The Drug War Was the Wrong War - How We Missed the Battlefield by Light-years
War, in all it’s iterations has become synonymous with the United states.
We ‘officially’ went to war in 1812, against the United Kingdom. In 1846 we fought Mexico. In 1898, Spain. In both, 1917 and 1941, we fought World Wars. We also called them “wars” - Congress issued ‘proclamations of war’ in each case.
However, we also fought other wars we preferred to call ‘Military Engagements’. The Quasi-War - with France, The first and second Barbary Wars. We intervened in the Russian Civil War, In Veracruz, in Paraguay, and Lebanon, In Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, In Afghanistan, and again in Iraq.
On at least 125 occasions, the President has acted without prior express military authorization from Congress. These include instances in which the United States fought in the Philippine-American War from 1898-1903, in Nicaragua in 1927, as well as the NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in 1999.
The United States’ longest war was fought between approximately 1840 and 1886 against the Apache Nation. During that entire 46-year period, there was never more than 90 days of peace.
The Indian Wars comprise at least 28 conflicts and engagements. These localized conflicts, with Native Americans, began with European colonists coming to North America, long before the establishment of the United States. For the purpose of this discussion, the Indian Wars are defined as conflicts with the United States of America. They begin as one front in the American Revolutionary War in 1775 and had concluded by 1918. The United States Army still maintains a campaign streamer for Pine Ridge 1890-1891 despite opposition from certain Native American groups.
The American Civil War was not an international conflict under the laws of war, because the Confederate States of America was not a government that had been granted full diplomatic recognition as a sovereign nation by other sovereign states. The CSA was recognized by the United States government as a belligerent power, a different status of recognition that authorized Confederate warships to visit non-U.S. ports. This recognition of the CSA’s status as a belligerent power did not impose any duty upon the United States to recognize the sovereignty of the Confederacy, and the United States never did so.
Which begs a question - why are we so cautious when actually fighting wars - such as Iraq, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, to not go the full Monty and issue a full decree of war, when we seem so quick to do so when these actions are directly aimed at American citizens?
We have wars on women, wars on abortion, wars on culture and yet we seem entirely lacking in reluctance to call these wars. We are eager because war has become so synonymous with this country that we see it as a tool to ending social problems and other issues we deplore. The language of war has become our ‘one stop solution’ to cleanse us of what we deem at any given time a ‘cultural malaise’
We name something a war, don our fatigues, assume the position, and dig in for the fight. We have been so long engaged in the fight, that we no longer see the point in peace. If we are always at war, we are always morally striving, fighting, to improve.
The problem with this stance is that war rarely improves the lives of those affected, or those whom it is ostensibly fought for. Sure, after World War 2 the lot of peoples from Paris to Tokyo improved significantly. This is a rarity. Could you reasonably suggest the lot of the people of Iraq has improved? How about After World War I? Did the lot improve for Native Americans or non-native Americans alike after the Indian wars? How about Vietnam? North Korea? If your answer is ‘yes’ - I am unlikely to make a case you want to hear, so stop reading. If you said ‘no’, or ‘its complicated’, please read on.
The drug war is not unique as far as wars are concerned. There are the soldiers, on one side, the Federal and International Alphabet soup of agencies, the DEA, the FBI, the CIA; and on the other, kingpins, ms-13, cartels, and even the odd grandmother or two.
The drug war is also unique in one manner - what if we are fighting the wrong enemy on the wrong battlefield? what if we are gunning for the wrong fight, and instead of making headway towards a conclusion, we ended up making the problem exponentially worse?
One of the long tested but little realized aims of the drug war was to reduce violence. During the cold war, President Ronald Reagan (also ironically one of the leaders who expanded and increased the drugwar) ended the United States reliance on detente with the Soviet Union, and shifted to a more directly combative doctrine known as “Peace Through Strength”. Put in simple terms, Reagan vowed to outspend, out-arm, and outlast the Soviet Empire, which at this point, was already long into a death spiral. If we could just keep increasing our militaristic strength through building up of arms, then, Reagan surmised, we could undermine the Soviets by driving them bankrupt. Reagan bet the house on the logic that they would meet our buildup with their own, thereby draining the system of treasure and resources, and exploiting the vulnerabilities that would entail.
