The Politics of Heroin

By Alfred McCoy

Alfred McCoy, a University of Wisconsin scholar, wrote a monumental historical study detailing the ways in which the governments of the major world powers largely created the heroin trade to finance mercenaries, to do their bidding, throughout much of the 20th Century.

Beginning around 1910, the Brits galvanized a monopoly of trade of opium (the raw material for heroin) by providing its navy to protect to the opium traders as they moved from Burma, India to China. This military effort became known as the ignoble Opium War.

In the early 1950’s, the U.S. voters and Congress were not in the mood to finance anti-communist skirmishes around the world. At the time, the drug trade worldwide was largely moribund, and the U.S. saw drugs as a method of obtaining the funding; so, the U.S. financed drug production and sales to fund anti-communist insurgents in various places around the world, for example, in Africa, where decolonization was underway, and the emerging governments tended to be communistic and needed to be overthrown. The CIA was the prime mover, supplying funds, legal protection, and sometimes air cover for the drug smugglers, while steering much of the profits to the mercenaries who would overthrow various governments and place U.S.-puppet leaders in power. The Korean War was a case on point in the 1950’s, followed by Vietnam et al. in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

From 1975-1990, the height of the Cold War, China was in the bulls eye, along with Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc. The CIA used its headquarters in Laos as a heroin refinery and made the U.S. Air Forces available to protect drug traffickers and continued to use white mercenaries to fight the wars.

While these pro-drug trade policies did fund the mercenaries worldwide and did block Soviet expansion (if this was really needed), but it created the drug trafficking problems that exist today, and it laid the foundation for very recriminatory and vindictive terrorist strikes by Muslims and other today, who have seen the U.S. “as the real evil empire”. The author convincingly supports his view that the U.S. merciless killings of anti-U.S. rulers worldwide set the stage and gave the example to which others are now responding.