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drug war propaganda theme 1 - hated group

Themes in Chemical Prohibition: Sec 1 NIDA: Themes in Chemical Prohibition, William L. White, 1979

1. The Drug is Associated With a Hated Subgroup of the Society or a Foreign Enemy

drug crazed bohemians

The association of particular drugs with hated minority groups and foreign enemies has a long and colorful history in the United States. The association of opium with the Chinese, of cocaine with Blacks, of, alcohol with urban Catholic immigrants, of heroin with urban immigrants, of Latinos with marihuana, the claim that a myriad of foreign enemies were using these drugs against the U.S., and the image of drug crazed bohemians such as Ludlow, Baudelaire, and DeQuincy all were integral to the propaganda that generated the prohibitionist policies on each of these drugs.

San Francisco passed the first narcotics law in the United States in 1875 for the purpose of suppressing opium smoking. There is little doubt that this law was aimed specifically at the Chinese and reflected more an attempt to control the Chinese as an economic group than it did a concern about the drug opium. The "Chinese Question" dominated California politics in the 1870's. The period is marked by intense racial and class conflict. Racial riots occurred in numerous West Coast cities that resulted in the killing and lynching of Chinese and the burning of Chinese quarters. The California Workingman's Party was organized under the cry "The Chinese must go!" California representatives with the support of their southern counterparts pushed through Congress the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which suspended immigration of Chinese workingmen into the U.S. for ten years. It is doubtful given this background that the 1875 ordinance, in San Francisco was aimed at protecting the health and welfare of the Chinese people. 1, 2, 3, and 4

Cartoon: Oriental drug Problem Reaching Over

Although the practice of smoking opium in the early 1870's was unquestionably limited to the Chinese, the continued association between opium and the Chinese into the 1900's as part of the drive for national legislation to prohibit opium is unfounded. During this period opium had became a primary ingredient in over the counter medications sold as a cureall for an unending list of ailments. Terry and Pellens in their classic work The Opium Problem summarize all available surveys on opium use and conclude that most of users were white, female, middle-aged, and to be found among the educated and most honored members of society.5 Despite this evidence, the association between opium and the Chinese continued. Dr. Hamilton Wright, M.D., a State Department official, referred to many as the father of American narcotics laws was before Congress in 1910 propounding the recurring them of miscegenation with the following comments: "one of the most unfortunate phases of smoking opium in this country is the large number of women who have become involved and were living as common law wives or cohabitating with Chinese in the Chinatowns of our various cities."6 As with prohibitions which would follow, people's attitudes toward a specific drug (opium) became inseparable from their feelings about that group of people (Chinese) with which the drug's use was associated.

The association between cocaine and Blacks during the late 1800's and early 1900's was both direct and vicious. Hamilton Wright was again on the scene in 1910 giving congress the following warning about cocaine: "It has been authoritatively stated that cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the Negroes of the South and other sections of the country."7 The following additional example comes from an article by Edward Huntington William, M.D., in The Medical Record in 1914:

  • once the Negro has reached the stage of being a 'dope taker' (dope here referring to cocaine) . . . he is a constant menace to his community until he is eliminated . . . Sexual desires are increased and perverted, peaceful Negroes become quarrelsome, and timid Negroes develop a degree of 'Dutch courage' that is sometimes almost incredible. . In the language of the police officer, 'The cocaine nigger is sure hard to kill' - a fact that has been demonstrated so often that many of these officers in the South have increased the caliber of their guns for the express purpose of 'stopping' the cocaine fiend when he runs amuck. 8
  • A review of more popular reading of the day would have revealed the following statement in a 1914 Literary Digest article: "Under its (cocaine) influence are most of the daring crimes committed . . . Most of the attacks upon white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine crazed Negro brain."9 Or consider the following attributes of cocaine as reported again by Edward Huntington Williams, M.D. in an article in the New York Times:

  • The list of dangerous effects produced by cocaine . . . is certainly long enough. But there is another, and a most important one, this is a temporary steadying of the nervous and muscular system, so as to increase, rather than interfere with good marksmanship . . . the record of the 'cocaine nigger' near Asheville, who dropped five men dead in their tracks, using only one cartridge for each, offers evidence that is sufficiently convincing. 10
  • As if these racial associations were not enough, a New York Times article on the cocaine "menace" during this period tapped the anti-Semitic constituency with the following: "there is little doubt that every Jew Peddler in the South carries the stuff."11 The constant racial associations with cocaine may account for the fact that, between 1887 and 1914, laws were passed in 46 States regulating cocaine whereas only 29 States had enacted such laws to regulate the opiates.12 Perhaps an added irony is a 1908 report-by the Federal Government indicating more than 40 brands of soft drinks which contained cocaine.13

