Part I |
Banning the Opium Trade
Evans holds that opium smoking only became widespread in China in the first place because it was banned. In fact the ban was on tobacco, and it was successful. Chuang-Lieh-Ti (1627-44) issued a decree outlawing the smoking of tobacco. Smoking had by then already caught on in China so, as tobacco stopped coming in from America, people looked around for something else to smoke. They tried out opium and they soon thought it way better than tobacco had ever been. Today, they are back onto tobacco; but only retreated from opium owing to Mao's rather forceful ban.
In the 1890s, the USA was persuaded that it needed a strong navy by, among others, Alfred Mahon, a man who got awarded honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge within one week for his scholarship in history and philosophy. He was a captain in the American navy. His recommendation aided Congress to denote funds to building up a strong fleet. But this full steam ahead outlook brought a reaction from some quarters, like the New York newspaper, the Evening Post. It looked like the abandonment of the tradition of isolationism. Even the then President, Grover Cleveland, doubted the craze for a strong navy. But he was on the way out, and was soon to be replaced by William McKinley, who favoured the new outlook. Soon, war with Spain was underway, and as a result of winning that war, the USA gained Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The major anti-imperialist nation had become a small time imperialist itself. In 1901, McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, a romantic radical, who thought the deed might be progressive in some way. It ironically aided the budding imperialism of the USA as it advanced the Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, as the new President, and if imperialism is a vice then he was full of it. He was another romantic, but one in favour of imperialism.
William H. Taft, 27th President of the United States.
Once in power, Roosevelt sent Taft, a future President, out to the Philippines as Governor. There the Chinese had been getting opium from the Spanish state before the USA conquest, and the question arose as to whether the new rulers would continue to supply it. Taft thought it might help to fund schools in the islands, so he applied to Congress to see if it would be continued, but before the scheme could get underway, it came up for opposition from the new Bishop of the Philippines, Charles Henry Brent, who arrived from the USA in 1902. Brent attempted to stop what he thought was an evil and he enlisted the likes of the Reverend Wilbur Crafts back in the USA to pressurise the White House and the Congress against it. The main message was that there was to be no compromise with the evil of drugs. It was a rising tide of opinion that was bound to cause a sea-change in Roosevelt's outlook.
Taft had to ban the opium trade under the influence of the Christian lobbying. He soon faced up to the fact that if the state bans, or taxes highly something that is in strong demand, the black market will come into operation, and there will be smuggling as a result. Banning something also gives it the flavour we nearly always imagine that forbidden fruit has. It becomes naughty and thereby nice to many, if not quite to most people.
Hegel said, paradoxically, that we learn from history that men fail to learn from history. Taft set up a committee to see if anything could be done about the smuggling that soon emerged in the wake of the opium ban. It was the Opium Investigating Committee , and had on it three people, the new bishop Brent, a local doctor and a major from the army. They carried out their investigation by going on a tour of the Far East, places like China, Japan, what is now called Vietnam, what is now called Malaysia, Indonesia, and the like. Brent wrote up the report of their findings. They concluded that the opium traffic must be stopped. Brent holds that the way to do this is to stop the supply. Evans feels that it is clear that it would have been more germane to Brent's aim to curb the demand for opium instead. Brent had retained his contacts in the USA, and he set out to get President Roosevelt to deal with the opium problem internationally, at the level of a diplomatic national aim. For once that was done, it would not be easy to climb down without a sense of international humiliation. A lot was thereby bitten off by the USA. This is still not generally realised even after more than a hundred years of chewing. In setting up this committee, Taft was nearer to beginning the problem than to settling it. The law could no more stop the smuggling than Canute could stop the tide from coming in, unless it took onto itself the sort of totalitarian powers that Mao had. Those were the sort of powers needed to dam[n] it, to use a pun.
Evans thinks that persuasion of the opium smokers to give up would have been better than a ban, and he feels in this way, that tobacco is on its way out. But the law is also being used to reinforce that crusade, first in Ireland and later also in the UK, where smoking has been banned in public places. Evans says that this is mainly down to peer pressure, yet he then tells us that California has legally banned smoking of tobacco in public places too. The liberal principle would keep the law out of this sort of quest and leave it to the proprietors of the pubs to allow, or rule out smoking, as they saw fit.
