Reefer Madness, the 1936 edu-ploitation film, which was part of the bizarre beginnings of the American “war on drugs,” told the tale of despotic youths whose cannibis-fueled rampages led to rape, murder, suicide and insanity. It was great fun, but never stopped a single jay from being toked through an alligator clip.
A generation before, the morality police attacked absinthe, an anise flavored liquor which was said to make “you crazy and criminal, provok[e] epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country."
Even though virtually every European country joined the U.S. ban on both cannibis and wormwood, they both thrived underground. Today, absinthe is legal in most countries and marijuana is considered to be relatively harmless, though mostly illicit. In spite of huge expenditures of effort, I would be willing to bet that most teenagers that you know could score a nickel bag in fifteen minutes even right here in South Carolina. (Though being hopelessly square, and thus ostensibly upright, I would have no idea where to look. Ah, the wisdom of youth.)
Now, we are engaged in a great, though not very civil, war to end “terrorism” which, from the looks of things, is destined to a victory every bit as fleeting as the victory in the war on drugs. Today, we learned that British police arrested 21 people in a plot to blow up London to U.S. flights using a sports drink mixed with triacetone triperoxide, a relatively easy to make, but highly volatile liquid explosive. So you can’t get on a plane with a Coke, a Red Bull (a vicious Mountain Dew-like drink that tastes worse than Nehi Grape), a bottle of nail polish remover or a tube of hair gel. You know I feel safer already.
Why? Because the ever-expanding security apparatus has another thing to obsess upon: airline passengers trying to sneak aboard with suspect bottles of exploding soft drinks. We’ll ratchet up the fear level a bit, and we will all thank George W. Bush and Tony Blair for saving Western civilization once again. Meantime, outside the Imam Ali mosque in the Shiite holy city of Najaf a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 35 people. Too bad we don’t spend as much time trying to secure Iraq as we do trying to stop Coca-Cola drinkers from getting on-board the Virgin flight from Heathrow to JFK.
We’ve learned nothing from our loss of liberty since the 9-11 attacks. We haven’t learned that there’s no such thing as perfect safety or democracy imposed by imperialism. We haven’t learned that you cannot destroy a country to save it, or overthrow tyrants to create free market utopias. We haven’t learned that freedom comes, not from the casting of a ballot, but from the yearning of the human soul—and if that soul is in thrall to the enemies of freedom, unleashing it will only make a “ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant” while “it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.” It’s not the absinthe, the pot or the Koran that terrorizes, but the broken, addicted and hopeless people who use them to escape reality.
We will never win the war on terror by using the failed methods of the war on drugs or the war on Iraq or Lebanon. We will only win by changing hearts. You don’t do that with guns and bombs. You do that by promoting hope and exercising justice and living freely and fully in spite of the risks. You do that by upholding human dignity, not by establishing secret prisons; by establishing inviolable human rights, not by marginalizing entire ethnic groups; by giving up power, not by grasping at the straw of despotism.
Can I buy you a Coke?