dove and stars

Open letter to Bill Bennett, Rep. Solomon, Lee Brown and cohorts:

One of the most unacceptable aspects of the war on drugs is the war's chilling effect on free speech. Many Americans are afraid to speak out against the war. It's a strange and terrible irony that advocating peace should be so dangerous, in a country that once held freedom of speech in such high regard. However, the net has provided a new forum for those who have good reason to fear reprisals for simply speaking the truth. The following open letter was posted anonymously to usenet in April, 1995.

I would draw your attention to an article by William Pfaff in a recent LA Times (and other newspapers I am sure). It is entitled "His Tears Come Too Late to Save the Dead and Spare His Nation" and examines Robert McNamara's confession (and belated tears) concerning America's tragic mistake in Vietnam, a mistake that he would certainly have had great power to help avoid, or at least to minimize, had he the morals and compassion for human suffering that he believes he has now gained with the perspective of time.

Your recent performances in Congress, other branches of government, and on the recent ABC program casts you all, relative to the Great Drug War, in roles very similar to that which McNamara, Johnson and their cohorts played in the Vietnam Insanity. (I am waiting for one of you to state confidently that "we can now see light at the end of the tunnel"). If 58,000 young Americans died in Vietnam, and many more had their lives ruined in various ways by that conflict (the sad history of many a Vietnam Vet), why do not the even larger tragic numbers of young American casualties of your own War cause you even the slightest suspicion that you, like McNamara, will have a similar confession to make, and even more bitter tears to shed, if not for the nation you could have spared, then perhaps in the face of an even more important Judge? Hundreds of thousands of young Americans, exactly the same kind of young Americans whose lives were ruined by the Vietnam Insanity, are now serving life-ruining terms of imprisonment for acts which no more threaten the well-being of American Civilization than did the Communists of Vietnam. The punishment of these hundreds of thousands of young Americans for such acts (a "solution" to the drug problem that you all have heartily endorsed) is born of the same ignorance that caused the US to napalm Vietnamese villages "for their own good."

And here we are not counting the lives ruined or diminished by the violence, the shootings, the crime, the guns in schools, all these are a direct consequence, yes consequence of the War on Drugs. Nor are we considering the great damage and destruction brought to other nations and other human lives, as inherently valuable as our own, by the fanatic pursuit of America's Longest War. The rationale for the waging of this war is as misguided as that which inspired the Vietnam war, the supposed "domino effect" of Communism in Asia, now refuted by McNamara and others who should know, sounds suspiciously like your statements that the legalization of drugs would produce millions of additional so-called addicts. Where American fanaticism once saw a world full of communists in lieu of violent intervention, it now is convinced that everybody and his grandmother will certainly rush right out and addict themselves once drugs are legalized. This view is not only profoundly cynical and insulting to the American people, but it is a very twisted view indeed of human nature. The net result of America's atrocities in Indochina could hardly have prevented anyone from becoming a communist, on the contrary, it ensured that generations of Asians would never trust American intentions or pronouncements (and quite understandably); the net result of the Drug War, fought to the bitter end, will exhaust what little remains of respect and admiration for the American Ideal not only in Europe, Asia and the rest of the world, but at home as well. Nothing less than the Death of a Once Great Nation is at stake here.

We are in many ways in the position we were during 1967, when Mr. McNamara now says he realized that the dissidents were right, that the war had to be stopped to avoid "a major national disaster". But as a New York Times editorial states, "Perhaps the only value of 'In retrospect' is to remind us never to forget that these were men who in the full hubristic glow of their power would not listen to logical warning or ethical appeal. When senior figures talked sense to Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNamara, they were ignored or dismissed from government. When young people...brought that message, they were court-martialed...or hounded from the country."

Sadly the New York Times has not shown the courage to draw the parallels I have mentioned here, for the situation has far more than mere vague similarities, and just as in 1967, all is not yet lost. If the Vietnam War had been halted at that stage, the United States would have gained a respect and legacy for trust far outweighing any disadvantages suffered. If honesty, compassion, and truth had prevailed at that juncture the greatest part of the tragedy could have been averted, resolved, adequately healed, and we are at the same potential turning point once again. America has a second chance, not often granted on the stage of world events. As in 1967, many lives have already been lost, great and irrepairable damage has already been done, but all is not yet lost. To seize the moment and insist on the rectification of a great and tragic error of such paramount importance is an opportunity which is offered to very few in this life, and only a few of those called to such important duty have ever demonstrated the courage to act. Mr. McNamara is not among them.

Mr. Bennett, if you can state that "the American people will NEVER accept the legalization of drugs", it is thanks to you and your zealous co-warriors that this may be true. But I think that you, too, know that such a statement is the mere posturing of a man "in the full hubristic glow of his power". The public, as always, remains to be convinced, and honesty and truth are the best tools with which that can be accomplished. No man in history as certain as you appear to be of his unassailable knowledge of right and wrong has finished his life without great regrets. This is the unavoidable price of hubris. If only for your own sake you dare not ignore the lesson of Mr. McNamara.

Mr. Brown, you and your Commander-in-Chief are in a unique position to ignite the most important change ushering in the new Millennium. Wasn't the issue of change the main promise of this administration? What is appropriate? For a start, and here is something the President has the power to accomplish even against the expressed wishes of Congress: an amnesty. President Carter did more to heal the Vietnam wounds with such an amnesty than any other American politician. Immediately pardon all non-violent drug prisoners. They are, in a very real sense, prisoners of war and prisoners of conscience. Insist that you will continue to pardon anyone convicted of non-violent "drug crimes" until this irrational war is resolved in favor of intelligent, realistic, and non-violent policies concerning the right of individuals to alter consciousness with any substance they choose, not just alcohol and tobacco. Make some significant speeches and apologize to Ms. Elders. She was right and you know it. I'm sure you can improvise from there.

Mr. Solomon, from what I have read of your recent statements on the Hill, the only thing I can suggest is to redouble your efforts. The ideas you have expressed and the legislation you have proposed are so evidently devoid of any humane sentiment, not to mention truth or rationality, that not only do I doubt you capable of shedding tears of compassion (or regret), or recognizing that you, too, are capable of grave error, but I am sure that your ravings, like those of Senator McCarthy, can only assist many more to understand the real tragedy which is happening in America. And so I encourage you.


dream on

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