BFTN #7 2018-05-21
May 21, 2018
BFTN #8 2018-05-28
May 28, 2018
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Part FOURTEEN of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – Harry takes his war global – and ends up in Playboy.


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Show Notes:

  • After WWII, Harry Anslinger started to wonder why his campaign against drugs wasn’t working.
  • He had the doctors whipped into line, he had the politicians in his pocket.
  • And yet people kept using drugs.
  • Even in the one particular city that was his poster child – Baltimore – who adopted every piece of hard line laws he demanded – there was still a growing drug problem.
  • Harry decided it must be the Commies.
  • There’s a Red under the Bed – and he’s selling weed!
  • Harry’s theory was the the Communists were trying to turn America into a land of drug addicts who could be used as a fifth column.
  • In particular he thought Chinese communists were selling heroin into America to create addicts willing to commit treason in return for a hit.
  • I read an article from 1954 where he’s blaming a guy called Judah Ezra for importing heroin from China into America.
  • And the Ezra family is actually interesting.
  • Edward Isaac Ezra, Judah’s older brother, was a wealthy Jewish businessman, who was at one time “one of the wealthiest foreigners in Shanghai”.
  • He was the first member of the Shanghai Municipal Council actually born in China.
  • The SMC was a group of Western businessmen who basically ran all of the business in Shanghai.
  • They were mostly British.
  • According to one report, Ezra amassed a vast fortune estimated at from twenty to thirty million dollars
  • He made his money from opium, and successful real estate investments.
  • He owned hotels, an insurance company, car dealerships, gas company, newspapers and lots of real estate.
  • When he died in 1921, his younger brothers, twins Judah and Isaac, both moved to San Francisco, where they were among the very first to import narcotics from Asia to the United States.
  • They had relationships with “Lucky” Luciano, the father of modern organized crime in the United States, and Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky
  • They also apparently had a relationship with Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, who were relying on opium profits.
  • In 1933 the brothers were arrested in California and sentenced to 12 years for trafficking.
  • When they were released, they were deported back to China, where they got back into the drug business.
  • So when Harry is blaming Chinese communists for the heroin trade into America, he’s actually talking about a couple of British Jews.
  • Hey speaking of Lucky Luciano – have you ever heard about the role he played in WWII?
  • He’s in jail in the 40s on prostitution charges, and the U.S. Navy are worried about German and Italian spies getting into the U.S. via the New York waterfront, which the Mob controlled.
  • So they did a deal with him – help us and we’ll commute your 50 year sentence.
  • He agreed to help, to prevent any strikes on the docks during the war, and to provide contacts within the Sicilian Mafia to help with the allied invasion of Sicily.
  • So in 1946 they let him out of jail and deported him to Italy.
  • But six months later he moved to Havana where he held the famous Havana Conference, where they co-ordinated the Mob’s business in America.
  • The heads of the major crime families gathered for a week to discuss business and to party with Frank Sinatra, who traveled there with a couple of guys from Al Capone’s family.
  • Anyway…
  • Back to Harry.
  • Even his agents apparently told him there was no evidence that the Communists were behind America’s drug supply, but he didn’t care about facts.
  • Whatever America was afraid of—blacks, poor people, Communists— Harry used it in his war on drugs.
  • And then Harry took his fight global.
  • He stood up in the UN and told all of the countries to help him fight Communism – by increasing their fight against drugs.
  • OR ELSE.
  • Why would the world listen to America?
  • Because they were the sole economic superpower.
  • Thailand, for example, flatly refused to ban opium smoking
  • They said it was a long-standing tradition in their country, and less harmful than prohibition.
  • So Harry started to twist arms.
  • One of his key lieutenants, Charles Siragusa, said: “I found that a casual mention of the possibility of shutting off our foreign aid programs, dropped in the proper quarters, brought grudging permission for our operations almost immediately.”
  • Threaten leaders of countries with cutting aid, or being cut off from selling any of their countries’ goods to the United States and see how fast they do the US’ bidding.
  • Eventually every country caved to U.S. pressure.
  • They all had minorities they wanted to point the finger at.
  • And they all wanted to use the Communist boogie man as an excuse
  • Around this time, Harry had a nervous breakdown.
  • He had to be hospitalized.
  • When he returned, his paranoia only seemed to have grown.
  • He saw enemies and plots and secret attempts to control the entire world around every corner.
  • He and J. Edgar Hoover would have got along well, but I don’t know if they ever met.
  • Harry finally got squeezed out of his job in the early 60s by JFK.
  • Who also tried to get rid of Hoover but failed.
  • Harry obviously didn’t have as much dirt on JFK’s drug and pussy habits as J. Edgar.
  • So why did America, and the world, fall so easily for Harry’s war on drugs?
  • They wanted easy answers to complex fears.
  • It’s tempting to feel superior.
  • The public wanted to be told that these deep, complex problems—race, inequality, geopolitics—came down to a few powders and pills, and if these powders and pills could be wiped from the world, these problems would disappear.
  • It is a logic that keeps recurring throughout human history, from the Crusades to the witch hunts to the present day.
