Just Another War

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Exposure on 1 April 1990

Were I not stopped in rush-hour traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway last week, I would never have noticed the spartan black graffiti on the Lincoln Blvd. overpass: “The War On Drugs Is Just Another War.” What I took at first to be a pro-pot slogan slowly began to make more sense as I considered the realities of the Bush administration’s so-called “war on drugs,” and the all-purpose role it now plays in our defense policies, budget decisions, social programs and disinformation strategies.

When examined objectively, the war on drugs appears just as–or even more–ludicrous than any of the other wars we have waged since Vietnam. Its purpose has nothing to do with keeping toxic substances out of the bloodstreams of our citizens. It has everything to do with sustaining the myth of a namable enemy to United States security.

We love things with names. Since World War II, we have had the convenience of a militaristic-looking Communist bloc to call our enemy. We used Communism as an excuse to create the CIA, which put into place a right-wing infrastructure capable of surviving even two or three liberal presidencies. The Agency’s original official purpose was to gather information about potential outbreaks of Communist activity or aggression. Now that Eastern Europe has herniated and the Cold War has ended–at least in its ability to frighten the American people into paranoia–the Bush administration and its National Security Council need a new hate-inspiring foreign invader. They have even found one that can’t talk back: drugs.

Drugs are not an enemy in themselves. They are inanimate objects. They have no will of their own. A war on drugs is like a war against water because it drowns people, lightning because it shocks people, or knives because they stab people. The drug cartels are merely sales and distribution enterprises. They satisfy a market that originated right here on American soil. A war on addicts is a war against the underprivileged youth of America and the psychologically ill members of the middle and upper classes. It makes no sense–unless it is viewed in the context of the ongoing propaganda war being waged on the American people by their own government.

George Bush first declared battle in his November ‘89 TV address. He held up a bag of crack and told us that it was purchased in the park across the street from the White House. He did not tell us the event was staged. The Drug Enforcement Agency expended quite a bit of effort to find a drug dealer who would travel to Lafayette Park to make the drop. People don’t deal drugs there. But Bush’s speechwriters wanted to make a dramatic point. They did: the war on drugs is a drama staged for the benefit of the Administration’s disinformation campaign. It is a sham.

It is an excuse to fund wars in countries we can call “drug exporters.” It is an excuse to pad the military budget, even though the Defense Department as recently as last year told us that there was no military answer to the drug problem. It is an excuse to blame nations and people we do not like. Like all excuses, it is a way of drawing attention away from our own indiscretions.

It is more than coincidental that the drug of choice on America’s streets was heroin when we were funding an illegal war in Southeast Asia, and that it changed to cocaine when we began funding an illegal war in Central America. We know the same planes that carried arms to Central America were used to carry cocaine back to the United States on their return trip. The Costa Rican government has concluded that our CIA bureau chiefs helped–at least by looking the other way–direct the flow of cocaine up through Central America. We befriend drug kingpins like Noriega when it is convenient, and declare war on them for being drug kingpins when they misbehave.

Meanwhile, here at home, the only programs that stand a chance of arresting the drug problem – education. housing, health care. even drug rehabilitation – are being cut. The wealthy don’t even have to feel so bad about cutting these programs, because the only people who stand to profit by them are “drugged-out” slum-dwellers. The war on drugs gives us all an opportunity to hate the guys who rip the radios out of our dashboards, and to feel less guilty when we drive through bad neighborhoods. As long as the middle-class identifies with the rich and feels contempt for the poor, prejudice, fear, and self-interest will rule social policy.

The war on drugs is worse than “just another war.” It is a dangerous hoax. It perpetuates a foreign policy that depends on imagined enemies in order to survive, while sustaining a domestic ambiance of hatred and blame.