And in some sense he was right. The Soviets did attempt to out-arm us, and that was a factor, albeit not the reason the Soviet Union, a system that could not sustain itself, ultimately failed.
The irony is, he did not foresee the same reaction when he ramped up the drug wars. Unlike the Soviet Union, drug dealers have access to a potentially unlimited, sustainable resource - drugs, which provided them with a potentially unlimited sustainable wealth. This wealth could be (and is) used to increase the firepower and manpower drug dealers could bring to bear. Unlike the Soviet Union, drug dealing was not inherently designed to fail. It had all the attributes any other successful free market enterprise has - an un-exhaustible, dedicated, ever expandable customer base.
The question is - how could the Reagan brain-trust of Block, Ling, Baldridge, Verity, Weinberger, Carlucci, Bell, Bennett, Cavazos, Edwards, Hodel, Herrington, Sweiker, Hecker, Bowen, Pierce, Laffer, et al have missed this?
The one man who did not miss this is former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. He, a veteran soldier of the drug war, had come up inside of Baltimore’s anti-drug units. He began on the front lines, during Reagan’s 80s. By the mid 1990s he was Commissioner. And he got to thinking:
Bealefeld has an obsessive streak, and soon he was pouring over the matrices that predicted violence: What made you likely to be a murderer? It was true that nearly all of Baltimore’s murderers and murder victims had drug arrests in their past. But in many parts of Baltimore, nearly everyone seemed to have some involvement in dealing—the narcotics-unit lingo was “8-88,” meaning there were participants in the drug trade as young as 8 years old or as old as 88. Trying to organize policing around drugs, given these circumstances, could only mean a broad roundup of the neighborhood, and though this had worked very well in New York, it had worked much less well when smaller departments (New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore) tried the same model—and it had the additional effects of overwhelming jails and probation systems and alienating the community. “We are fishing with a net,” Bealefeld started to say publicly, “and we need to be fishing with a spear.”
what he found was striking:
The spear he found was gun priors. Encoded in Baltimore’s murder records was a singularly interesting piece of data: Over half of the murderers in his city had previously been arrested for a handgun violation. The universe of offenders in Baltimore with prior gun convictions was very small, and most of them were serious criminals. Focusing on them seemed plausible. The commissioner did not publicly declare the war on drugs a failure, though he believes that to be the case, or petition the legislature to decriminalize possession. “We just deemphasized it,” he says.
Quietly, in experiments in a few influential police departments around the country, a new set of tools for policing is being tested, as cops have come to realize that violence tends to be driven not by neighborhoods but by small and identifiable populations of exceptional individuals. Working with arrest records on the crime-ridden far West Side of Chicago, a young Yale sociologist named Andrew Papachristos discovered that he could create a social map of violence (including only people who were arrested together with other members of the network) that encompassed just 4 percent of the people in the neighborhood but virtually all of the murderers and murder victims. Each time you “co-offended” with another member of the network, it turned out, you grew 25 percent more likely to be murdered. The universe of the violent and the vulnerable, Papachristos found, was far tinier than the universe of people involved in drugs, or in gangs; it was a small circle of people who all knew one another.
It is this data point, gun priors, that seems to hinge the drug war to murder and other violent actions.
The number of prior convictions involving a ﬁrearm follows with a contribution of about 6 percentage points. Of some whatless importance are, in order, gender, the number of prior convictions for violence offences, the total number of all prior convictions and race
The numbers suggest, quite strikingly, the most likely factor linking murderers, is prior gun crimes.
“Research consistently shows that populations of homicide offenders and victims generally have higher-than-average rates of arrest and conviction for a variety of offenses. The National Criminal Justice Commission estimates that about 30 million Americans—approximately 15% of the U.S. population over age 15—have an arrest record (citations omitted). Studies of homicide, however, reveal that typically about 70% of U.S. offenders have been arrested in the past (usually more than once; see [Wolfgang, Marvin E. 1958. Patterns in Criminal Homicide. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press. P. 177]) and about 50% have been convicted of an offense (see Kleck and Bordua, 1983:293). …
“Less is known about the criminal record of victims, but the same pattern is evident. In Wolfgang’s (1958:175, 180) study of criminal homicide in Philadelphia during 1948-1952, almost half of the victims had a history of arrest.”
