Let’s take a look at two versions of “the drug war”; The war on drugs – and
The war on drugs.
In March we looked at Professor Alfred McCoy’s famous book “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia”, his details of how intelligence agencies aligned with the Mafia to use drugs to fund operations, and the massive outflow of heroin from Afghanistan. That article is linked here:
This week we compare two articles that describe (1) how drugs were used to accelerate the killing teams in Vietnam and (2) how the drug war has since been used to intimidate and control minority populations. First, this piece from Sputnik News:
Pentagon Hooked Vietnam Soldiers on Amphetamines, Painkillers, Steroids
The US military pushed drugs on troops ‘like candy,’ contributing to astronomical rates of post-service substance abuse, PTSD, and homelessness while also factoring into many of the war’s worst atrocities.
New research has led historians to consider America’s war in Vietnam as the first “pharmacological war,” with the level of psychoactive substances distributed to military personnel reaching unprecedented, nearly ubiquitous levels. Today, many of the country’s Vietnam-era veterans struggle with addiction, more so than from any preceding war, leading to calls for the government to take steps to right a wrong.
Despite the lack of research at the time on the implications of long-term amphetamine use, “pep pills” were routinely distributed to men leaving for long-range reconnaissance ambush missions. Standard Army use was 20 mg of dextroamphetamine, an amphetamine derivative twice as strong as common ADHD medicine Adderall, to provide 48 hours of combat readiness. However, reports find that the abuse of amphetamines was rampant and often demanded by superior officers.
One veteran said doses of amphetamine were issued to soldiers “like candies,” with no regard to recommended amounts or frequency of administration. Some research existed during the Vietnam era thanks to research by the House Select Committee on Crime which revealed that, between 1966-1969, 225 million tablets of the buffered amphetamines were distributed to soldiers.
One Vietnam-era soldier, Elton Manzione, said that the drugs “gave you a sense of bravado as well as keeping you awake. Every sight and sound was heightened. You were wired into it all and at times you felt really invulnerable.”
Not only was amphetamine use ubiquitous during the Vietnam War, but the US military knowingly pushed opioids on soldiers. Troops infiltrating Laos for a four-day mission each received a “medical kit” containing 12 tablets of Darvon (an opiate), 24 tablets of codeine (an opiate) and six tablets of dextroamphetamine. Furthermore, members of the special forces were administered regular steroid injections prior to long and demanding expeditions.
Research shows that while 3.2 percent of soldiers arriving in Vietnam categorized themselves as heavy amphetamine users, after one year of deployment the rate increased 62.5% — although the researchers expect that the real figure was much higher since the methodology required self-reporting by troops, the Atlantic reported.
The US military’s pushing of narcotics not only exacerbated the struggles of troops coming home, but likely played a significant role in driving otherwise honorable soldiers to commit war crimes and atrocities.
Some troops have reported severe irritation as a side effect once amphetamines wore off to the point that they said they “felt like shooting children in the streets.”
Finally, the use of pharmaceuticals has been found by researchers to have contributed further to PTSD experienced by Vietnam War soldiers upon returning home. While the pharmaceuticals led to a reduction in combat stress breakdowns by soldiers requiring a medical evacuation in comparison to similar combat situations, the rate of subsequent PTSD among Vietnam-era troops was astronomical. It is estimated that some 1.5 million Vietnam-era troops continue to suffer from PTSD.
Currently, there are estimated to be over 50,000 homeless Vietnam-era veterans. Those veterans have an 108% higher likelihood of substance abuse compared to the baseline civilian population.
The above article describes the sanctioned use of drugs by American soldiers to make them fight longer, harder and faster. Of course there’s no mention of the rampant use of heroin and other illegal drugs by soldiers, to numb the conscience from experiencing the horrors of war. Many of those soldiers took those addictions home with them, which is where we now turn to a very startling and controversial article about former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman.
Nixon Aide Reportedly Admitted Drug War Was Meant To Target Black People
“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
“An eye-opening remark from a former aide to President Richard Nixon pulls back the curtain on the true motivation of the United States’ war on drugs.
John Ehrlichman, who served 18 months in prison for his central role in the Watergate scandal, was Nixon’s chief domestic advisor when the president announced the “war on drugs” in 1971. The administration cited a high death toll and the negative social impacts of drugs to justify expanding federal drug control agencies. Doing so set the scene for decades of socially and economically disastrous policies.
Journalist Dan Baum wrote in the April cover story of Harper’s about how he interviewed Ehrlichman in 1994 while working on a book about drug prohibition. Ehrlichman provided some shockingly honest insight into the motives behind the drug war. From Harper’s:
“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.”
In other words, the intense racial targeting that’s become synonymous with the drug war wasn’t an unintended side effect — it was the whole point.”There is a long-held theory that in the early days of the Vietnam War protests, the establishment was so concerned about revolutionary movements that they intentionally destabilized “the movement” with drugs.
Clean-cut educated American youth soon took to CIA-manufactured LSD and heroin, people “tuned in, turned on and dropped out”. A long series of serial killings revolving around the Manson Family spawned the specter of “The Evil Hippie”, and anything resembling a revolutionary youth movement was destabilized.
Now we have Ehrlichman’s own words proving that the drug war was engineered to enable the authorities to raid homes, shoot offenders, and keep minority communities in a constant state of surveillance.
We also know how while Nancy Reagan was saying “Just say no” to drugs, her addled husband’s administration was flooding the streets of America with cheap crack cocaine to fund their CIA war in Nicaragua. More recently, we see this trending toward the “school-to-prison pipeline”, a type of intervention that directs youth offenders deeper into the incarceration system, eventually to end up in a “for profit” private prison.
I should close by saying that several of John Ehrlichman’s associates have come forward to suggest he probably never made those comments about the drug war. Of course they would. They are protecting his reputation, and theirs.
But with Richard Nixon’s well-known racist beliefs as his own legacy, it’s pretty clear that intimidation, incarceration, and destabilization was the clear policy at that time, just as it is today.