When America declared a war on poverty in the 1960s, it was believed that more assistance by the federal government would lead to eradicating the problem. What we got instead was bigger government and an army of dependents for whom welfare became not merely a helping hand but a way of life. And today, even though the government has done little to actually help the poor and has even made things worse, many still believe the war on poverty must continue by offering even more of the welfare that helps to perpetuate it.
When America declared a war on terror at the beginning of the 21st century, it was believed that massive intervention in the Middle East by the federal government would lead to eradicating the problem. What we got instead was bigger government both home and abroad and a new army of terrorists for whom the U.S. invasion of Iraq was their primary reason for joining Al-Qaeda. And today, even though government actually did nothing to stop the growth of global terrorism and even made things worse, many still believe the war on terror must continue by offering even more of the intervention that helps to perpetuate it.
And it is this same mindless, reckless, and fruitless government repetition that perpetuates America's war on drugs. Since beginning the war on drugs in the 1970s and escalating our efforts in the '80s, this battle has done virtually nothing to reduce drug use and has in fact created more battles. Writes Ethan Nadelmann in The Wall Street Journal, "Consider the consequences of drug prohibition today: 500,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions of taxpayer dollars expended annually to fund a drug war that 76 percent of Americans say has failed; millions now marked for life as former drug felons."
Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, concludes, "All this, and much more, are the consequences not of drugs per se but of prohibitionist policies that have failed for too long and that can never succeed in an open society."
In the case of marijuana use, it is hard to imagine how the benefits, if there are any, of punishing pot smokers outweigh the cost of doing so. In my own experience, I don't think I've ever had a conversation with a police officer who actually believes the war on drugs is sensible or successful on any level. It's a waste of time for law enforcement, a waste of money for the taxpayer, and a waste of dignity, reputation, and possibly freedom by those who choose to use a drug that arguably is no worse than alcohol.
As with our wars on poverty and terrorism, instead of looking at the tragic results of the drug war, we praise the good intentions. Do I honestly believe that many good, decent, patriotic Americans think welfare will actually help the poor? Sure, they do and so do many of our government leaders. Do I honestly believe many good, decent, patriotic Americans think our efforts in Iraq might actually reduce terrorism? Of course they do, and so do many of our government leaders. Likewise, when welfare is criticized as counterproductive, the critics are typically accused of being against the poor. When our interventionist foreign policy is criticized as counterproductive, the critics are typically accused of being against the troops, if not their country. Both are arguments that skirt the primary issue and refuse to address the root problem.
Those who believe the war on drugs is counterproductive are no more anti-sobriety than welfare critics are anti-poor or war critics are anti-American. The war on drugs is a bust — an abysmal failure that does nothing to solve the problem and does much to create others. The war on drugs is impossible to win, not because America hasn't fought it hard enough or needs to fight harder, but because good intentions are no match for the immutable realities of human nature.
Or as Nadelmann writes, "The Americans who voted in 1933 to repeal prohibition differed greatly in their reasons for overturning the system. But almost all agreed that the evils of failed suppression far outweighed the evils of alcohol consumption."
Hopefully — finally — Americans can now agree that our many, endless wars against common sense will give us common cause to find more uncommon solutions.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.