When Roosevelt took on the opium producers in the first decade of the twentieth century, the chief culprit was the British Empire. In the eighteenth century, Britain had become dependent on tea, but China was not interested in the manufactured wares that Britain had to offer in return, and the only return payment was in gold. Before long, opium was found as a substitute for gold and opium was grown in India and Burma and sent into China. China, in turn, worried about the loss of silver to pay for this and called upon the British to put a stop to the evil opium trade. This led to two Opium Wars, 1839-42 and 1856, and the annexation of Hong Kong by Britain as a result of victory in those wars. By the early twentieth century, plenty of opium was being grown in India and Burma to pay for the tea, but tea was also being grown there, and in Ceylon too. The British did not welcome this crusade from the USA to stop exporting opium, anymore than they had welcomed the request from China to stop imports of it, but as the UK was Christian, they had far more respect for the Christian USA than they had earlier for a heathen China. Bishop Brent's case had some appeal in Whitehall as well as at the White House. The UK establishment were thus in two minds, and decided to be ambiguous in response, effectively biding their time on the issue.
Boredom at The Hague
By 1909, an international Conference, the International Opium Commission, with China, the USA, Britain, France, Austria-Hungry, Portugal, Russia, Italy, Holland, Persia, Japan and Siam in attendance, was held at Shanghai. Turkey accepted the invitation, but it did not attend. Bishop Brent was the chairman. The Conference ended in disagreement, especially between the Americans and the British. The latter managed to dodge explicitly agreeing that opium was evil and this remained a position that only the USA were keen on by the end of this first international conference on the topic.
In the team from the USA was Dr Hamilton Wright. He had done medical research in the Far East, so he could claim first hand knowledge of the evils of opium. He was enthusiastic, but, as is so often the case with enthusiasts, he was also inclined to be tactless. He saw at once that his new job to control opium might entail quite a bit of work, but that was a fact he rather welcomed. He compiled a dossier and many leaflets and questionnaires about narcotics in the USA. He soon set about seeing that the drug companies , the prisons and the police departments were informed as to the dangers of opium, and he campaigned for a federal statute to control narcotics.
Now Brent had an enthusiastic ally, and though they were disappointed at the Shanghai meeting, it was clearly only the beginning, rather than the end, of their crusade against the poppy. The USA was already committed, diplomatically, to their crusade, and before long, they got the First Opium Convention at the Hague underway in 1911. It was repeated in 1912, 1913, and 1914 too; and finally, in 1914, they got the agreement that narcotics should be criminalised worldwide. Brent and Wright had showed themselves to be relentless in their crusade against evil But the agreement they got was not sincere, rather it was a result of boredom. The general idea was that, if the parties all agreed to what was said by Brent and his team, they no longer need to hear it again once a year. It was, thinks Evans, a way of ending those boring annual Conventions at the Hague. As the conference only had the ability to recommend outlawing narcotics to their respective nations, not much could come of their agreement; or so they thought. It was clearly not very likely to be endorsed by their home states.
Enthusiasm at Versailles
Just then the world war broke out. On the defeat of the Germans in 1918, they signed the treaty of Versailles, that had as section 295, the ratification of the 1914 conclusions of the Opium Convention at the Hague. All states that ratified that treaty, thereby, ratified the war against drugs in 1919. The limp agreement of 1914 proved to be as good as an enthusiastic endorsement.
William Jennings Bryan and his Wife. He opposed Imperialism, War, Darwinism and Drugs
While the Hague Conferences were annual events, a new ally in the USA emerged to aid Brent and Hamilton, William Jennings Bryan. Hugh Brogan gives an account of him in his Longman History of the USA (1983) p.444ff. He was a lawyer, a public speaker and an editor. Jennings Bryan was passionately fond of the Bible and of America. He saw drugs as the ruination of man and thought they might lead to his degeneration. Jennings Bryan was not satisfied with man as he found him. He felt that there was an excellent chance for man to become way better than he was and that the Bible could aid this progress, as could the opportunities there were in America. Drugs would go the other way, the way to ruin rather than the way to betterment for all. Drugs were a big threat to this great potential success. So was war, which he sought always to dodge. He ran three times for President, but lost owing to taking the line that the Democrats should support the poor The Democrats did adopt this position as a result of Bryan's influence, but with dysfunctional reforms that largely wasted money. He greatly aided Woodrow Wilson win the White House, though he later opposed him when Wilson decided to join the First World War. He was a fundamentalist Christian, and later was to take part in the trial to prosecute the Tennessee schoolteacher, Scopes, for teaching evolution in the famous Monkey Trial. Again, he saw Darwin's theory as an obstacle to the great success that the Bible could bring about.
