Editors, Washington Post
RE: "THIS 10-YEAR WAR CAN BE WON"
Which side is going to win in the War on Drugs? Thats easy to answer. Lets look at whos fighting. Entrepreneurs filling a need very popular with a large number of Americans fight one side of the war. The other side is fought by bureaucracies that have no set goals, account to no one, and grow at the rate of 10 percent per year no matter what they do or do not do. Which side will win? The side thats been winning, continuously, for the entire 84 years of federal drug prohibition.
The only difference between the Gindrich-Bennett 4-year aptly-named Civil War plan and the Clinton-McCaffrey 10-year status-quo-with-regular-increases plan is the same one this country faced in 1968: Should we have four more years or ten more years of Vietnam?
For the Drug War mess we are in today, the term Hobsons choice was coined.
I say, let the Civil War drug warriors have at it, starting today. Lets suspend the Constitution, whats left of it. Lets turn over the military, the treasury, the CIA, FBI, and NASA. Lets build a 10,000-mile unbroken wall around our border. Let William Bennett host live executions every night on FOX. ("Are your blindfolds all in order?") Let the drug warriors do their damnedest to stop drug use in this country.
But, after four years, if the street price for drugs hasnt doubled, thats it, Drug Wars over, Constitution back in place, all drugs become as legal as alcohol, cigarettes, and Drano, adults only, no children, please. At least then it will over in four years, and we can start to mend. Like Vietnam, it will be a long, hard, painfully incomplete healing. After all, how can you give a man back his life?
This Drug War, fought by Americans against other Americans and against all the people of the world, will be seen by history as the greatest United States tragedy of the Twentieth Century.
Author "Aint Nobodys Business If You Do"
WASHINGTON POST OP-ED PIECE FOLLOWS:
Author: David F. Musto
Note: The writer is a professor of child psychiatry and the history of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
Section: OPED - Page C07
THIS 10-YEAR WAR CAN BE WON
After three decades of studying the history of drugs and drug policy in theUnited States, I was impressed (and surprised) by the Clinton administration's recent proposal for a 10-year drug strategy. Here, at last, comes recognition of the need for a steady and consistent policy over an appropriate span of time. A common fault in drug policy has been anticipating or promising dramatic results within an unrealistically brief period.
Therefore, when the Speaker of the House rejected the strategy's goal as too drawn out and defeatist, I wondered whether our drug policy could ever escape the insistent, immediate demands of our political life.
Newt Gingrich feels that a 10-year strategy indicates pessimism and perhaps lassitude in dealing with the drug problem. The Civil War, he says, "took just four years to save the Union and abolish slavery." Why can't we solve the drug problem, another form of slavery, in just a few years?
A look at our first drug epidemic, which peaked between 1900 and World War I, reminds us that the duration of a wave of drug abuse has been roughly a half-century even in the face of severe penalties and popular condemnation. To approach the drug problem as if it were the gasoline shortage of the 1970s is to misunderstand the nature of the problem. Reducing and stopping drug use requires fundamental changes in the attitudes of millions of Americans, and that shift in attitude is more gradual than we would wish.
When Mr. Gingrich praises the decline in drug use among young people from 1979 to 1992, he is talking about a decline that was just one or 2 percent a year. Declines in drug use are gradual, at least when compared with the heated promises we have heard for three decades about a quick elimination of the problem. Thus a 10-year strategy is reasonable in that it promotes a steady pressure against drug use less affected by shifting political forces. An approach that transcends more than two presidential terms even carries a hope that the issue can be lifted out of partisan conflict.
Demanding quick solutions to the drug problem inevitably leads to frustration because the decline rate is never as steep as promised. This may lead to more severe penalties, the scapegoating of minorities and, finally, discouragement. Can we say anything positive about the congressional statement contained in the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act that the United States should be drug-free by 1995? Such misperceptions of our experience with drugs create a sense of failure, even though drug use generally has declined since 1980. Promises of a quick-fix may energize concerned citizens for a while, but the larger effect is to discourage them. Repeated, hyped, short-term drug campaigns to end drug abuse "once and for all" (a federal government slogan of 1972) are reminiscent of cocaine use: Every time the same dose is taken the impact lessens, the temptation to increase the dose escalates and, finally, you have burnout.
Gingrich's claim for the Civil War suggests he was not wearing his historian's cap when he spoke. The Civil War marked the culmination of many decades of an abolitionist campaign that gradually changed Americans' attitude toward slavery. Altering perceptions is at the heart of such principled efforts, and it cannot be done quickly. This is the wisdom of John Adams's observation that the American Revolution was "done and the principles all established and the system matured before the year 1775." For Adams, to focus on the War of Independence was to lose sight of the "revolution in the minds of the people" that occurred in the two decades before the shot was fired at Lexington.
This is the historical perspective we must bring to the campaign against drug abuse, not simplistic references to short wars that supposedly ended prolonged and embedded social evils.
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