—- Cooney, Mark. 1997. “The decline of elite homicide.” Criminology 35:381-407.
This would be a minor data point - but for one factor - this crises seems to have been largely created and exacerbated by those strident drug warriors, and the right-wings pro-firearm fetishism.
Murder rates in the United States were falling by a significant amount until Richard Nixon began the drug war in 1971, when it seems to explode, until the 2000s. What is even more striking that is pre-criminalization of drugs - 1900-1923 for marijuana and cocaine, 1906 for opiates, show dips in homicides rates, only to see them rise again during the “paranoia age” - they were rising before ultimate prohibition, and rising in concert with the growth of ‘drug paranoia’.
If we look at a graph of gun ownership since the beginning of the ‘war on drugs’ it seems to correlate with these findings :
While correlation is not causation, it is also not likely to be a coincidence. You may suggest - violent crime is going to increase gun ownership rates - however - that is not exactly correct - they seem to operate independently of each other.
While this chart purports to show a link between more guns and less crime - it only does so if you are blind. There simply is no linkage between a rather modest growth of gun ownership, but a drastic reduction of violent crime. (maybe the producer of said chart needs to revisit ‘correlation does not equate to causation’)
Why is this important? Beyond suggesting that a more militarized policy targeting drug dealers will go hand in hand with an increased militarization of those same dealers, it suggest those opposed to gun-regulations are a large part of the cause.
If increasing gun ownership had any affect on lowering violent crime rates - one would expect to see all violent crime react the same - no matter of the weapon used:
what we see is all other forms of violent crimes not involving guns remain relatively flat. Increased gun ownership does not decrease violent crime rates across the board, and likely - they are not the reason for the dynamic changes in gun crime rates.
That chart details the dynamic changes in all violent crime rates for Massachusetts.
What is striking - is that Mass. has an ever growing multitude of gun regulations:
Massachusetts is one of the few states, most of which exist in the ‘Liberal’ northeast, that has a very strict gun-control mindset.
Indeed - the south is a much more likely to experience gun crime than any other region:
So why does this happen? Well Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” has one, and only one logic working for it - that when one side of a war ramps up armaments, so does the other in quite elegant concert.
More guns beget more guns, and when you are fighting an enemy with unlimited resources, unlimited customer bases, and unlimited will, you simply cannot spend them into oblivion.
The more we agitate for more guns, the more guns there are. The more guns in our atmosphere, the more likely guns are to fall into the hands of the people most likely to use them.
Back to Commisionner Bealefeld
But the most dangerous person—the guy holding the gun—almost never ran. Bealefeld had surveillance footage that he showed in training of a group of cops approaching a crew standing outside Lexington Market and then chasing those who bolted. Left standing on the corner with the one cop who remained was a suspect with a sawed-off shotgun stuffed down his pants. Most of the cops were chasing the drug slingers, and they were missing what was really important.
And if ending the drug war does not move you to see the correct battlefield: gun proliferation - maybe this will
Too many youth continue to harm others…
* About 1 in 9 murders were committed by youth under 18 in 1999.
On average, about 5 youths are arrested for murder in this country each day (a total of 1,176 in 1999).1
* Youth under 18 accounted for about 1 in 6 violent crime arrests in 1999.2
* One national survey found that for every teen arrested, at least 10 were engaged in violence that could have seriously injured or killed another person.3
* A review of surveys found that between 30-40% of male teens and 16-32% of female teens say they have committed a serious violent offense by the age of 17.4
Too many youth continue to harm themselves…
* Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers — over 1,500 teens kill themselves each year.5
* In 1998, there were 1,520 suicides among 13-18 year olds.5
* About 1 in 12 high-school students say they have made a suicide attempt in the past year.6
* More than 3 in 5 youth suicides involve firearms.5