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The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973 argues that the U.S. government has clung to its militant drug war, despite its obvious failures, because effective control of illicit traffic and consumption were never the critical factors motivating its adoption in the first place. Instead, Kathleen J. Frydl shows that the shift from regulating illicit drugs through taxes and tariffs to criminalizing the drug trade developed from, and was marked by, other dilemmas of governance in an age of vastly expanding state power. Most believe the “drug war” was inaugurated by President Richard Nixon's declaration of a war on drugs in 1971, but in fact his announcement heralded changes that had taken place in the two decades prior. Frydl examines this critical interval of time between regulation and prohibition, demonstrating that the war on drugs advanced certain state agendas, such as policing inner cities or exercising power abroad. Although this refashioned approach mechanically solved some vexing problems of state power, it endowed the country with a cumbersome and costly “war” that drains resources and degrades important aspects of the American legal and political tradition.Read more
- Analyzes the United States' 'Drug War' as a state project, offering new insight on how it came to be, and how it might come to an end
- Examines the military as an essential and recurring component of larger patterns in illicit drug trafficking and consumption
- Examines the reasons behind the demise of the Harrison Narcotic Act through archival research
Reviews & endorsements
"… a sweeping, complex, and searching history of America’s drug wars. Kathleen J. Frydl’s sophisticated, 'state-centered' analysis helps us to understand in new ways the causes of the nation’s greatest social policy failure. A brave and provocative work."
Gary Gerstle, James G. Stahlman Professor of American History, Vanderbilt UniversitySee more reviews
"No one trying to understand the origins and shape of America’s war on drugs should miss Frydl’s book on the three decades leading up to Nixon’s formal declaration. With a connoisseur’s taste for irony and shabby bureaucratic squabbles, she offers a cogent account of how drug enforcement became less a realizable goal than a way for the U.S. government to define and legitimate its missions amid uncertainties at home and abroad."
Daniel Richman, Columbia University Law School
"Kathleen Frydl’s powerful book [examines] how the 'war on drugs' has not only been a failure for more than forty years, showing the futility of the laws created in the 1970s, but has also made the 'drug war' much worse. Many men and women have been incarcerated because of using or selling drugs that do no more harm to the nation than liquor does. But that has not stopped governments from filling prisons across the country with people who harm no one but themselves. Frydl shows us that regulation, rather than punishment, would make a safer nation."
Alan Brinkley, Columbia University
"This groundbreaking study of how the federal government moved from the regulation of illicit drugs to a policy of criminalization and punishment provides wider lessons about governmental power in modern America, the inevitable failure of trying to punish a popular market out of existence, and the detrimental consequences that undeclared wars have on society and its citizens. Frydl presents a clear point of view that is not naïve: she maintains that the war on drugs has failed, but legalization and decriminalization of drugs will have their own serious consequences."
Donald T. Critchlow, Professor of History, Arizona State University, and editor, Journal of Policy History
"[This] is the most compelling scholarly book to date written on an important subject: America’s post-war transition to punitive domestic drug policy. It should be the standard on this topic for many years … [It] is deeply researched in the archives, richly contextualized in the newest trends of US history, and provocative and complex in its analysis. Not just another critique of 'drug war' ideologies, failures and fallacies, it is necessary reading for anyone interested in the issue of reversing the prohibitionist drug regime the United States has built over the last half century. [It] is also timely, given today’s crisis of mass incarceration of drug offenders, aggravated by rigid 'maximum minimum' sentencing and racial policing, and the growing public and judicial disillusion with these harms … the best book I’ve read on this critical subject … a major contribution to the scholarship …"
Paul Gootenberg, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books
"Frydl presents the reader with a critical analysis of the history of the federal government's drug control policies from 1940 to 1973 … her work is thoughtful, well written and thoroughly documented. It should find a broad audience among political scientists, historians, sociologists, and others who will find this topic engaging. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections."
J. S. Robey, Choice
"[Frydl] argues persuasively that the drug wars have been essential for the enhancement of state power in both domestic and foreign policy. The work also contributes to our understanding of how state power is built and reinforced, often through narratives that appear to be about something else. Deeply researched and thoughtfully argued, The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973 tells an important story about why a failed set of policies continues to endure."
Evelyn Krache Morris, Journal of American Studies
"In her engaging history of drug policy, Kathleen J. Frydl argues that America’s drug wars began in the four decades after World War II, when the federal government "amassed an arsenal of tools to punish and prohibit illicit drugs"."
David T. Courtwright, Journal of American History
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- Date Published: April 2013
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9781107013902
- length: 458 pages
- dimensions: 229 x 152 x 30 mm
- weight: 0.84kg
- contains: 9 b/w illus.
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
Part I. 1940–60: Preface
1. Trade in war
2. Presumptions and pretense: international trade in narcotics
3. 'A society which requires some sort of sedation': domestic drug consumption, circulation, and perception
Part II. 1960–73:
4. Review and reform: the Kennedy commission
5. Police and clinics: enforcement and treatment in the city, 1960–73
6. The cost of denial: Vietnam and the global diversity of the drug trade
Conclusion: war on trade.
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