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We Sell Drugs

We Sell Drugs: The Alchemy of US Empire

Suzanna Reiss
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 330
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  • Book Info
    We Sell Drugs
    Book Description:

    This history of US-led international drug control provides new perspectives on the economic, ideological, and political foundations of a Cold War American empire. US officials assumed the helm of international drug control after World War II at a moment of unprecedented geopolitical influence embodied in the growing economic clout of its pharmaceutical industry.We Sell Drugsis a study grounded in the transnational geography and political economy of the coca-leaf and coca-derived commodities market stretching from Peru and Bolivia into the United States. More than a narrow biography of one famous plant and its equally famous derivative products-Coca-Cola and cocaine-this book situates these commodities within the larger landscape of drug production and consumption. Examining efforts to control the circuits through which coca traveled, Suzanna Reiss provides a geographic and legal basis for considering the historical construction of designations of legality and illegality.The book also argues that the legal status of any given drug is largely premised on who grew, manufactured, distributed, and consumed it and not on the qualities of the drug itself. Drug control is a powerful tool for ordering international trade, national economies, and society's habits and daily lives.In a historical landscape animated by struggles over political economy, national autonomy, hegemony, and racial equality,We Sell Drugsinsists on the socio-historical underpinnings of designations of legality to explore how drug control became a major weapon in asserting control of domestic and international affairs.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95902-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acronyms
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The United States government has never waged a war on drugs. On the contrary, drugs in general—and so-called “narcotic” drugs such as cocaine in particular—constitute part of a powerful arsenal that the government flexibly deploys to wage war and to demonstrate its capacity to bring health, peace, and economic prosperity. Drugs historically have not been targets but rather tools; the ability to supply, withhold, stockpile, and police drugs, and to influence the public conversation about drugs, has been central to projections of US imperial power since the middle of the twentieth century.

    This book explores the relationship between...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “The Drug Arsenal of the Civilized World”: WWII and the Origins of US-Led International Drug Control
    (pp. 15-52)

    World War II was waged in part as a war for control over commodity flows. As one contemporary expert in economic warfare observed, “in atotalwar practically every commodity entering into foreign trade is important, directly or indirectly, to the war effort.”¹ Even before the United States officially entered World War II, the president authorized economic measures such as export and shipping controls, the freezing of foreign assets, blacklisting, and foreign aid programs to strengthen the Allied cause and weaken the Axis capacity to wage war. Some of the commodities targeted for control were deemed vital to war making;...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “Resources for Freedom”: American Drug Commodities in the Postwar World
    (pp. 53-96)

    American officials began imagining and planning for a future of war while the embers of World War II devastation still smoldered. For the nation, and its citizens, the accumulation of goods seemingly provided a bulwark against “major disaster” and shored up an economy and economic behaviors intent on being ever ready for the “actual prosecution of the war.” This pairing of war preparation with market manipulation became a fundamental characteristic of US policies and power. Mass consumption emerged as a central feature of postwar American society along with a steady stream of advice on how to gain economic advantage; the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Raw Materialism: Exporting Drug Control to the Andes
    (pp. 97-131)

    The unequal position in which nations found themselves with regard to access and participation in the international drug trade in the aftermath of World War II depended on more than the promotion of an ideology and economic model to advance and justify US global preeminence. It entailed the rigorous design and enforcement of an international policing apparatus. The US government sought to ensure the access of pharmaceutical manufacturers to the raw materials flowing from the global South into US pharmaceutical laboratories, and to promote the consumption and reexport of US mass-produced drugs. This required a concerted effort to implement an...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Alchemy of Empire: Drugs and Development in the Americas
    (pp. 132-173)

    In July 1941, a United States Treasury officer checked out a pamphlet entitled “Coca: A Plant of the Andes” from the department’s library. Originally published in 1928 as part of the Pan-American Union’s “Commodities of Commerce Series,” the pamphlet described the coca leaf market with the intent of facilitating US international trade. In 1941, however, the government’s interest in the coca leaf had more to do with military applications than trade. The officer had gone to the library at the request of investigators in the US Army, and he returned the pamphlet to the librarian, having penned this lighthearted message:...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Chemical Cold War: Drugs and Policing in the New World Order
    (pp. 174-216)

    While anthropologists involved in social engineering projects in the Andes hoped their work might forestall upheavals in the mold of African liberation struggles, similar fears resonated on the floor of the United States Congress. During January 1952 annual appropriations hearings for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a World War II and Korean War veteran, and member of the House of Representatives, Alfred Sieminski, warned that international collaboration was urgently needed to prevent drugs being deployed as the fuel firing up global revolution: “I wonder, inasmuch as our fleet now, for the first time in history, is refueling in the Mediterranean,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-228)

    When the Committee on Appropriations of the United States Congress met in March 1963 to review the annual budget for the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the session began with a series of effusive tributes in honor of the agency’s first and recently retired leader, Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger. After more than three decades at the helm of the FBN, Anslinger had stepped down from his post, although he remained active in the field of drug control through his ongoing appointment as US representative to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Congressmen from Virginia, Louisiana, New York, Massachusetts, and...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-232)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-280)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 281-298)
  15. Index
    (pp. 299-308)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-310)