An Earlier War on Drugs

An Earlier War on Drugs
Posted by FoM on June 13, 2000 at 20:10:43 PT
By Robert Whitcomb
Source: Providence Journal
By the end of the 1920s, Prohibition had revealed itself to be a stunning failure. People in all walks of life were blithely violating the law. Along the nation's coasts and borders, a huge alcohol-smuggling industry had arisen. Organized crime controlled much of this business, and the word "Mafia" was first heard in the land. The nation was engaged in a giant hypocrisy. Politicians and others fulminated about the evils of drink -- as they quaffed cocktails daily. 
Even the "driest" states, such as Idaho, were awash in booze. (My paternal grandfather, a Cape Codder, bought his liquor from a regularly scheduled service provided by a lobster boat owner; my maternal grandfather, who lived in Duluth, Minn., got his off a truck driven from Canada that arrived weekly to ensure that cocktail parties continued throughout Prohibition in that cold city. When he was in Florida, he got the stuff from the Bahamas.) Nowhere was this industry more vibrant than in New England. Both along the Canadian border and off New England's shores, a huge rum-running industry developed. The legendary "Rum Row" off southern New England consisted at one point of dozens of boats. Large "mother ships" would bring the booze from Canada to be unloaded on small boats a couple of miles offshore. These craft, often fishing or lobster boats, or "commuter yachts," with souped-up engines, and many no more than 30 feet long, would then be used sneak the contraband onto shore, whence it would go to serve the residences and speakeasies of the Northeast, particularly in New York and Boston. The Coast Guard strove mightily to confront this challenge, in an endless game of hide and seek. But its personnel were constantly outmanned and outrun by the speeding rum-runners, and most of these entrepreneurs made it unmolested to shore, where huge profits were, of course, made. Some of the rum-runners' boats had been engineered to go over 55 mph, while the Coast Guard patrol boats struggled to make it to 20. Many high-speed boats were being made in the '20s, but not for the Coast Guard! Still, the Coast Guard had the authority -- and in most situations, more firepower. So there were violent encounters -- sometimes deadly ones. The most famous one involved The Black Duck, a very fast rum-runner operating out of Narragansett Bay in 1929. In its colorful career, it brought thousands of bottles of liquor to serve the thriving speakeasies and lively cocktail parties of the Northeast. Its criminal career, however, came to a violent end in the very early morning of Dec. 29, 1929, when a Coast Guard cutter apprehended it sneaking up the East Passage of Narragansett Bay in the fog. The skipper of the cutter, spotting The Black Duck speeding up the Bay, let loose its horn and ordered those on board the rum-runner to bring it alongside. The Black Duck instead sped away. The skipper of the Coast Guard boat then ordered that warning shots be fired from a machine-gun. The plan was to shoot well astern of the rum-runner as a warning. Unfortunately, as a Coast Guardsman opened fire, The Black Duck, as part of its evasive course, unexpectedly turned, permitting the machine-gun to rake the cockpit of The Black Duck with fatal fire. When it was over, in a matter of seconds, three of The Black Duck's four-man crew were dead or dying, and a fourth was wounded. The Coast Guard then escorted the rum-rummer into Newport. The incident created a firestorm of protest, with a riot against the Coast Guard in Boston, physical threats and vandalism against the family of the skipper of the Coast Guard boat and demands in Congress for the repeal of Prohibition. Demands were made that the Coast Guardsmen involved in The Back Duck incident be brought to trial for murder. Meanwhile, as if to emphasize how absurd Prohibition had become, some Coast Guardsmen at New London helped themselves to liquor seized the night of Dec. 29 from other rum boats and engaged in a drunken orgy, which became a sensation in papers of the day, and helped fuel demands for an end to Prohibition and its corrupting influence on law-enforcement. The Black Duck incident, though far from the first violent act by law-enforcement authorities charged with carrying out an increasingly unpopular law, crystallized the debate over Prohibition as perhaps nothing else had, and indeed may have been crucial in its repeal. There was an official inquiry into the incident, and the Coast Guardmen were cleared. But to many already enraged about how Prohibition had perverted American life by increasing crime and violence, corrupting politicians and squandering resources, the case was an open-and-shut case of officially sanctioned multiple murder. Some never forgave the Coast Guard, though of course the Coast Guard was just doing its job. The furor over the case also raised suspicions about the role of powerful people in the bootlegging business. These allegedly included Joseph P. Kennedy and the rest of a cabal of politically-connected businessmen in Boston who were believed to have been involved in the activities on Rum Row in general and The Black Duck in particular. The Black Duck was a pivotal event in American's long and awkward experiment with Prohibition, and one that presages some of our agonies over the doomed-to-failure "War on Drugs." Robert Whitcomb is the editor of the Journal's editorial pages. Published: June 