Laws against Narcotics
Just at this time, the drug companies, doctors and the pharmacists who ran chemist shops began to realise they might be in trouble if the juggernaut that Brent had begun continued as unopposed as it had done for the last decade or so. They too had their contacts, and they decided to put up some opposition. Another snag that the Brent campaign met at this time was the clash between federal authority and the various states within the union of the USA. This was all the stronger a clash in the Deep South, where they still tended to see the federal state as the old union foe they had fought against and lost to in the civil war. Rather like the EU, [if it was a bit more advanced in its aim of being a superstate], might meet with a check to its aims at a national level. the federal law might be objected to at the state level. As a lot of the real business is left to member states in the EU then so is it within the USA. A federal law overrides the independence of the member states and that often causes resentment as a result.
Hamilton Wright welcomed this task and he was keen that a federal law was what was needed. It would make the USA an example to the rest of the world. He whipped up public fear of rapid ruin from the spread of opium. He faced opposition from the Deep South, who particularly hated federal powers. And there they had no opium problem. However, the white Southerners did not like the African Americans, who sometimes used cocaine, so Wright made a case against that in order to get support from the South on opium. To this end Evans says, Wright even began a rumour that cocaine made the user bullet-proof. Whether this was truly believed or just used as an excuse to shoot at people on drugs with the justification that it would not really harm them is not clear, but Evans thinks the former was feared. Wright claimed that cocaine improved the cunning, efficiency and physical strength of the Negroes. It can improve their aim with a gun and it also tends to spur the African American on against the whites, claimed Wright. Evans feels that this anti-propaganda was hugely successful. Wright got his law against narcotics through, and it included a ban on cocaine which was not a narcotic at all, but was added to get the support of the states in the South of the USA. Wright did attempt to get hemp on board too, as that was sometimes used by Negroes, but it was dropped from the bill on 1 March 1915, as it was widely held to be harmless. Oddly, at the acme of his success, Wright suddenly got dropped. Not even Brent or Jennings Bryan would aid him, maybe owing to past tactlessness, and after two years of attempting to get another state assignment, he finally gave up and emigrated to France, where he drove an ambulance. Before long he got badly injured in an accident, and after that he retired back to the USA but never returned to favour.
Almost as soon as the laws against drugs in the USA were passed, the population divided into two camps; or haply into two active tips of a bell curve, where the vast majority in the middle remained largely indifferent. At one end were those who pitied the addicts, and at the other, those who accepted that they were almost as bad as the pushers or, at least, that they should have no pity if the evil was ever going to be cleared up. The anti-propaganda, or impropaganda, against drugs went on. The New York Health Commissioner, Dr R.S. Copeland, expressed his fears that there were some 150 000 to 200 000 addicts in New York alone in 1920. Years later, in 1968, James M. Hanley, in a similar mood, said the 60 000 known addicts in the whole of the USA were just the tip of the iceberg [Szasz, p.15]. A special clinic was set up to cater to the needs of the addicts by offering the drug of their choice, free, and only 6 000 could be found. The head of the American Association Judicial Council, Dr Alexander Lambert, concluded that the New York Health Commissioner exaggerated. Dr S.D. Hubbard, who worked in the special clinic, agreed. Levi Nutt first estimated 110 000 addicts in the USA as a whole in an attempt to get it right, but the following year he put it down to 95 000 in the wake of a national survey that was just completed. If the drug problem has been growing steadily, as we are often told, and Hanley's later statement was apt, the survey also exaggerated.
The Moral High Ground
Some of those estimates may well have been honest mistakes, but Evans notes that the ironic phenomenon of many enthusiastic moral propagandists, or anti-propagandists, that they will very often resort to lying or making up data, as they hold that their case is basically right anyway, and that they have the moral high ground. We have the interpolations in Josephus made by the enthusiastic early Christians as a blatant example from the distant past, and much Green hyperbole of late. Evans feels that in the story of the war against drugs, Dr Hamilton Wright was one example of one who did such creative research in this sense and that later, Richard P. Hobson was another.
