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The White Poppy And The Evil Empire

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"Rain ruins opium erop"? Have you ever seen a harvest report on opium in your daily newspaper? I hadn't, before December 10, 1979. And within weeks, the Soviet Union marched troops into Afghanistan, blaming U.S. and Chinese imperialists for promoting an insurgency there. Richard Hughes began to ring like a prophet in my ear. [see "Rain Ruins..."] What's this "55,000 tons of heroin" nonsense? A thousand years' supply, at current consumption rates! Was that just a misprint, or a wild exaggeration meant to sound the alarm, warning us of a war to come and heil to pay in them thar hills? What will happen to the opium supply, I naively wondered, now the Russians have invaded Afghanistan? Peter Norman's article (among others) ans wered that one. [see "Heroin Pouring into.."] Opium and war seem to go gether like the horse and carriage in Asia. From Peshawar, Pakistan, along the Afghan border severa! large heroin seizures were reponed in The New York Times over the next couple years (also the interesting fact that marijuana became Lebanon's biggest cash erop after civil war broke out there in the 1970s). Next I wondered, what does it take to grow 1500 tons of opium (which seemed to be the accurate harvest figure everyone was agreed on)? Opium is extracted from white poppies: after the flowers bloom and petals drop off, you're left with an unripe seed pod somewhat larger than a rose hip. With a sharp knife or razor, you makc some superficial slits in the green pod, then let the sap ooze ovemight, and scrape it off with a spoon. More sap oozes, so you scrape again the next day, and the nexL How much could you scrape together over a three-week harvest period, say? Spcaking for my lazy self, five pounds sounds like a hard day 's work, so maybe a hundred pounds for the whole harvest? Then we'd only need 30,000 people to harvest 1500 tons: a good-size army by AfghanKurdish standards. And the pay(see The White Poppy, page 10) "Rain Ruins Golden Triangle's Opium Crop" "...Torrential rain n the poppy-growing "Golden Triangle" which straddles Thailand, Burma and Laos, has destroyed this year's expected bumper crop of opium and heroin. ...The drop in production means that Pakistan and Afghanistan, which now grow sufficient opium to produce more than 55,000 tons of heroin annually, will continue to monopolize the illidt supply of drugs chan nelled through Iran and Turkey to West Europe and Britain. Officials of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau in Hongkong also predict that the Pakistan-Afghanistan región will supply the United States with most of its heroin next year, after a cutback in supplies smuggled in trom Mexico." (London Times, Richard Hughes, Hongkong 121079) "Heroin Pouring into Europe from Asia, Says U.S. Expert" "Western Europe is being 'swampecf with heroin from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Mrs. Mathea Falco, the U.S. Secretary of State for International Narcolics Affairs. Mrs. Falco, who is in Paris for the two-day meeting of ministers of the Organizaron for Economie Cooperation and Development (OECO), told a press conference today that about 1 ,500 tons of opium - enough to manufacture 150 tons of heroin - is now coming out of Southwest Asia each year. This figure compares with only 350 to 400 tons of opium a year from the traditional producer countries of Burma, Thailand and Laos in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia.' (London Timet, Peter Norman, Parta, SS80) The White Poppy (from pagel) off? In the remote rural áreas where opium can be grown for a cash erop lo evade international drug pólice, people don't have a cash economy orroads to drive a Mercedes on. So what do they trade their opium for - weapons? (Where have I heard that one before, about the drugsarms traffic? Never mind.) Who supplies the weapons to buy this opium for European and U.S. markets? Who organized or instigated this opium-growing in the Golden Crescent of West Asia, which had not been reported contributing to the international drug traffic much before 1979? Round up the usual suspects: the Russians? No, they're trying to stifle production in its eradle, even sent their army in. The Ayatollahs, our favorite villains? Why no, they execute drug traf fickers, despite the efforts of réspectable Iranians to moderate such fanaticism. Who then? Who were these Chinese and American imperialists the Russians were blaming? The Chinese People's Republic is not known for opium-trading. On the contrary, the PRC cut off cash aid to the Burmese communist insurgents after the latter took up opium-trading in the Golden Triangle in 1977. To go further back in histoiy: when the J apáñese occupied Manchuria in the 1 930s, heroin imports jumped from acouple of Iritos yearly to 2400 kilos. Clima were set up in everytowndispensmg heroin and moiphine.By the time the J apáñese were driven out, addicts in Manchuria numbered 13 million, or a third