Another endless war

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

It’s the kind of story that seems like more of the same. Yet one more agency involved in empire.

But I’m remembering back to a day when I was a teaching assistant at California State University, East Bay. This particular professor, Robert Terrell, believed it was important to actually think about issues of the day—and probably about three quarters of each class was devoted to a wide-ranging debate. Very often I was on one side, attacking his position from the left. Given that his reputation in the department as being a leftist, I put him in the uncomfortable position of defending somewhat conservative views, and as I got better at this, got to where I could sometimes argue him to a draw.

On this particular day, he was arguing that young people had considerable influence in the political process. To understand what happened next, you have to understand that if students have no voice, his entire pedagogy becomes meaningless because there really is no reason for them to think about things they can do nothing about.

“Why then,” I demanded, “is marijuana still illegal?” It is legal, he retorted, really referring to what is, for the most part, rather lax enforcement. But glossing over that meaning and turning his words against him, I challenged him to test this theory in the lobby of the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and he was none too pleased with having been so cornered.

Those of us who advocate a more sensible drugs policy, that is, a recognition that drugs should be seen as a medical rather than a criminal issue have probably failed to fully reckon with the implications of this story in the New York Times on how deeply embedded the DEA in the mechanisms of empire.1 It should give us pause.

Because just as what Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the military-industrial complex2 has become a major constituency in policy making that has led us to endless war in other lands, the influence of such an apparently large and powerful agency may ensure endless war against our own people.

Of course this latter war manifests in many more ways than the so-called war on drugs. But nonviolent drug offenses account for a large part of a swollen United States prison population. In my own observations, drugs supply an additional anesthetic that Charles Reich failed to account for in The Greening of America when he anticipated that the discrepancy between the fantasy world of riches on television used to pacify the masses and the conditions of many people’s lives could not be sustained.3 (He also failed to anticipate the housing scam and a revivification of what he called Consciousness I—a ferocious individualism embedded in U.S. culture.)

And just as the military-industrial complex entails the armaments industry as well as the Pentagon, the constituency supporting the war on drugs entails the Drug Enforcement Agency, alcohol producers, and a burgeoning prison system. These are all powerful constituencies, growing in power, and forces to think about when you hear about “law and order,” the law passed by mostly wealthy white males against everyone else to preserve social hierarchy.

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