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Nazi Germany’s (and America’s) Drug War

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In reading an interesting review of a book entitled “Hitler’s Little Helper” in last Sunday’s New York Times, I was struck by the following sentence, “Ohler documents the persistent intertwining of anti-Semitic rhetoric with the Nazis’ war on drugs, the laws passed in 1933 that threatened addicts with imprisonment and sterilization, and the encouragement to neighbors and co-workers to denounce habitual users — especially of cocaine and morphine — to the police.”

I suppose I wasn’t too surprised to read that Nazi Germany had drug laws too but, quite honestly, I had never given the matter much thought. After all, when we think about Nazi Germany, ordinarily we think of things like Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, the Gestapo, and World War II. Most people don’t think about other aspects of the Nazi system, such as Social Security, national healthcare, public schooling, the Autobahn system, the military-industrial complex, economic regulations, and — yes — drug laws.

That’s not to say, of course, that anything and everything that Nazi Germany did should automatically be considered bad. But let’s face it: When it comes to tyranny, Nazi Germany is considered to be the gold standard. Therefore, it seems to be that anything the gold standard in tyranny does should, at the very least, receive a rebuttable presumption of being bad.

Most everyone is familiar with the concept of a police state. It describes a political system in which the activities of the citizenry are close monitored and controlled by the political authorities. Anyone who gets out of line is dealt with harshly and brutally. People are expected to carry their identification papers with them and display them to the police on command. To help ensure security, people are encouraged to snitch on their family, friends, neighbors, and strangers who are thought to be engaged in suspicious behavior.

A police state was what Nazi Germany was. That is what the Gestapo and its super-secret surveillance system were all about. So was the Soviet Union. The KGB comes to mind. So is China today. So are Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam.

By the way, all those countries have drug laws too. And secret surveillance over the citizenry. And snitches. And harsh penalties for deviation.

Some interesting questions arise: What is the price that a society must pay to get rid of drug usage or drug addiction? If the price is the installation of a police state, is it worth it? If a police state succeeds in eradicating drug use and drug addiction from society, will the police state then be dismantled or will it instead be made a permanent part of the system to ensure that drug usage and drug addiction don’t make a comeback?

Communist China today is a very real police state. People’s activities are tightly monitored and controlled. Any deviation from the established norm is severely punished. Everyone is required to submit to a state-controlled education from the first grade on up. Nonetheless, there is still a drug problem, which is why the authorities have drug laws. If there is still a drug problem in a big police state like Red China, how much greater a police state would be needed to rid Chinese society of its drug problem?

Is that the road the United States should take too to win the war on drugs? Or another way to put it is, Can the drug war be won here in the United States without turning the country into a police state, like the one in China (especially when combined with the immigration war and the war on terrorism)?

Look at what is happening in the Philippines, where the president of that country is waging the war on drugs in the same manner that President Trump (and his predecessors) wages the war on terrorism. President Duterte has his police force, military, and secret death squads going out and killing people who are suspected of violating the nation’s drug laws. No arrests, indictments, due process, trial by jury, or other legal procedures that some people call “technicalities.” Just swift “justice,” both for drug suppliers and drug consumers. Interestingly enough, despite all these measures, which can only described as tyrannical, there is still a drug problem in the Philippines.

When the United States was founded, one of the things that made Americans proud was that their political and economic systems were totally different from regimes in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. What mattered to our ancestors was freedom, not the false sense of security that comes with police states, welfare states, and overgrown military and intelligence establishments. That’s why Americans lived without drug laws for more than a century (and without income taxation, economic regulations, Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, central bank, paper money, immigration controls, Pentagon, enormous standing army, CIA, NSA, and national-security state). Too bad later Americans moved in an opposite direction, including the adoption of drug laws, just like those in Nazi Germany.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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