DUCK SOUP: China, Drugs and a First Grade Murder

As the kingpins of global trade policy draw China into their vision of borderless, unregulated commerce, my thoughts drift back to an earlier, clumsier attempt to tap the Sleeping Giant's markets. In the days when the British Empire ruled the seas, trade with China became highly problematic. There was a burgeoning Western demand for oriental spices, tea, and silk, but the Brits had very little to offer a civilization which had been happily self-sufficient for thousands of years. Trade requires mutuality of desire.How to woo Wu? Say it with flowers, of course: In this case, poppies. The clever Brits (with American collaboration) injected consumer demand in the form of opium. Opium and its derivatives (codeine, morphine, and heroin), constitute the ideal consumer good: A product stripped bare of aesthetics, fad or advertising spin. Adam Smith's invisible hand packs a pipe, puts a few drops on the tongue, squeezes a syringe, and reaches out for more. Trade blossomed.China's leaders balked. Becoming a nation of junkies was a higher price than they were ready to pay. The spurned suitor declared war, and soon Great Britain controlled China's coast. Hong Kong, given its walking papers in the waning light of the 1990s, was the last official relic of the Opium Wars. The War For Drugs was finally over.How things change! Today, of course, we have the War "On" Drugs. (Picture of sizzling frying pan. "This is drugs." Picture of egg. "This is your bomb." Cracked egg drops on pan. "This is your war on drugs. Get it?") And, oh, how things stay the same! The international drug trade is a wonderful excuse for military intervention.Today the Clinton administration, egged on by Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey, has begun to pump 1.5 billion dollars into warfare in Colombia. The stated goal of such militarization is to stem the flow of drugs into American noses, mouths and veins. The unstated goal appears to be salvation of Colombia's central government which has ceded control of nearly half of the country to rebel forces.The question must be faced: Is this a drug policy or a covert military campaign? Do the highly successful rebels constitute a drug army or a popular insurgency? Like Afghani freedom fighters and the Kosovar Liberation Army before them, could it be that the Colombian revolutionaries are selling drugs to buy guns instead of arming themselves to protect a drug concession?And where, exactly, do American interests fit in here? Recent reports from Kosovo suggest that our policy there includes tacit acceptance of a continuing heroin trade. This burgeoning business not only funds the KLA, but appears to underwrite the uprising in Chechnya as well. Is there some magic formula which tells us that repressed Eastern Europeans are freedom fighters, while repressed South American peasants are only trying to get Johnny hooked on hard stuff? Is there some reason why the flow of heroin into Europe is geopolitically correct, while the flow of cocaine into the U.S. is naughty?One real effect of an escalated War On Drugs is certain. Street prices will rise.And here the Opium Wars hit home. A first-grade girl is dead. She was shot by a classmate who lived in a house with men who trade guns for cocaine. The murder weapon was available to a child because drugs are illegal, hence expensive. That little girl is a victim of the War On Drugs, just as if she were a Columbian child caught in crossfire or a peasant farm daughter inhaling American defoliant sprays. It doesn't matter what moralizing we bring to bear on the question of drug use itself. The inescapable truth is that if other recreational drugs were regulated like alcohol and tobacco, that gun, that little boy, and that little girl would not have come together on that day.It only took a little over a decade for Americans to decide that they had seen enough body-bags, enough innocent blood shed, to demand an end to the Vietnam War. The Wall in Washington offers mute testament to our slow reflexes and wasted lives. The War On Drugs has been waged for a century now and still the killing rages.Upon the graves of the innocent, oughtn't we plant poppies?

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