Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tomgram: Lewis Lapham, Drugs and the National Security State

It started out as a metaphor: “the war on drugs.” But it became ever more dismayingly real as time passed, initially as a fierce assault on young black men who ended up in jail in outrageous numbers.  More recently, it’s coming to seem ever more like a grim description of onrushing reality, an actual war, which shouldn’t surprise anyone living in a country that now has the habit ofmilitarizing just about everything from hurricane relief to foreign aid.

These days, south of the border, U.S. drones are flying intelligence missions; the CIA is getting shot at by the Mexican police; Pentagon civilian employees and private contractors have settled into a Mexican military base; the U.S. ambassador to that country arrived directly from his previous assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan; and rumors about the possibility of sending in U.S. special operations forces to take out Mexican drug kingpins (à la Osama bin Laden) are now circulating.  And don’t forget the way the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives armed Mexican drug gangs thanks to “Operation Fast and Furious,” its movie-title-inspired disaster of a “gunwalking” set of sting operations.

Meanwhile, in Central America, there’s been a flurry of war-on-drugs military construction work from the Pentagon.  In addition, a Drug Enforcement Agency team, “originally created to disrupt the poppy trade in Afghanistan,” has been at work in Honduras, guns drawn, killing locals (including pregnant women).  The Pentagon has also been ramping up its anti-drug operations in Honduras, and Green Berets have been assisting their Honduran counterparts in the field.  In fact, the Pentagon has been building new bases there specifically “patterned on the forward bases in Iraq and Afghanistan that gave troops a small, secure home on insurgent turf,” to fight a drug war based, reports the New York Times, on the “lessons of Iraq.”

Of course, my limited understanding of the “lessons” of Iraq and Afghanistan is: don’t do it!  But what do I know when so many knowledgeable military-minded types are already promoting a war in the neighborhood?  And what could the famed former editor ofHarper’s Magazine Lewis Lapham know when he points out that our drug “wars” are dulling our good sense, while encouraging our country to become ever more security mad and locked down?  All he does, after all, is edit Lapham’s Quarterly, which, four times a year, brilliantly unites some of the most provocative and original voices in history around a single topic. (You can subscribe to it byclicking here.) TomDispatch thanks the editors of that journal for allowing us to offer an exclusive look at his take on our endlessly failed drug wars in a slightly adapted version of the introduction to that magazine’s winter issue, “Intoxication.” Tom
Raiding Consciousness 
Why the War on Drugs Is a War on Human Nature 
By Lewis Lapham
[This essay will appear in "Intoxication," the Winter 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly.  This slightly adapted version is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine.]
The question that tempts mankind to the use of substances controlled and uncontrolled is next of kin to Hamlet’s: to be, or not to be, someone or somewhere else. Escape from a grievous circumstance or the shambles of an unwanted self, the hope of finding at a higher altitude a new beginning or a better deal. Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars; give me leave to drown my sorrow in a quart of gin; wine, dear boy, and truth.
That the consummations of the wish to shuffle off the mortal coil are as old as the world itself was the message brought by Abraham Lincoln to an Illinois temperance society in 1842. “I have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating liquors commenced,” he said, “nor is it important to know.” It is sufficient to know that on first opening our eyes “upon the stage of existence,” we found “intoxicating liquor recognized by everybody, used by everybody, repudiated by nobody.”
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