Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State
By Richard Lawrence Miller
Praeger Publishers 1996, ISBN 0-275-95042-5
A Book Review by Peter Webster
There is a certain difficulty in writing a review of Richard Lawrence Miller’s Drug Warriors and Their Prey, but not because it is a difficult book in any usual sense. On the contrary, it is disarmingly easy to understand the author’s every implication. Yet the theme of Mr. Miller’s essay, a point by point comparison of the reality of Drug Prohibition in the United States today with exactly analogous situations leading up to Hitler’s Third Reich and the attempted destruction of the Jewish people, is certain to repulse the very readers who need most to understand that, indeed, it can happen again. Thus the book, and any honest review of it, might achieve little more than preaching to the converted: those who can readily accept its main thesis must already be active in resisting not just the “worst excesses” of the War on Drugs, but the entire and historically-proven futility of the very concept of Prohibition as a means to advantageous ends.
Not that Hitler and the Reich’s atrocities are too distasteful for public examination and discourse, far from it! Americans, and to a lesser degree, Europeans, continue to watch with relish and fascination each new television episode depicting Hitler and his cohorts, continue to make best-sellers of both fiction and non-fiction tomes about the Reich, and we see many educators and intellectuals insisting that the morbid details of Hitlerism be widely taught in the schools so that we may “never again” fall into the trap which ensnared the post World-War-One German nation. Equally atrocious episodes as the Nazi reign (at least with respect to relative population size), which have more recently occurred in Vietnam and Cambodia, or in East Timor, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, to mention but a few, are given short shrift by producers of documentaries and consumers of such “entertainment,” and ignored in classrooms as potential “never again” object lessons. Even more glaringly, America continues to largely ignore the implications of an even more successful genocide which American Policy, assisted by American Congresses and Politicians of the highest stature, committed over a period far longer than the Reich’s brief existence: the eradication of Native American populations. A recent book which rightly dared to call that eradication a holocaust, was indignantly denounced by many “intellectuals.”
Hitler and his image have clearly become a modern scapegoat through which we attempt to psychologically expunge collective guilt for our own atrocities, past and present, as well as for those other atrocities which we do nothing, or very little, to prevent or stop. There is plenty of evil-reeking film footage of Hitler’s life and times which when watched, with their pompous and cymbal-crashing military tunes, and their images of “the bad guys” far surpassing anything that Hollywood can invent, become the perfect medium for our unfortunate proclivity to hate. And to do so collectively in a way which seems correct and proper. The evil image of Hitler and his deeds provides catharsis for the sins we care not to recognize, dare not recognize, and allows a continuation of a status quo which is fertile ground for allowing hate to produce once again the very situation from which inevitably rise the most glaringly evil aspects of our modern world.
If we can see from these observations why many a reader will close his mind to Mr. Miller’s thesis, or perhaps merely look at the dust jacket and replace Drug Warriors on its bookstore shelf, it is nevertheless quite necessary and effective to compare the American-led War on Drugs with events in 1930’s Germany.
As Mr. Miller readily shows, it is not with the after-the-fact evil image of “The Great Dictator” that current parallels correspond, but rather with the actions of individual and ordinary Germans, their daily life, the ease with which they fell into that horrible trap, and the actions of police, mayors, governors and administrators, the deeds and “researches” of doctors and scientists, the judgments of the courts, the facile way in which the Jewish people were ensnared in “The Chain of Destruction : Identification, Ostracism, Confiscation, Concentration, and Annihilation.” Before 1939, when it became painfully obvious to every person on earth what the Führer was up to, it was equally as difficult as now to see the inevitable course of events which follows from the first principles of fascism. Many in the United States and England praised Hitler’s National Socialism for having brought Germany out of the Great Depression, Presidents and Prime Ministers believed his Treaties and Promises, even subscribed to his overall political vision, until it was far too late for anything but total conflict.
f the very accurate and chilling comparisons of developments in 1930’s Germany to the modern War on Drugs disgusts some readers to the point where they are blinded to the reality exposed in Drug Warriors, that in itself is a telling parallel to that decade before the beginning of WWII. Euphemisms and pacification would today certainly go no further in helping to reverse ill-conceived Drug Prohibition than they did in reversing the Reich’s rise to power.
Books and articles by those who predicted the inevitable course that post WWI fascism would take were, as will be Mr. Miller’s book today, viewed as unnecessarily alarmist, the product of an over-vivid imagination or even fanaticism. But in the telling of such truth, as in the recommendation of possible means of avoidance of great disaster, there really is no alternative but the kind of stark simplicity of theme which Drug Warriors epitomizes. For the few persons on the brink of waking up to the reality of the Drug War, the book will certainly provide better catalysis than other current, and less honest if more complacent tracts. For those masses eternally convinced that “it can’t happen here,” there is, history would teach, little that can convince.