Evans holds that in Shreveport, Louisiana, there is evidence that clinics that gave free drugs worked well to lower the crime rate, and when it was closed down in 1921 the crime rate increased. He seems to favour this free drugs policy. But it is a bit perverse to maintain people in the habit of drug taking if it is thought to be no good for them, and such a policy taxes others who may well not want to maintain such things. To be truly free, such clinics need to be charities that are freely maintained rather than state aided.
By 1921, the customs felt that they could no longer cope with the drug smuggling into the USA. By 1928, a third of all prison inmates were in gaol for drug related crime. The 170 narcotic agents set up to deal with the addicts in 1915 were up to 270 and the cost of attempting to combat drugs had increased threefold. Far from being able to control the drug habit in society generally, the UK state could not even control the use of drugs in their gaols from the 1970s onwards.
Richard P. Hobson
Around 1920, Richard P. Hobson joined the scaremongers about drugs, says Evans. Soon even the authorities felt he is exaggerating in what he finds to say on the topic. But he is a good speaker and he soon has a loyal following. He lost no time in getting on the radio when it emerged. Evans feels that we can only explain his popularity by recalling what the 1920s were really like. They were called the roaring ‘20s, and they were a bit like the swinging ‘60s, in that there were new fashions and new music, with youth challenging parents, resulting in a generation gap. The two decades had short skirts in common, and also an economic boom [followed by a slump in the next decades of the 1930s and ‘70s where things seemed to be tamer, but where many more actually caught up with the avant-garde of the earlier decade] but the ‘20s had Jazz, bobbed hair in the flappers, cinema reaching new heights, and the arrival of the motor car that looked as if it was going places. Prohibition did not mean there was a shortage of booze as a result. If anything, making booze forbidden made demand for it even stronger. Everyone had access to alcohol in the 1920s, despite the ban. But the extraverts who were in the limelight in both decades leads one to overlook the more introverted majority in the background.
What explains the popularity of Hobson, according to Evans, is that the extraverts in the limelight of the roaring ‘20s are a minority, even one amongst the young. The silent majority might well have been more hostile than indifferent, as the majority usually are. In every generation, most in every age group tends to be conservative, and, as we get older, way more radicals join the majority than older eccentrics go the other way. Indeed, with the final arrival of Prohibition, the ‘20s were maybe the puritan's hey day in the whole history of the USA. The old thought the young to be degenerate, and not a few of the young agreed that the flappers were. Drug addicts were thought to be physically degenerate, owing to the affect of the drugs. So, when Hobson made telling points against the fashionable young things, he was playing to a large gallery. Hobson supported Prohibition and lashed out at the degenerate addicts. Hobson produced a pamphlet, “The Peril of Narcotic Drugs”, and he got a Congressman to send it through the post, to many people in authority around the USA, by using the post free privilege that the Congressman had. He also sent letters and other messages through the same channel. In his pamphlet, Hobson said that there were over a million drug addicts in the USA. He held that it makes desperadoes out of addicts, and that a single dose can make an addict. This, maybe, is where the UK 1970s TV adverts got the ideas from. Hobson said that ladies' face powder may well include a mixture of opium, so it might unwittingly spread from there. In a radio broadcast to the nation in 1928, “The Struggle of Mankind Against Its Deadliest Foe”, he said that illegal drugs were way worse than leprosy in that they could spread faster and were harder to cure, that they caused most of the rising crime wave and that the perpetuation of civilisation depended on enforcing the ban.
A Field of Hemp
The Story of Hemp
Hemp was thrown out of the bill that Dr Hamilton Wright influenced in 1915. Few had ever thought it other than harmless in its long history, though the likes of Susan Greenfield has, of late, been saying in various newspapers, from The Daily Mail to The Guardian , that it causes schizophrenia. Evans openly favours the legalisation of it. He has found only a few instances, in its long usage, of disapproval before 1936. He notes that a Turkish Sultan once banned it in Egypt, and that also the Roman Catholic Church outlawed it for a while. Hemp does tend to make people disrespectful of authority. When troops guarding the Panama Canal took it in 1925, they caused a furore, and the Canal Zone Report on the event did ask the law to reconsider the legal status of hemp. In considering whether to do so, the USA authorities took into account an earlier report of the British, T he Indian Hemp Commission of 1894, that explicitly said that hemp caused “no moral injury whatever.” The US authorities agreed with this British report and the earlier 1915 bill (that refused to ban hemp), and decided that hemp was basically harmless.
