The Impossible Victory of the War on Drugs

According to the book Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, the United States has been waging the so-called War on Drugs for going on a century. From the beginning, the intent of the war – complete with actual armies, battlefronts, bullets and casualties – has been to eliminate the scourge of intoxicants from the world. The enemy in this war has been alternatively the “evil” substances themselves and “those people” who out of weakness of character and will power come under the sway of that Demon Drink and wreak a particular brand of havoc, starting at the epicenter of their own personal lives and rippling out to their families and beyond, that exacts a dear cost on society. Since we “civilized” people don’t consort in alleyways, we don’t claim to actually know any of these junkies, or so we rationalize in order to convince ourselves the war is as justified as if Hitler himself was capturing innocent people off the streets and forcing illicit substances down their throats and needles in their veins. We further marginalize these individuals, many of them already marginalized by race and socioeconomic status, in our slums where they can kill each other all day long in their scramble for their daily fix or domination of a certain street corner. Or we lock them up in our prisons and throw away the key, thereby reassuring ourselves that none of their influence can leak out and infect us or the places where we, the civilized, live our staid and orderly lives. Only, as Hari’s book persuasively demonstrates, the enemy is not some alien being taken over by chemicals. The enemy in this drawn out, costly and futile war is us.

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