Call off the Drug War

By Steyn, Mark | The American Spectator, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Call off the Drug War


Steyn, Mark, The American Spectator


America blames everyone but itself for its habits.

The State of New Hampshire doesn't require much from its school districts-a mutually satisfactory arrangement about to be abruptly terminated due to an asinine Supreme Court decision declaring our entire education system unconstitutional.

But I digress. One of the few things the state does require of my small grade school and every other one is that they post signs on the road warning motorists they are now entering a "Drug-Free School Zone."

It irks me. At board meetings, I'm tempted to stand up and demand we replace it with "You Are Now Entering a Latin-Free School Zone"-which at least has the merit of being indisputable. But it seems the best we can hope for from our public education system these days is that our children aren't heroin dealers by the time they've been through it. And instead of being quietly ashamed of this stunted redefinition of education, we flaunt it as a badge of pride, out on the highway, even at a rural north country elementary school. For even kindergartners and firstgraders must understand that they, too, are foot-soldiers in the "war on drugs." Best of all, like almost all other awards in the American school system, you get it automatically: every educational establishment in the state triumphantly displays the same sign, regardless of whether it's a Drug-Free School Zone or a SchoolFree Drug Zone.

And that's more or less how the "war on drugs" goes for grown-ups, too. South of the Mexican border, they're nailing up their 1999 "Proud to Be Recognized As a Full Partner in the War on Drugs" signs, recently shipped out by the U. S. government. It doesn't actually matter whether the Mexican authorities are cracking down on their drug barons or whether their so-called "drug czar" and half the cops are on the take; Washington still "recertifies" them, because not to do so could send "the wrong signal."

I have some sympathy for these harassed Latins. What's known here as "America's drug problem" might more properly be described as the rest of the world's America problem. Americans like drugs. Americans consume drugs in large quantities. And yet, because as a nation Americans are still sufficiently hypocritical (even in these Clintonian times) to be unwilling formally to acknowledge their appetites, the burden of servicing this huge market has shifted inexorably to the dusty ramshackle statelets in America's backyard. It may well be true that most Mexican police and most Colombian politicians are corrupt, but why wouldn't they be?

Personally, I know or care very little about Latin America, but I'm fond of the British West Indies, and the contorted drug delivery systems required by Washington are destroying one sleepy, shabby island idyll after another. That's why I'm rooting for the Europeans in this transatlantic banana war. You probably haven't noticed that we're in the middle of a banana war, except maybe for the extraordinary number of stories in business publications headlined "Yes, We Have No Bananas." As it happens, yes, everyone has plenty of bananas, but that's still no reason for the United States and the European Union not to go to war over them.

Neither the U.S. nor the E.U. actually grows bananas, but this is the twentyfirst-century version of those nineteenthcentury imperial disputes, where the great powers line up behind one obscure tribe or another and stage a proxy war. In this instance, the U.S. has lined up behind Latin American bananas, while the British and French are on the side of AfroCaribbean-Pacific bananas. Unless the E.U. ceases its banana protectionism, Washington will ban imports of...cashmere. Don't ask me why. Maybe they ran some numbers and discovered that Scottish cashmere workers are especially partial to bananas. In the West Indies, bananas replaced sugar cane plantations when the British figured out sugar could be more profitably mined from beets. But if the cowering, fetal-positioned Caribbean banana loses to its thrusting Latin neighbor, what's left to switch to?

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