After all, hemp was seen to be useful back in 1915 and this fact was still common knowledge. It was widely known that hemp was a source of coarse fibres that were put to diverse uses in everyday life. Hemp, a plant [ Cannabis sativa ], was once thought to belong to the plant family of the mulberry tree, Moraceae , but today most accept that it is distinct, belonging to Cannabinaceae . It was not confined to medical or drug usage but was polymorphous, being put to many other uses. It was used to make rope, indeed the hangman's rope was usually made of hemp, and a widow left behind after a hanging was called a hemp widow. Hemp was also employed in producing canvas, [the very word was derived from cannabis] for painting pictures on the sails and rigging of Columbus' ship, and later of the Pilgrim Fathers' too. The Bibles they read, were all entirely made of hemp too. On Sunday 31 July 1619, the day when English speaking settlement's first assembly in America met, they made a law that every householder should grow a hemp patch somewhere on their land. Hemp was the pristine plant for making paper. Much later, the Declaration of Independence was written on paper made from hemp, as was Tom Paine's Common Sense (1776) and, indeed, nearly all books in those days. The uniforms of the troops that Washington led against the British were made from hemp. The first Levi Strauss jeans were made of hemp rather than of cotton, as has been the case since the 1850s. Hemp is said to be harder wearing and easier to grow than cotton, needing little pesticides, and no fertilisers. It becomes something of a wonder how cotton ever made headway against this plant. Cotton's advantage was that it could be refined for uses that hemp was too crude to cater to, like handkerchiefs, fine shirts and delicate clothing.
Eleven years later, in 1936, hemp came to be feared throughout the USA. By 1937 the public clamour for it to be outlawed was irresistible. How did the sea-change occur?
To explain this, we need to consider the new innovation that was called a Decorticator, a device developed by an immigrant from Germany to the USA, and it refined hemp into fine fibres. This opened up hemp for even more uses, uses that cotton was thought to be better for. It could also be used for newsprint as well as for books. Evans holds that it was far cheaper at doing this than wood could ever be. Evans feels it was the people who had most to lose from the Decorticator that led to hemp's suppression. The first affected were the cotton producers, but Evans notes that it is not difficult to switch from growing cotton to hemp. It was not so much the cotton growers as the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst (whom the film Citizen Kane was modelled on) and the big chemical firm, Du Pont who were behind the call for a ban. Evans feels that it was the pine forests ready to be turned into paper that put Hearst against hemp. Hemp would lower the price he could get for his wood if it was allowed to compete for newsprint. The Decorticator could cost Hearst millions, if it was allowed to continue. Du Pont stood also to lose out, and on two fronts. The firm did not want a competitor for man-made fabrics like nylon whilst they also sold Hearst the chemicals he needed to turn his wood into paper. Indeed, they owned the patent on the chemical processes, so it was not only Hearst whom they supplied.
William Randolph Hearst, the great newspaper proprietor
But Du Pont had an even greater investment than the one in man-made fibres. The firm also produced fertilisers and pesticides, both of which would be affected by the free development of hemp which needed no fertiliser, nor much by way of pesticides. Evans endorses the idea that these interests set out to oppose hemp as a plant. The way to do this was by condemning it as a drug. Hearst did the main job through his newspapers, whilst Du Pont supported where they could. In particular, and by chance, Du Pont had a family member who was the first head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau [FNB] set up in 1930: Henry J. Anslinger. From 1936, he attacked hemp as a narcotic in the newspaper campaign that the Hearst press set up.
This cited the derivatives of hemp with its various names of cannabis, pot, hashish, marijuana that came from a weed that was to be seen everywhere in the USA, even growing on the roadsides. It was said that people who took this marijuana were calm at first, but after a while they became filled with a mad lust to kill. This was reinforced by a film made by the FNB: Reefer Madness (1936). This named marijuana as the Real Public Enemy Number One. It presented itself as fictionalised, but claimed to be all based on fact, and it held that the effects of marijuana were calming to begin with but led to a total lack of control that ended up in a violent madness that one might well never recover from.
Anslinger followed up this film with an article called “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth”, where he told of a whole family being wiped out. A boy in Florida had killed all his siblings and both his parents with an axe. He had killed his two brothers and his sister, as well as his parents, in a some sort of drugged daze. He could not recall having done it in the aftermath, but it was quite clear that he had. People who had known him said he was always quiet and steady, but that now he was crazed. He had been recently smoking marijuana.
See Part I of Keith Evans on Drugs.
See Part IIIof Keith Evans on Drugs