of the population. Such "was the measure of the social problem the Chinese Communists inherited, and have apparently resolved," to quote Jack Beeching, The Chinese Opium Wars (1975). Beeching's was the most thorough and balanced of several books I consulted on the history of the opium trade. Did you know the British Empire in Asia was built on opium? Did you ever wonder what the British found to live on in India, that notoriously poor country? Opium was the cash erop that paid for the adminis tration of India, and then some. The British East India Company would have gone bankrupt without it by 1780, the British Raj likewise for a hundred years after. Every reform who went into Parliament to stop this evil drug traffic, like William Gladstonc whose sister Helen was addictcd to laudanum, had to face the economie f acts: opium paid for the administrationarmy in India by being sold or smuggled into China to "balance" the tea and silk trade. The British liked tea and silk. (So do I.) The Rritish govemment drew a tenth of its total revenues from tea tax by 1799, when China first banned opium sales. The Chinese didn't much like anything the British had to trade except Spanish silver. The trick was persuading them to take opium instead: Send in the fleet! Britain did so in 1 840, when tea tax and opium profits were providing a sixth of govemment revenues. Opium had found its way back to England too. Opium was the opiate of the masses in those dark satanic milis of the Midlands where the early generations of the Industrial Revolution lived on it (much cheaper than beer) and raised their half-starved children on it to keep them quiet. (If Karl Marx read Thomas De Quincey ' s Confessions of an English Opium Eater he 'd have kno wn this; it's been better documented recently.) Opium seems to play a strategie role in this economie empire we inherited from the Scottish Enlightenment (John Locke, Adam Smith, etc.) and the Scottish empire-builders (Jardine, Matheson, Elgin) who fill Beeching's book. (If I were Scottish I might take up the Gennan philosophers for self-defense, but this is America: let the red man be our guide.) Opium is still the ideal commodity for our commodity capitalism: if you can get people to try one free sample, they'll buy it the next time, and the time after that you can raise the price. What commodity producer in America wouldn't like to be selling that item? Creates its own demand: too bad it's outlawed. Or maybe you can find a substitute, and advertise? Opium substitutes would include cocaine, and marijuana in a pinch, though it's easier to grow than smuggle and doesn't need laboratory processing. What about legal cash crops, like tobáceo, sugar, coffee, cacao? Are these nutritious or addictive? What about the salt and sugar added to processed foods "for a better flavor," so you can't eat just one? (see The Evil Empire, next page) The Evil Empire (f rom pagel 0) We could go on adding to this list - are sex and violence the addictive ingrediente in mass market paperbacks, films, TV? (Try reading Ann Wilson Schaef's "When Society Becomes an Addict" for more suggestions.) Or talk about the behavior of junkies who'd spend their last dime and sell their children into debt bondage for one more high. (Check out the national debt.) We could even take up Nancy Reagan's line and just say no. I'm not sure if she understands the revolutionary meaning of that "no": if we can teach our children (ourselves?) to just say no to drugs, theywe may learn to say no to any addictive commodity from hulahoops to heroin, chocolates to cocaine to PCs and PCBs, VCRs and CDs. Imagine! As if Nancy's updated Timothy Leary's old refrain of Turn on, Tune in, Drop out, by omitting the first two Unes: just Drop out. Just say no. Isn't that Jesse Jackson's answer to drugs too, and commodities being priced higher than people? (Wait a minute, you say: sounds like I'm advocating economie austerity, when what the poor of this country need is jobs, growth, policies to stimulate demand. Demand for what? More junk? What about the demand for clean air and clean water and cleaning up toxic wastes and recycling garbage and ... or haven't you hcard that one? From what I hear we've got our jobs cut out for us. Does giving up coke and coffee and chocolates spell austerity to you? I'd spell it health. We need to shift our loyalty, in Wendell Berry's neat phrase, from the economy to the ecology, if we want our children to live after us here - from the quantity of junk to the quality of life and health we enjoy.) Think too of the wartom peoples who produce our drugs in Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Laos (and produce our commodities everywhere). The Hmong people, formerly of Laos, might wish to offer Nancy Reagan a Lysistrata award (honoring the original Just-Say-Noer of 411 B.C.) for the year, to usher out the Reagan era. "Man is not a brute, he is not a machine; his object is not merely to produce, like a kind of motive power somewhat more intelligent and less costly than steam," as Rizal wrote in 