In Defense of the Good Guys

For many on the Far Left, a new skirmish in the overall culture war is simply an opportunity to renew old, favored battles. In writing for Vox (“Why We Should Abolish ICE—and DEA too, August 14, 2018), UC Berkeley Professor Kathleen Frydl not only joins the chorus of irresponsible radicals calling for the complete elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but seizes the fevered moment of “Trump’s war on immigrants” to rail against what she considers to be our nation’s “failed drug war,” along with its ostensible “warriors” in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Aside from her unimaginatively stale arguments that all drug-related social problems and pathologies have been caused by drug prohibition and not the drugs themselves, Frydl fraudulently impugns the character, motivations and effectiveness of those professional men and women at all levels of government who are called upon to enforce, on our behalf, the legitimate narcotics laws of this nation.

Never in the history of language has there been a more corrupted and reviled metaphor than the “war on drugs.” Extreme Leftists, who incessantly promote a purely literal interpretation, shamelessly harangue the term for its incendiary evocation of government abuse and overreach against its own citizenry. So, too, is the term deeply despised by its very own “warriors” for its colossal oversimplification and militarization of a complex and enduring biological, behavioral, and criminological struggle. No drug agent, cop, treatment specialist, or drug educator ever refers to him- or herself as one who is involved in the “drug war.” To do so would be to engage in melodrama.

No, the drug “war” cannot be won, just like it cannot be lost; for it is not now, nor will it ever be, a true battle against a definable foe, against which a martial “victory” can be declared, followed by anything resembling “peace.” Those who hype an exacting, unembroidered interpretation of a forty-year-old, well-intentioned literary figure of speech designed to inspire civic solidarity are, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, duplicitous in their own combative and socially destructive campaigns.

To surrender to political forces whose cleverly deceptive arguments are those of limitless compassion, unattainable simplicity or imagined government abuse, while ignoring all civilizational necessity for order, is to succumb to a naïve and unthinking existence that will only accelerate our decay. An all too recognizable characteristic of our modern society is our diminishing capacity for analysis. Rather than contemplating a complex issue with a broadly acquired set of facts and experiences, we prefer sound bites—simple, soothing, and instantaneously palatable. Today’s culture, lacking both the will and the capacity to confront such complexities, even as they threaten to devour it, instead, seeks the palliating blur of moral relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Rather than identifying wrong and destructive behavior at the individual level, it is far easier to speak in banal tokenisms that scatter and misallocate blame while offering no solutions.

Purveyors of the theory that the “drug war” causes more social harm than the drugs themselves count on what scholar William Gairdner has described as “pandemic public ignorance,” where the people, to believe such misguided recklessness, must become “dupes of appearances, wishful thinking, inadequate facts, and pseudo arguments.” To this intellectual cowardice, one could add moral sloth, where, in the name of tolerance – and against its opposite, government intolerance—all behaviors become relative, even those that are reckless, harmful, and even evil.

The enforcement of drug laws—from local ordinances to international treaties—brings with it an inherent and historically acceptable restriction of individual liberties. Such is the nature of social trade-offs in any ordered society. To the majority of Americans, the legal restraints asked of them concerning drugs are willingly accepted for the greater good. Just as there are with laws against speeding or certain types of firearms, there must always be some sense of proportion. Implementing public policy, especially as it pertains to restricting access to illegal drugs, does not involve choices between bad and good, but, rather, bad and worse. To paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith, our response to the perpetual threat of drug use and trafficking is nothing less than the art of choosing between the distasteful and the catastrophic. Therefore, how we craft a political and social response balancing individual liberties with the fundamental values and needs of society is the challenge.

The perpetual social and political struggle against those who break the legitimate drug laws of our sovereign states and nations will remain a complex and ever-evolving rational—and constitutional—response necessitating both the engagement of the citizens in that struggle and the unfortunate castigation and correction of the few who threaten the public safety. Those who spray about the term “war on drugs” like dripping, pejorative graffiti in order to denigrate its well-intentioned actors and, thus, elevate their own “sophisticated” position, engage in a dangerous and grotesque oversimplification. It is they—this herd of independent elites and uncontrolled dopers, alike—who, hawking morally lazy banalities, seek to blame some outside and “warlike” force for every problem related to drugs.