10, 2000Copyright  2000 The Providence Journal CompanyDrug War Hasn't Failed The tale of The Black Duck (Robert Whitcomb, "An earlier 'War on Drugs,' " June 10) is an important piece of history, but to use it and the Prohibition experience to say that today's fight against illegal drugs is "doomed to failure" is a mistake. Rather than failing, the efforts to fight illegal drug use in America have made remarkable progress. The use of all illicit drugs is down 50 percent since 1985; use of cocaine is down 70 percent since 1985; and there are 9.7 million fewer regular drug users in America than there were in 1985. Were such dramatic results seen in the fight against a social problem such as heart disease they would be hailed as a success, and they should be seen as such here. No one can deny the nation still has far to go in the fight against illicit drugs, and there are several ways we can build on the progress that has been made, including increased access to drug treatment and an even greater focus on prevention and education efforts. Drug addiction is a disease; drug use is a preventable behavior; so long as we don't lose sight of these facts, the fight against illicit drugs will remain far from doomed. Richard D. BonnetteNew York, N.Y. Published: June 13, 2000Copyright  2000 The Providence Journal CompanyRelated Articles:Learn The Lessons Of Prohibition Do Prohibition & The Drug War Have in Common? Toast To The End of Prohibition
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Comment #5 posted by dddd on June 15, 2000 at 04:32:42 PT
twisted statistics
 The fabrication and manipulation of statistics has always been one of my pet peeves. I trust government surveys and statistics about as much as I would trust Bill Clinton in a hotel room full of naked cheerleaders. Like Freedomfighter,I have never been surveyed,and even if I was,I would deny everything and anything. The government can cook the books,and make the numbers appear any way they need.Whatever numbers they skew to alter the publics opinion,are published,and taken as facts,by a somewhat naive public. It's frightening to realize that a large majority of Americans believe that the government is honest. Like Dan B,,I have looked for the source of the numbers that are tossed about.You can find them here and there on government websites,and in almanacs,,but when you think about it,there is almost no way to verify ANYTHING the government says,,yet undocumented "surveys",and "statistics",are blindly accepted as factual by a public that has developed an appetite for being spoonfed bullshit......dddd
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Comment #4 posted by freedom fighter on June 14, 2000 at 09:08:13 PT
bogus numbers
I remembered in 1976 when govt. says that 80% of high schoolers smoke pot. Problem with that is I sure did not remember getting a survey from the govt. Drug uses are too personal to be able to accurately be figured.These people playing YO-YO with the numbers hoping that potheads would be too stoned to count. 
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Comment #3 posted by schmeff on June 14, 2000 at 08:41:05 PT:
Heart disease is a social problem?
Mr. Bonnette's claim that heart disease is a SOCIAL problem is evidence enough that the man is not lucid."...drug use is a preventable behavior..." It should be noted that with sufficient application of force, all behaviors are preventable. Freedom and Liberty are preventable behaviors. Mr. Bonnette could benefit from becoming better informed. Stupidity is a preventable behavior.
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Comment #2 posted by fivepounder on June 14, 2000 at 07:42:17 PT
prohibitionist mumble
This dude sounds like he's quoting McCaffery. He has a line just like what this guy starts with. What I say is give the guy a joint.
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Comment #1 posted by Dan B on June 13, 2000 at 21:07:52 PT:
Citation for these statistics?
"The use of all illicit drugs is down 50 percent since 1985; use of cocaine is down 70 percent since 1985; and there are 9.7 million fewer regular drug users in America than there were in 1985."Where are they getting these statistics? All of the information I can find (I've been searching the Schaffer Library for any hint at a reduction in the use of drugs) points to an increase in drug use since 1985, not a decrease, although *reported* cocaine use was at its peak in 1985, which explains why this year is being cited for this statistic. The facts seem to indicate that marijuana use--the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S.--has skyrocketed across the board since Clinton was elected in 1992. Reports of lifetime overall drug use actually increased from 1985-1993, from 36.7% to 37.2% of those surveyed. (See "Fact Sheet: Drug Use Trends," published by the Office of National Drug Control Policy--link below requires Adobe Acrobat).Meanwhile, our national prison population has topped 2 million, with half of these people in jail for drug offenses only--most of those for simple possession. By the way, aren't these the same people who, when it comes time to argue for more money to "fight the war on drugs," say that drug use is on the rise? Anyway, it seems quite clear to me that the statistics are being distorted to suit the needs of the DEA and other organizations associated with promoting the prison state. So what's new.
Fact Sheet: Drug Use Trends
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