Drugs in Uniform

In the late 1970s, I used to visit with a Lebanese fellow who lived next door to my friends in Anaheim, California. This man had been a member of the rightwing Phalangist militia and had escaped the guns of other Lebanese militias with the help of the Israelis.

Usually our conversations revolved around safe topics like his children, his wife, and his growing interest in baseball, but on those occasions when he joined my friends and I in draining a fifth or two of bourbon, darker stories would emerge from the recesses of his memory. I was always careful to never let him know of my sympathies for the Palestinian cause, given my understanding that the Phalangists were intimately involved in Israel’s campaign to wipe that phenomenon from the earth.

It became apparent over the course of these conversations that my acquaintance was mostly involved with the fundraising side of things in the Phalange movement. His tales of bank robberies and other types of fund transfers made for good adventure stories no matter what the politics behind them were.

The last time I saw him was on Christmas Eve of 1979. The rest of my friends were already asleep on the couches and chairs that sat in their living room. The former Phalangist and I were finishing the second fifth of bourbon and waiting for Santa. I decided to dig into my backpack for a pipeful of weed that I had brought along. I didn’t know if my drinking buddy smoked, but I was getting tired of the alcohol buzz and needed something to lift its fog from my brain.

As I lit the pipe, he looked at me and told me that I must put it out. I asked him why and he grabbed the pipe from my hand, put out the ember with his thumb, went to the window and threw the pipe into the street. I was a bit startled by his actions and also unwilling to find out how pathological he was about marijuana so I said nothing. He explained that he was trying to become a citizen and did not want to do anything illegal, so he took away my pipe. I nodded. He continued, telling me that he smoked “many kilos” of hashish in Lebanon, but had sworn it off when he moved to the US. In fact, he had been a hashish smuggler during his last two years in the Middle East. (As it turned out, the Israelis had also helped him escape the clutches of Interpol and the US Drug Enforcement Agency after he was busted in a smuggling operation).

I must have looked interested, because he proceeded to tell me a story of how the Phalangist militia had occupied a region of Lebanon where marijuana was grown and turned into hashish. The region had been under the control of another faction in the multi-sided war then going on in Lebanon, but when the Phalange took it over, the hashish makers began doing business with them-money was money to them. The profits went to the movement and the movement bought guns with them. In this part of the world, said my drinking buddy, everybody made money from the drugs: Christian, Jew, Moslem, Lebanese, Palestinian, Israeli, everyone.

In the past month there have been at least three publicized hashish seizures in the various bodies of water that the US patrols in the Middle East. According to the Pentagon and its shills, the drugs in these seizures are being sold to make money for Al Queda and other non-state terror organizations. Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I find this just a little too convenient. How the hell does the Pentagon know who is buying and selling these drugs, unless it’s a Pentagon/CIA operation? Never the less, let’s assume that the Pentagon is telling the truth. In that case, one has to wonder who is making the money from the increased opium production in liberated Afghanistan? Is the situation like that in Latin America, where the armed peasant organizations pay a reasonable price and take their cut from coca growers in their zones while the government supported militias see the drug from cultivation to production and rarely suffer any consequence (while also turning a tidy profit)? Or, is it like it was in Laos and other parts of Southeast Asia during the war there, with the CIA providing deniable transport for drug shipments to those warlords who do the US’s dirty work? If this is the case, then is the war in Afghanistan just another drug dealing operation and are the captured shipments owned by drug producers who won’t work with the CIA for ideological or other reasons?

If one recalls the various US wars on Central American countries during the 1980s, s/he will certainly remember the so-called Iran-Contra affair. In essence, this was a US operation that was run out of the Vice President’s office (Pappy Bush) that traded guns for cocaine to the CIA proxy army in Nicaragua (the Contras) and in turn traded weapons parts and technology via Israel to the Khomeini government in Iran for cash. This cash came from the sales of the contra cocaine to various drug dealers in the United States-some of whom were enterprising enough to turn the coca paste and powder into a substance that would turn many of our country’s inner cities into cocaine-fueled war zones. The substance I am referring to became known as crack.

The tale related to me by my Lebanese acquaintance and the endless reports of secret US involvement in drug dealing prove only one thing. That is that there is probably no armed organization, local or international, that has not been involved in this business. It is a quick and sure way to make money that cannot be traced and does not need to be accounted for. When the US trumpets a drug seizure in the Gulf or in the deserts of Texas, remember to ask yourself how many others they let through, either because of individual corruption or because of those shipments’ role in funding their national security.

Aha! Is this one more reason to keep drugs illegal? If so then, not only does the “war on drugs” provide an easy method to lock up unruly and potentially unruly elements of society as a means of maintaining internal security for the elites and their supporters, it also provides a rationale that can be used to wrongfully board and seize ships suspected of carrying illegal drugs in international waters. In a complementary manner, the pretext of potential terrorism as a reason to violate previously agreed to international laws and standards as to various human and sovereignty issues, when combined with anti-drug with anti-terror laws has created an authoritarian international military and intelligence apparatus composed of government and private military entities that is capable of investigating on and incarcerating virtually any of the earth’s citizens.

In an aside, one has to wonder how long it will be before US troops begin to use some of the drugs they are capturing. After all, in a war-torn land where they must celebrate New Year’s with non-alcoholic beer, the desire of some soldiers for some kind of mood modification and stress release will eventually override any fear they have of the military’s anti-drug regimen. Sure, it’s not the 1960s or Vietnam, but many human psyches can take only so much of a life without the type of release afforded by alcohol and other mood altering substances. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan their military also suffered from a drug problem thanks to the easy availability of hashish and opium combined with troop morale as low as that of the American soldiers during the last few years of America’s war in Vietnam.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.

He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu


Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com