Our current ordeal with opioids has been rightfully described as an emergency, a plague, an epidemic on a national scale. Seemingly overnight, prescription pills—legal drugs—overtook cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and all other illegal drugs, except marijuana, as the most abused in America. In fact, the prescription painkiller phenomenon has not only catalyzed and fueled the current heroin and fentanyl problem, it has driven the bulk of the more than 72,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017. By the way, that’s nearly 200 drug-related deaths in our country every single day! As our friends in DEA rhetorically and so vividly ask, would our media and other elites react with the same serene indifference if the same number of dolphins were to wash up dead upon our beaches each day!

What this somewhat sudden tectonic shift in the preferences and paradigms of recreational drug taking unequivocally displays is that the historical pathologies of illegal drug use and trafficking have absolutely not been due to their illegality. Prescription drug abuse explodes the myth that it’s the “war on drugs” or the “criminalization” of controlled substances that has been the problem. It eviscerates the notion that “drug laws,” “prohibition,” and the so-called high costs of enforcement are to blame. With a price of up to $80 per pill for black market OxyContin, the drug’s status as a legal medicine has deterred neither the highly motivated drug-dealing profiteer nor society’s ability to regulate it, tax it, and then pay for treating (or burying) those poor, unfortunate souls who “find themselves” addicted.

There is no “war on drugs.” There never has been. The term has become a cudgel used to mock and condemn any law enforcement attempt to protect society. It derives from President Nixon’s “Special Message to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control,” delivered in 1971, and was designed, as a metaphorical call to arms, to galvanize and unify the nation against an alarming social problem by employing stirring, martial language. In other words, it was designed to be the moral equivalent of war, in exactly the same way that Lyndon Johnson had done with his “war on poverty,” and Jimmy Carter had done with his “war on cancer.”

It is little-remembered today that Nixon began his so-called war on drugs with drug treatment as his foremost weapon. Recognizing the primacy of drug use as the main driver of all other drug-related harms, President Nixon increased spending on prevention and treatment 8-fold within two years, consuming fully two-thirds of the total drug control budget and dwarfing the monies allocated to the supply-side—or enforcement programs—across the federal government. But Nixon, and the nation, would come to learn the limitations of government’s ability to affect behavior through compassionate and therapeutic means.
Given that the relapse rate was, and still is, 90-95% following initial treatment, most heroin addicts preferred to revert to the tug of psychoactive pleasure – a feeling one opioid user has described as “godlike.” What did make a significant difference in reducing drug use and its attendant problems was a reduction in the availability of heroin brought about through sustained law enforcement efforts against the Corsican-Italian Mafia supplying the vast majority of heroin to Americans at that time known as the French Connection.

To purposely deceive the public into believing the myth that a “war” on drugs is being waged against the citizens by its own police forces is to engage in a grotesque manipulation of the truth. Rather than simply rejecting law enforcement methods as “punitive” or “counterproductive,” one should consider the possibility that, for society at-large, it is perhaps the most compassionate of all the various counterdrug tools. Given the limited ability of government to affect individual behavior, the enforcement of legal sanctions not only deters the would-be user of drugs, possibly sparing his very life, but also deters the dope peddler who may one day target your child. The sentimental urge by some to decriminalize drugs that “harm no one” would remove those sanctions the police can employ to maintain public order and, in many cases, compel substance abuse treatment for the afflicted. Arresting a single person found with a few rocks of crack cocaine or a bowlful of crystal meth may seem “unjust.” But failing to do anything about a score of crackheads and tweakers can destroy an entire community.

There are numerous and demonstrable reasons why drugs are either illegal or highly-controlled based upon substantial empirical, historical, pharmacological, and sociological grounds. Removing the legal, and therefore socially buttressing, restrictions on drugs would serve only to tacitly endorse their use. In valuing both freedom and order, we sometimes must sacrifice one for the other. Yet once a prohibition has been removed, it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to restore, even when, according to Psychologist Theodore Dalrymple, “the newfound freedom proves to have been ill-conceived and socially disastrous.” We must recognize the seeming paradox that some limitations to our freedoms have the consequence of making us freer overall. The freest man—or society for that matter—is not the one who slavishly follows his own appetites and desires. No culture that makes publicly sanctioned self-indulgence its highest good, warns Dalrymple, “can long survive.”

