When The Drug War Pulled An Assad

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Everyone should be outraged by the cowardly gas attack perpetrated in Syria last month. To use chemical weapons to deliberately poison one’s fellow citizens is a despotic act of the most hideous order.

Have you heard about the time the United States’ government did just that?

The first-wave chemical attack.

The first-wave chemical attack.

As Deborah Blum reports, the US Treasury began a campaign of poisoning the supply of illegal liquor some time in 1926, during the height of Prohibition. Frustrated that responsible adults continued to consume alcoholic beverages seven years after the passage of the Volstead Act, federal regulators began a campaign of deliberately poisoning vats of liquor with kerosene, gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, acetone and methanol, among other deadly toxins.

Although it is difficult to count how many died at the hands of the Treasury (poisonings at the hands of negligent bootleggers were also common at the time), some estimates place the body count above 10,000.

That would put Uncle Sam in the same club as Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein.

Then there was paraquat. Beginning in the late Seventies the US government, frustrated that responsible adults continued to smoke pot despite a vigorous campaign against the plant, began spraying the herbicide on marijuana fields in Mexico and California.

Did you know the US government deliberately poisoned it's own people, twice?

Did you know the US government deliberately poisoned it’s own people, twice?

While the goal was ostensibly to kill the plants, the government acknowledged (and indeed widely publicized) the fact that many of the buds sprayed with the poison were making their way into the US supply, rendering it dangerous to smoke (paraquat exposure to humans has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease, which ironically can be prevented by marijuana use).

While no one knows how many died from the poisoning of the pot supply (and indeed, some contend that the harm caused was minimal), the sad episode represents only one instance in a repeating pattern.

So while the gas attack in Syria was undeniably horrific, the US government should think twice before laying claim to any moral superiority in advance of yet more violence. As a famous man who once inhabited the region once said, we should remove the plank from our own eye before helping our Syrian neighbors with the speck in theirs.