Army's Role in the War on Drugs


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This was a paper I did for the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. I had fun doing it, but due to limitations of the assignment, I didn't have options to flesh out the arguments further (to include the counterpoints, which I felt were rather weak). Admittedly, this is biased towards my libertarian side, but at least provides food for thought.
Regardless of your conclusions, you may find the "references" section contains a few interesting resources worthy of attention.

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Army's Role in the War on Drugs

  1. 1. Running head: ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS Army‟s Role in the War on Drugs 1SG David Smith United States Army Sergeants Major Academy SMNRC Class #38 SGM W. D. Thomas 10 June 2012 1
  2. 2. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 2 Abstract The Army should step down from its role in the drug war and the rest of the nation should follow suit. Drugs weren‟t seen as negative in early American history, but attitudes shifted over time to reflect a growing racist sentiment. As the nation grew, so did the Army‟s involvement in civil matters; thus the Posse Comitatus Act was conceived. Restrained from action against drug activity within our nation‟s borders, the Army carried the fight to other countries which increased tensions and arguably helped perpetuate a thriving black market. American citizens otherwise free to do as they please are restricted to using only government-regulated drugs, making them criminals for drug use alone, not for committing actual crimes. Certain measures, such as drug bans and drug testing in the marketplace, seem to be effective, but they don‟t appear to carry over into secular life. The cost benefits of remaining in this unwinnable fight appear counterintuitive.
  3. 3. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 3 Army‟s Role in the War on Drugs The Army should step down from its role in the drug war because the war has been largely unsuccessful and unwinnable. Not only was it built on principles of racism and abuse of government power, it detracts from achieving real peace outside our nation‟s borders while eroding the freedoms of otherwise law-abiding citizens at home. There may be degrees of success at individual or organizational levels, but changing social attitudes and behaviors have been largely unsuccessful throughout history. History of the Drug War There was a time in early American history that drug use wasn‟t frowned upon. At the turn of the 19th Century, there were scarce restrictions on substances such as cocaine, marijuana, or opiates (Falco, 1992). Even Frederic Bartholdi, the sculptor known for creating the Statue of Liberty, gave a commercial endorsement for Vin Mariani, a drink fashioned from coca extracts during the mid-1800s. He said if he had used the product twenty years earlier, Lady Liberty would have been several hundred meters taller (Nierman & Sack, 2008). Drug Regulation and Prohibition Attitudes toward drug use began to change in the late 1800s, but not entirely over concerns regarding abuse and addiction. The first drug laws weren‟t focused so much on the types of drugs; rather, they addressed the types of users (Robinson & Scherlen, 2007). According to author Mathea Falco (1992), they were likely steeped in racist sentiment. In 1875, the nation‟s first anti-drug law was passed at the city level and specifically addressed opium and the opium dens of San Francisco. This caught on mostly in Western states, but also in the New York opium parlors (Robinson & Scherlen, 2007). Why opium? In the mid-1800s, Chinese immigrants flooded the West in order to find work building the transcontinental railroad. Many did not return
  4. 4. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 4 to China. The proliferation of opium dens grew out of the limited social lives of laborers, who weren‟t allowed to bring their families with them due to strict immigration laws. As fear of cheap Chinese labor grew, so did anti-Chinese sentiment, and ultimately the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was born, blocking continued immigration (Falco, 1992). Opium “became the symbol of the „yellow peril‟ which threatened America‟s security” (Falco, 1992, p.19). Efforts by legislators to limit smoking opium spawned from a perceived need to control the Chinese and their supposed contribution to the corruption of white Americans (Robinson & Scherlen, 2007). Twenty years later, cocaine came under scrutiny for similar reasons. This time, the focus was on Southern blacks. Falco (1992) posited that black dockworkers were using cocaine in the early 1890s as a way to endure the hard labor of loading steamboats in New Orleans‟ ports, which could have them working for stretches of seventy hours in grueling conditions. Cocaine use quickly spread to black laborers throughout the South. Falco (1992) also noted that by 1903, cocaine use among blacks was thought to contribute to violent, superhuman feats. As such, some police departments believed cocaine use rendered the standard .32 caliber pistols ineffective against blacks, so they switched to the larger .38 caliber revolvers (Falco, 1992). Fast forward 30-years and we find the first laws against Marijuana, culminating with the Marijuana Tax Act levied in 1937. While the law recognized the medicinal benefits of marijuana, the non-medical and unlicensed trade or possession was prohibited (Robinson & Scherlen, 2007). Unsurprisingly, like the anti-Chinese opium laws and fears of cocaine-inspired crime attributed to Southern blacks, this new Marijuana legislation was squarely anti-Mexican. Robinson and Scherlen (2007) noted that Mexican immigrants were portrayed in a negative light as drugcrazed criminals threatening the American way of life, influenced by their marijuana use to become violent and immoral.
