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A Half Truth About the War on Drugs

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“Nixon’s Drug War Was (and Still is) a Racist Tool to Disrupt and Neutralize Black Communities” was the headline of an article published recently week by  Melissa Franqui, communications director of the Drug Policy Alliance. She was stating a half-truth. Her hook was a comment made in 1994 by John Ehrlichman, a top Nixon aide who had done time for his role in the Watergate cover-up, to a very good journalist named Dan Baum. Baum had used the quote years ago, Dr. Sunil Aggarwal cited it in a scholarly article in 2012, but Ehrlichman’s blunt confession remained below the radar until Baum recounted it in the new issue of Harpers:

“I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Reading Franqui’s headline and article, you would never know that the gang in the White House was targeting not just black people but “the antiwar left!” And what a success they made of it! Today the US military has bases in more than 100 foreign countries and US armaments manufacturers are selling weapons of mass destruction to governments and insurgents waging war from Afghanistan to Nigeria. (Who says nothing is manufactured in the US anymore?)  The military-industrial complex is so thoroughly in charge that Barack Obama was compelled to replace Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a soldier, with Ashton Carter, an arms salesman.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s analysis of Prohibition entwined with racism is right on but incomplete. What other purposes were and are being served by proponents of the War on Drugs? The federal government spends trillions of dollars —we, the people, are not allowed to know how much— making the world safe for corporate investment. It is very heartening to hear Senator Sanders ask, “Who made us the police of the world?”

Now obstructing Sanders’ path to the White House are the Democratic Party “super-delegates” —office-holders and party functionaries who are not obligated to abide by the will of the rank-and-file as expressed in the primaries.  The super-delegate mechanism was created by party insiders to prevent a repetition of “antiwar leftists” nominating a candidate as they did in 1972, when Senator George McGovern, got slaughtered by the Nixon gang in the 1972 general election. The strategy described so succinctly by Ehrlichman achieved both its goals. Was only one of them objectionable?  The DPA line amounts to: “Deplore Racism, Ignore Imperialism.”

More than 125,000 members of the military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan —about 6.5% of the total can’t get benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs due to “bad paper” discharges, according to a new report from Swords to Plowshares.  Ten percent of Marine Corps enlistees become ineligible after service in combat zones. Attorney Coco Culhane observes, “We separate people for misconduct that is actually a symptom of the very reason they need health care.”

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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