    Jim Bones Moving along to the next chemical which had long been singled out as a prohibitionist target, Congressman Hobson in 1914 in defense of his resolution for an alcohol prohibition amendment using a tactic that had been working well to influence the prohibition of cocaine and opium:
  • "Liquor will actually make a Brute out of a Negro, causing him to commit unnatural crimes. The effect is the same on the white man, though the white man being further evolved it takes a longer time to reduce him to the same level." 14
  • Liquor, as the story went, encouraged the southern Negro to "loose his libido on white women, incited . . . by the nudes on the labels of whiskey bottle." At home and abroad, prohibitionist missionaries began spreading the Word that the poor and, "colored people" of the earth were dangerous when drunk. As we approached World War I; however, a much better target was found. Pabst and Busch were German. Liquor stopped soldiers from shooting straight. Grain for alcohol took food away from starving allies. Liquor was unpatriotic. By the time prohibition of alcohol was implemented in 1919, alcohol was strongly associated with the German war effort, Catholicism, and the growing urban environment with its high percentage of foreign immigrants.15 The entire prohibition drama was to a great extent a symbolic issue of power - a question of whether the United States would be ruled from the traditions of rural Protestant America or by the growing industrial cities with their heavy immigrant Catholic influences.

    WEED The next major prohibition effort occurred in the 1930's as momentum was building to outlaw the use of marihuana. Harry Anslinger, in testifying in support of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, presented a letter from a Colorado Newspaper editor, an excerpt of which follows:

  • I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish speaking residents. That's why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish speaking Persons, most of whom are low mentality because of social and racial conditions. 16
  • The association between marihuana and Latinos continued throughout the 1930s, and it is doubtful that any of the legislators in 1937 could have even conceived of the possibility of large numbers of their own grandchildren and great grandchildren using marihuana and going to jail under a legal precedent they set. 

    An added twist to this overall theme was the proposition by Harry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics, that Communist China was growing and producing large quantities of opium and heroin for export to the free world, the United States in particular. This distribution of narcotics within the United States was part of the "Yellow Peril" which threatened to weaken America for the kill.17 Although Anslinger is most famous for this conspiracy theory of drug abuse, it was by no means original with him. A number of articles in the New York-Times during 1918 charged German agents with smuggling drugs to American Army bases and public schools. The following excerpt from the December 18 issue is typical of the tone:

  • Until well known German brands of toothpaste and patent medicines. . . naturally for export only . . . habit forming drugs were to be introduced; at first a little, then more, as the habit grew on the non-German victim and his system craved ever increasing quantities . . . in a few years Germany would have fallen upon a world which cried for its German toothpaste and Soothing syrup. . . a world of "cokeys" and "hop fiends' which would have been absolutely helpless when a German embargo shut off the supply of its pet poison. 18
  • movie: 'Maryjane', 1968 The reporting of the drug abuse "epidemic" of the 1960's and early 1970's and the demands for increasing prohibitions was only qualitatively different from these earlier campaigns with the association between "drugs" and radical left politics, social violence, defiance of respected values, etc. The theme was the same only the hated subgroups and the nature of the foreign enemy had changed.

    The above material represents only a small part of the information available to document the prohibitionist's association of a drug with either a hated minority group or a foreign enemy. Similar data can be found when one looks at the short lived movements to prohibit tobacco and coffee.

    Richard Hostafter's Comment that "Reformers who begin with the determination to stamp out sin usually end by stamping out sinners"19 seems applicable here. It is open to historical interpretation which the prohibitionists were more interested in prohibiting, cocaine, opium, and alcohol or the existence of blacks, Chinese, and Latinos in the United States. Willie Horton political attack ad, 1988 Although a racial theory of the development of drug control policies would be much too simplistic, it is unquestionable that the racial and "foreign conspiracy" associations with different drugs were instrumental in creating the emotional environment from which early prohibitionist laws sprang. There is also little question that modern versions of this theme continue to touch on primitive and powerful fears about the welfare of our country, our institutions, and most importantly the welfare of our children.

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