  5. 5. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 5 It should be noted all of these various drug laws were enacted during the same period in which prohibition was taking place. However, the prohibition on alcohol was impermanent and Falco (1992) suggests why: Once these drugs were linked in the public mind with dangerous foreigners and racial minorities, popular attitudes formed that persist today…. Because of this early history, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana have been perceived as “un-American” in a way that alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs have not. The xenophobia and racial fear that informed the original drug laws still influence our drug policies. ... Americans have chosen to combat this “foreign” threat through the police power of the state. (p. 21) Posse Comitatus Act The Army‟s hand in exercising the aforementioned police power is thankfully limited by the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA), signed into law on June 18, 1878. In short, the Act made it illegal to use the Army in a law enforcement capacity and called for fine and imprisonment to those found violating it. Ironically, the PCA came about because of the Army‟s contributions to Reconstruction and the military involvement against the Ku Klux Klan in General Grant‟s campaign. It was essentially an attempt at keeping the feds from meddling with the racismsteeped South (Matthews, 2006). As concerns over drug abuse reached a fervor in 1981, Congress ultimately approved the Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1982 which broadened the net of when use of the Army could be authorized. When the executive branch issued a Department of Defense Directive declaring a “war on drugs” in 1986, it was deemed a matter of national security and the door to military involvement opened a little wider (Matthews, 2006). To be clear, virtually no restrictions apply to members of the National Guard when operating under local state funding,
  6. 6. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 6 but the focus here is the active military. The federally controlled military‟s reach broadened somewhat in the 1980‟s, but they have maintained proper bounds within our nation‟s borders with few notable exceptions. Matthews (2006) recalls one of those as being the well-known 1992 assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX. Under the auspices of linking the group to a possible drug nexus, a request to use the Army was approved, though wisely not acted upon; arguably averting a public affairs nightmare for the Army. At Home and Abroad There is a case when the military can be used in the war on drugs without violating the PCA, and that is when used outside the borders of the United States. Even when executed within proper legal boundaries, the war on drugs still presents problems both locally and internationally. International efforts are doing little to curb the rate of supply and demand and may perpetuate further conflict. On the home front, legalization may be a viable alternative. The International Stage Robinson and Scherlen (2006) observed that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) claimed to be “within reach” of 35-50% success in cocaine interdiction, while at the same time stating “it seizes only 28% of cocaine entering the United States” (p.113). Instead of the ONDCP‟s own statistics showing success at the Mexican border, they demonstrate just the opposite. In her book, Seeds of Terror, Peters (2009) speculates on Afghanistan: Eight years after 9/11, the single greatest failure in the war on terror is not … that the Taliban has staged a comeback, or even that al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan‟s tribal areas and probably planning fresh attacks on the West. Rather, it‟s the spectacular incapacity of western law enforcement to disrupt the flow of money that is keeping their networks afloat. (p. 167)
  7. 7. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 7 While Peters argues that there‟s a lack of success in this area, any efforts may be undermining our goals for peace according to Carpenter (2004) who says that over 264,000 families are involved in opium poppy cultivation and won‟t look kindly on anyone who sets out to destroy their source of livelihood. Carpenter doesn‟t deny that terrorists profit from the drug trade, but points out “that the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal” (p. 4). If we hope to cut the funding of terrorist organizations, we must reduce the profitability of the drug trade in those regions, but not through a frontal attack on the livelihood of the populace. Carpenter (2004) suggests that the United States pursuit of a prohibitionist strategy only “guarantees a huge black market premium” (p. 5). Domestic Solutions Could a solution to this black market be a simple lifting of the prohibitionist strategy? Though not an