There is an old historically based admonition that, “nothing so destroys any regime as a soldier’s sentiment that their lives are being toyed with.” To that, one might add cops’ and DEA agents’. Should the citizens one day be swayed by the misguided emotional and abstract arguments of “drug war experts” like Kathleen Frydl and decide that our drug laws should no longer be enforced, it will have been because of a pusillanimous response by a government intent upon indulging the base and capricious desires of a shrill minority over its moral imperative to buttress and sustain common virtues through the enforcement of those laws.

Lasting and effective drug control can come only from the cultivation of individual self-control. This, of course, is seriously lacking in today’s society. Furthermore, there are no magic bullets, no scapegoats, no shortcuts in reducing the damage that drug use and trafficking causes in what will surely be a hard, perpetual struggle. As we continually assess and fine tune our policy responses in order to achieve that golden mean in balancing personal freedoms with the safety and order of society, maintaining and enforcing the illegality of certain harmful substances must continue to be a necessary and valuable tool that complements, not competes with, education and treatment.

Clearly, our current drug-control paradigm falls far short of complete success. It is, however, like Winston Churchill’s famous observation about democracy: that it’s the worst system ever devised by the wit of man – except for all the others! Moreover, everyone understands that law enforcement bears an immense responsibility for developing and maintaining trust with the community, but we should also never forget that the community shares in that responsibility, too.

Jeffrey B. Stamm is a 34-year law enforcement veteran, having served as a Deputy Sheriff in Sacramento County and a Special Agent in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He is currently the Director of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) based in Kansas City, Missouri and is also the author of “On Dope: Drug Enforcement and The First Policeman.”

1 comment to In Defense of the Good Guys

  • B. V.

    The official mainstream “wars” on this or that have thus been “wars” on the unsuspecting public: to keep them misinformed and misguided.

    If the public were to scrutinize what the medical industry and its government pawns are telling them about the ‘war on cancer’ instead of blindly believing what they’re saying, they’d find that the cancer industry and the cancer charities have been dismissing, ignoring, and obfuscating the true causes of cancer while mostly putting the blame for cancer on the individual, denying or dismissing the serious harms from orthodox cancer treatments, and resorting to deceptive cancer statistics to “educate” (think: mislead) the public that their way of treatment is actually successful (read the well referenced scholarly article’s afterword on the war on cancer at ).

    The “war” on anything is almost always one big fraud, whether it is actual military war, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, or the war on cancer, because huge corporate interests are the leading motive for these “wars” instead of their officially advocated missions.

    The orthodox cancer establishment has been saying a cure for cancer “is just around the corner” and “we’re winning the war on cancer” for decades. It’s all hype and lies (read Dr. Guy Faguet’s ‘War on cancer,” Dr. Sam Epstein’s work, or Clifton Leaf’s book on this bogus ‘war’).

    Since the war on cancer began orthodox medicine hasn’t progressed in their basic highly profitable therapies: it still uses only highly toxic, deadly things like radiation, chemo, surgery, and drugs that have killed millions of people instead of the disease.

    As long as the official “war on cancer” is a HUGE BUSINESS based on expensive TREATMENTS/INTERVENTIONS of a disease instead of its PREVENTION, logically, they will never find a cure for cancer. The upcoming moonshot-war on cancer inventions, too, will include industry-profitable gene therapies of cancer treatment that are right in line with the erroneous working model of mechanistic reductionism of allopathic medicine. The lucrative game of the medical business is to endlessly “look for” a cure but not “find” a cure. Practically all resources in the phony ‘war on cancer’ are poured into treating cancer but almost none in the prevention of the disease. It’s proof positive that big money and a total lack of ethics rule the official medical establishment.

    At the same time, this same orthodox cancer cartel has been suppressing and squashing a number of very effective and beneficial alternative cancer approaches. You probably guessed why: effective, safe, inexpensive cancer therapies are cutting into the astronomical profits of the medical mafia’s lucrative treatments. That longstanding decadent activity is part of the fraud of the war on cancer.

    What the medical establishment “informs” the public about is about as truthful as what the political establishment keeps telling them. Not to forget, the corporate media (the mainstream fake news media) is a willing tool to spread these distortions, lies, and the scam of the war on cancer.

    Does anyone really think it’s a coincidence that double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling called the ‘war on cancer’ a fraud? If anyone looks closer they’ll come to the same conclusion. But…politics and self-serving interests of the conventional medical cartel, and their allied corporate media, keep the real truth far away from the public at large. Or people’s own denial of the real truth.

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