The chapters in Drug Warriors are named for the stages of “The Chain of Destruction” mentioned above, which, as Mr. Miller points out, derives from Raul Hilberg’s monumental study of the destruction process as applied to the holocaust. From the very first page of chapter 1, “Identification,” we see in vivid detail how the modern drug-user is fulfilling the same function as did the Jew during National Socialism. He is the perfect scapegoat, the perfect distraction, the ideal “other” and alien, the perfect tool “for maintaining the social turmoil needed by authoritarians” in their rise to power.
Miller quotes Karl A. Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz:
It was the Jews who helped hold Hitler’s system together-on the practical as well as the ideological level. The Jew allowed Hitler to ignore the long list of economic and social promises he had made to the SA, the lower party apparatus, and the lower middle classes. By steering the attention of these groups away from their more genuine grievances and toward the Jew, Hitler succeeded in blunting the edge of their revolutionary wrath, leaving him freer to pursue his own nonideological goals of power in cooperation with groups whose influence he had once promised to weaken or even destroy. An ideological retreat on the Jewish issue in these circumstances was impossible…. The continued search for a solution to the Jewish problem allowed Hitler to maintain ideological contact with elements of his movement for whom National Socialism had done very little.
Just as it was difficult for people in the US or England of the 1930’s to get worked up about a “few incidents” of the breaking of windows of Jewish shops, or the “excesses” of burning the contents of a library or two, it is today difficult perhaps to get worked up over some of the documented “excesses” of the Drug War, hundreds of which are described and referenced in Drug Warriors. “A few” such incidents can always be blamed on individual human error and frailty, as when an over-zealous cop assassinates a purported marijuana dealer. But what of the evidence so well presented in Drug Warriors of actual drug warrior “death squads” instituted by US government agencies to “assassinate narcotics leaders?” What are we to make of the statement of former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates (also the founder and designer of the DARE program, “Drug Abuse Resistance Education”): In 1990 he advised the U.S. Senate about the “‘casual user’ and what you do with the whole group. The casual user ought to be taken out and shot, because he or she has no reason for using drugs.”
Gates later emphasized that he was not being facetious and declared marijuana users to be guilty of treason. Such sentiment in the US today is not unusual. William Bennett, the former “Drug Czar” and therefore top drug police officer declared that ethically no trial is required before killing citizens suspected of drug dealing. The next day Bennett said of drug dealers, “You deserve to die.” (These passages quoted or paraphrased from Drug Warriors, where they are referenced.) Comparisons to the Gestapo are unavoidable.
Miller goes to great lengths to make it painfully obvious that we are not dealing with a few minor incidents provoked by the occasional renegade, but as in 1930’s Germany, a vast and vicious machine is being oiled and tested, a horribly familiar pattern is again materializing, and normal law-abiding citizens are today just as unaware of what lies just around the corner as they were formerly.
More critically, just as leaders and intellectuals of the 1930’s were equally as duped and pacified into non-action, even to supporting the rise of the Nazi machine, a significant movement of leaders and intellectuals resisting the American lead in the War on Drugs, a coalition of nations, for example, which might quickly put an end to the rising power of Drug War Fascism, is nowhere on the horizon, it would seem. Such a project would need to be a widely visible, intentional and public denunciation of American policy accompanied by a radical shift in Prohibition policy itself within those nations.
As much as it may itself seem a fanaticism to compare Drug Warriorism with Nazism, I have tried to show here why that is far more an artifact of our psychological makeup than a misinterpretation or gross exaggeration of the factual evidence at hand. On every page of Drug Warriors the facts are profuse. We ignore them, and their proper interpretation, at great peril:
I believe authoritarians are manufacturing and manipulating public fears about drug use in order to create a police state where a much broader agenda of social control can be implemented, using government power to determine what movies we may watch, determine who we may love and how we may love them, determine whether we may or must pray to a deity. I believe the war on drug users masks a war on democracy.
After all, what is the vision of a Drug-Free America? Millions in prison or slave labor, and only enthusiastic supporters of government policy allowed to hold jobs, attend school, have children, drive cars, own property. This is the combined vision of utopia held forth by Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, William Bennett, Daryl Gates, and thousands of other drug warriors. News media and “public interest” advertising tell us this is the America for which all good citizens yearn.
—Richard Lawrence Miller
I shall end my own intellectually risky yet morally necessary task of agreeing wholeheartedly with Miller’s analysis and prognosis by quoting the same passage with which Drug Warriors begins,
Everywhere in the world I dread that same self-deception which holds that “it can’t happen here.” It can happen anywhere. It becomes unlikely only where the mass of the population is aware of the threat, where there is accordingly no relapse into lethargy, where the character of “totalitarianism” is known and recognized from its very inception and in each of its aspects-as a Proteus which is constantly putting on new masks, which glides out of your grasp like an eel, which does the opposite of what it claims, which perverts the meaning of its words, which speaks, not to impart information, but to hypnotize, divert attention, insinuate, intimidate, dupe, which exploits and produces every type of fear, which promises security while destroying it completely.