advocate of drug use, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is a strong advocate for drug legalization and suggests that educating, regulating, taxing, and controlling drugs would leverage revenue from a trade larger than the automobile industry (Roleff, 2005). He argues that law enforcement officials could focus their time bringing justice to criminal acts such as burglaries rather than sending people to jail for simply doing drugs (Roleff, 2005). Murray (1997) further illustrates drug legalization as a personal responsibility issue: Crack cocaine is one of the most terrible of drugs. But if a person who smokes crack cocaine doesn‟t abuse his wife or children while he‟s high, shows up at work sober, and pays for his habit with money honestly earned, what is the problem that society is trying to solve when it puts him in jail? With regard to this narrow question, the parallels with alcohol seem to me exact: The crimes drunk people commit are punishable; the act of drinking is not. (pp. 103-104)
  8. 8. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 8 There are already strict penalties to discourage people from drinking and driving, but if someone kills another person while driving intoxicated, serious criminal punishments are in store. This line of thinking isn‟t intended to condone the use of drugs; it simply follows a logic that says the crimes drug users commit should be punished, not the drug use itself. In a 1975 interview, then former governor of California Ronald Reagan said, “I don‟t believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.” He added that being “stupid” was one of our “sacred rights” (Klausner, 1975, Inside Ronald Reagan, ¶15). Counterpoint There is one drug war that has proved successful and should arguably be pursued. The war that attacks drug use from within the Army‟s ranks is a winnable war, and data shows this to be true. Due to its specialized nature, the military must maintain a higher standard in regards to drug use, regardless of whether drugs are legalized at some point in the future. Soldiers must be on call at a moment‟s notice. The military simply cannot accept the possibility that a Soldier could be called to duty while in the middle of a drug-induced high. In these respects, an internal war on drugs should continue to be fought, if only for the sakes of readiness, and maintaining high standards of order and discipline. Military issues aside, this could be a viable strategy for society at large. Drug Testing and Workplace Bans The Army, and other services, began waging this fight nearly three decades ago with a measurable level of success. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, data gathered from 1976 to 1995 demonstrated the rate of drug use among military members dropped considerably after the Armed Forces began instituting routine drug testing in the early 1980‟s. This drop is commensurate with similar declines in drug use among the civilian population, but
  9. 9. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 9 the study indicated that the rate of decline happened at a faster rate among service members (Bachman, Freedman-Doan, Johnston, O‟Malley, & Segal, 1999). Incidentally, the study also found cigarette smokers who used more than half a pack a day began entering the service at a much lower rate around the mid-1980s. This happened as antismoking campaigns became more prevalent at that time. A sharp decline among heavy-smoking enlistees was noted after 1989, when tobacco bans came into practice for recruits entering basic training. Having said that, Bachman et al. (1999) reported the recidivism rate among those heavy-smokers who enlisted was found to be at 74% within 90 days of completing basic training. Or, more specifically, when forced abstinence was no longer a mandate. This demonstrates that an outright ban within the Army (or any professional organization for that matter) can be successful, whether the substance in question is legal or illegal. When abstinence is made to be a condition of employment and consequently enforced, it seems a large percentage of people will willingly comply. That‟s hardly a surprise. The Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice (2012) stated in the 1989 National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS), “with disqualification from employment a possible consequence, many will decide that the price of using drugs is just too high” (p. 56). Social Pressures Being on the outside of accepted social circles may also be a price too high. Many Americans are concerned about substance abuse and Falco (1992) suggests this is a powerful catalyst in communities that inspire action. James Burke, onetime chairman of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, said that community coalitions were vital in addressing the drug issues in America. He termed it “old fashioned democracy at work, where communities forge their own solutions” (Falco, 1992, p. 163). Community intervention is at the forefront of the 2012 NDCS