1890. When the Hmong refugees reached Seattle in the early 1980s (first time in the city for these folks), they began planting gardens along the freeway embankments, tilling every vacant lot they could find. In that big triangular plot where Empire Way meets Rainier Avenue South the pólice noticed some white poppies blooming and moved in to confíscate that erop. No one tried to press charges: the Hmong just didn't understand how growing a green plant could be against the law (neither do I: the white poppy was sacred to Demeter, mother of Persephone in the Eleusinian mystery), or they wouldn't be doing it out in the open like that. Just as well: when the poppies were slit and analyzed at University of Washington laboratories, they proved to contain no opium. Climate must be too mild in Seattle, or too wet. So the joke's on all of us? The Hmong of Thailand, many of whom used to live in Laos and would like to go home someday, teil their story in a 1986 book published by the Anti-Slavery Society (180 Brixton Road, London SW9 6AT). Seems the Kuomintang (Nationalist Chinese Army) straggled over the mountains from Yunnan into the Golden Triangle mountains where Burma, Thailand, Laos meet on the map. (On the ground these borderlines are harder to draw: who drew the map, anyway?) Straggled over after 1949 and set up as bandit warlords, controlling the opium trade by reducing the farmers to debt bondage. They continue trading opium and feuding with each other to this day, as a look at the Far East Economie Review wül document (April 25, 1980, Who's Who in the Opium Trade, for instance; Richard Hughes was writing a weekly column at the time). Who can document the C.I.A. for us? Next time you read about undocumented aliens threatening our social fabric, think twice. Think about the Christic Institute's efforts to document Secret Team acti vities, or Leslie Cockbum, whose Out of Control dissects the Irancontra scandal: both are being sued by SecTet Teamer Richard Secord for damaging hes reputation in the business community. Reminds me of how the Greek playwright Aristophanes (who wrote Lysistrata) was prosecuted early in his career for "bringing disgrace upon the city," because some lines in his latest play offended the tyrant Cleon. The play hasn't survived, but notice that Aristophanes wasn't charged with libel or slander. Apparently Cleon 's activities wereso disgraceful that even joking about them in a play brought disgrace upon the city. Well now. In that case the Athenians, who were trying to sustain a democracy, decided they'd better exile the tyrant Cleon and keep the playwright around. And they did. How about us? Remember when "classified" used to mean keeping secretó from the enemy? For the C.I.A., the "enemy" must be us Americans. The Russians know more about the C.I. A.'s stealthy role in the Korean airliner incident than we do. The Afghans and Iranians (and Russians) know more about the CI.A.'s disgraceful arms-for-opium trade than we do. The Central Americans like Noriega know more about the C J.A.'s disgraceful armscocaine trade than we do. And wasn't the Iran-contra arms deal first revealed to us by a Lebanese newspaper? As for Indochina, according to the Hmong and Thai sources, the C.I.A. has been supporting Kuomintang military and surveillance operations against China there since 1 949. Taiwan, governed by Kuomintang general Chiang Kai-shek and his successors, remains astaunchU.S. ally, with close links to the warlords in Indochina. The opium heroin market grew in the 1960s when American soldiers became addicted and brought the habit home with them; in Laos a clandestine army was organizedby the Cl. A. supplying arms Tor opium. Mysterious (American) helicopters were still turning up at heroin laboratories on the Burma Thailand border in 1980 (Far East Economie Review, April 4, 1980, Letter from the Golden Triangle). Could these possibly be the Chinese and American imperialists the Russians were worried about? Surely not: what could draw the Kuomintang warlords as far afield as Afghanistan? Other than money, perhaps. Does the C.I.A. take any interest in those far-off mountains? Why yes, just recently the C.I.A. was boasting on the front page of The New York Times about ■ supplying arms to Afghans to fight off the Russians. Is that the whole story? What about 1979's bumper opium erop that was supplied so plentifully to Europe and America, wiïl the C.I.A. take credit for that too? Fess up, gentlemen and ladies: that erop was grown and harvested and heading for market here before the Russian army moved in to stop it. Next time you hear Washington brag about its "War on Drugs," spare a thought for the Russian soldiers who died fighting that war in Afghanistan. Spare a thought for the Afghan people who died fighting that war, and for those who live on, for the wounded and the refugees who long to go home. Just say no? Jane Appel is a freelance wrlter from Lexington, MA and Is associated with the Harvard Union of Clerical Technical Workers.


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