  • It’s hard to sit with a complex problem, such as the human urge to get intoxicated, and accept that it will always be with us, and will always cause some problems (as well as some pleasures).
  • It is much more appealing to be told a different message—that it can be ended.
  • After Harry left, an investigation into the Narcotics Bureau was held by the IRS.
  • They found that it was rife with corruption.
  • the bureau itself was actually the major source of supply and protector of heroin in the United States.
  • Anslinger had been too busy chasing doctors, jazz singers, addicts, and Chinese dragons to see there were drug dealers in front of him all along.
  • But no matter.
  • Harry had won.
  • By the time he left office as the only man ever to run a U.S. security agency longer than J. Edgar Hoover, nobody was suggesting disbanding the Federal Bureau of Narcotics anymore.
  • It was an essential part of the government machine.
  • Years later, in February 1970, Playboy magazine arranged a roundtable debate of the drug laws and invited him to take part.
  • I don’t know if you have that copy of Playboy from Feb 1970, Ray, the one with Linda Forsythe on the cover, but I do, it’s a classic.
  • For the first time since he sat down with Henry Smith Williams in the 1930s, Harry Anslinger was forced to defend his arguments against articulate opponents.
  • They included the psychiatrist Dr. Joel Fort, the lawyer Joseph Oteri, and the poet laureate of narcotics, William Burroughs.
  • Also James Coburn, Baba Ram Dass and Alan Watts.
  • This time, Harry did not run away from defending his views, as he had with Henry Smith Williams.
  • He went on the attack.
  • “A person under the influence of marijuana,” he declared, “can get so violent that it takes about five policemen to hold him down.” He said there is “proof that continued use of hashish results in commitment to mental hospitals.”
  • Before, he would have been greeted with a respectful silence.
  • Not now.
  • When asked for evidence for these claims, he talked about the Indian psychiatrist Dr. Isaac Chopra, “who has stated flatly and unequivocally that Cannabis drugs lead to psychosis.”
  • “I got Dr. Chopra on the stand in Boston, under cross-examination,” Oteri replied, “and he admitted his studies did not involve a valid scientific sample and didn’t really connect marijuana and insanity in any cause and effect fashion.”
  • Anslinger had no response.
  • Fort the psychiatrist had some great lines.
  • “marijuana has brought relief to millions, its chief beneficial effect, however, has been to significantly reduce unemployment for tens of thousands of drug policemen.”
  • His opponents offered studies, facts, figures about how prohibition had not worked.
  • Anslinger kept coming back with anecdotes, almost always sexual: “I can tell you about a case in a fraternity house where they were having a weekend party. On a dare, one of the girls took a sugar cube in which there was a drop of LSD. She was out for two days and during that time she was raped by a number of the fraternity boys.”
  • The other people around the table seemed nonplussed, as sexy stories adapted from the pages of 1930s pulp fiction bumped up against valid scientific studies.
  • Anslinger started to try to compete with their world of factual claims, saying: “I challenge you to name one doctor who has reported a beneficial effect of marijuana, outside of the backward areas of the world.”
  • He was immediately answered with names: Dr. Lloyd J. Thompson, professor of psychiatry at Bowman Gray School of Medicine, and George T. Stocking, one of Britain’s leading psychiatrists. And the only reason there aren’t more in this country is because of you.
  • Again, Anslinger had no response.
  • By this stage, he’s also suggesting marijuana is a gateway drug, contradicting his own congressional testimony in 1937.
  • Oteri countered by saying alcohol and tobacco and mother’s milk are the gateway drugs.
  • Harry suggested marijuana users are social drop outs.
  • Alan Watts replied that there are people who drink alcohol and end up as bums sleeping under bridges – but there are also heavy drinkers who end up running corporations and in government.
  • He said he personally was more of a drop out before he started taking LSD.
  • Fort: The real cause is the alienating character of our society itself. Repressive family life, meaningless schools, pointless jobs, bigotry, wars, and intolerance everywhere: That’s what people are reacting against when they drop out.
  • And then Anslinger snapped.
  • He started calling everybody at the table around him “utterly monstrous” and said they were talking “vicious tripe” and must have a “disordered mind.”
  • Then he compared them to Adolf Hitler, and finally spluttered: “We’ve been hearing some of the most ridiculous statements that have ever been made.”
  • Still, he tried, raising the rhetorical stakes to claim that the people who disagree with him will cause the death of America: “History is strewn,” he said, “with the bones of nations that have tolerated moral laxity and hedonism.”
  • Dr. Fort looked replied that Anslinger had only given the country “myth and misinformation”.
  • “You have led this country to treat scientific questions,” he said, “the way such matters were handled in the Middle Ages.”
  • Dr. Henry Smith Williams had said this at the beginning of Anslinger’s long career; now another doctor was standing before him saying precisely the same thing, as Harry Anslinger offered his last recorded words.
  • Most fascinating thing is that was the first balanced media coverage about drugs from this era that I’ve seen – and it was in Playboy.
  • You know who really need to smoke weed?

1 Comment

  1. pauladavis says:

    Great show on just how one man’s insane idea can become a realty with absolutely no factual evidence. In my opinion, this fool was responsible for the continued war on a people over a simple herb resulting in imprisonment and felony convictions that are still based on racial discrimination..

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