  10. 10. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 10 as a cost-effective approach to building strong communities; recognizing that the drug problems we face as a nation require solutions at the local level (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2012, NDCS p. 9). However, even as a continued drop in illegal drug use by active military members was noted, a trend in the other direction happened among non-military personnel. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (2012) shows in the 2012 NDCS that there has been a 3.4 percent increase in “past-month use” of marijuana among high school freshmen from 2006 to 2011 (p. 5). During this same period, total drug control funding in support of the ONDCP has increased by 12.1 percent according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (2012) FY 2013 Budget and Performance Summary (p. 17). Obviously, more drug control funding does not correlate to a decrease in drug use. Anti-drug spending outpaces the uptick of drug use nearly three to one, yet both continue to grow at unacceptable rates. That is, if eradication is the goal. Conclusion The drug war will remain unwinnable in its current form. At its inception, it was waged as a form of class warfare, attacking the very immigrants that made this nation great. The Posse Comitatus Act rightfully limited the military‟s questionable place in enforcing the laws of the land, but there exists concern over how these limits should be exercised. Though within the bounds of Posse Comitatus guidelines, efforts to control drugs beyond our borders have been unsuccessful and may actually cause delays in peaceful resolution to violence abroad. At the same time, legalization on the home front could prove to be a viable alternative to a system that punishes otherwise law-abiding citizens for none other than making a choice involving their own bodies. While it is true that some efforts have found isolated degrees of success, none appear to be financially sustainable when compared to the rate of growth in the drug industry.
  11. 11. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 11 We fight many wars in society that will never be won. There will always be a fight to end crimes like murder, rape, and theft. Some unwinnable wars clearly must be fought. Nonetheless, the war on drugs is one that should never have been waged in the first place.
  12. 12. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 12 References Bachman, J., Freedman-Doan, P., Johnston, L., O‟Malley, P., & Segal, D. (1999, May). Changing patterns of drug use among US military recruits before and after enlistment. American Journal of Public Health, 89(5), 672-677. Carpenter, T. (2004, November 10). How the drug war in Afghanistan undermines America‟s war on terror. CATO Institute Foreign Policy Briefing, 84. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from Falco, M. (1992). The making of a drug-free America: programs that work. New York: Times Books. Klausner, M., (1975). Inside Ronald Reagan. Reason Magazine Interview, July 1975. Retrieved June 5, 2012 from Matthews, M. (2006). The posse comitatus act and the United States army: a historical perspective. Fort Leavenworth. Combat Studies Institute Press. Murray, C. (1997). What it means to be a libertarian. New York: Broadway Books. Nierman, I., & Sack, A. (2008). The curious world of drugs and their friends: a very trippy miscellany. New York: Penguin Books. Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. (1989). National drug control strategy. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2012). 2012 national drug control strategy. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2012). FY 2013 budget and performance summary. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from
  13. 13. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS 13 Peters, G. (2009). Seeds of terror: how heroin is bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda. New York: St. Martin‟s Press. Robinson, M., & Scherlen, R. (2007). Lies, damned lies, and drug war statistics: a critical analysis of claims made by the office of National Drug Control Policy. New York: State University of New York Press. Roleff, T. (2005). Drug abuse: opposing viewpoints. Farmington Hills: Greenhaven Press.
  14. 14. ARMY‟S ROLE IN THE WAR ON DRUGS Broad Topic: Army‟s Role in the War on Drugs Narrow Topic: The benefits of the drug war don‟t outweigh the costs. Thesis: The Army should step down from its role in the drug war because the war has been largely unsuccessful and unwinnable. I. Introduction/Overview A. Drug Regulation and Prohibition B. Posse Comitatus Act II. At Home and Abroad A. The International Stage B. Domestic Solutions III. Opposing views A. Drug Testing and Workplace Bans B. Social Pressures IV. Conclusion 14