. (From the Bureau of Justice Statistics; I don’t know why the numbers don’t add up.)
The prison/jail numbers give us the world’s highest incarceration rate, according to the Prison Brief of the International Centre for Prison Studies. School of Law, King’s College (London). Our 753 per 100,000 beats Russia’s 609 (do you feel proud?). And that’s not even including the 5.1 million on probation or parole!
What an odd way for a great nation to pour its wealth down the toilet. For nations as well as individuals, we are defined by our choices.