Re: Rifle, Dope & Camera

Maggie Jaffe (mjaffe@MAIL.SDSU.EDU)
Sun, 23 Nov 1997 13:49:59 -0800

Dear Sixties People and Anne Marie:

Along with the impact of Leary and company on the Sixties drug culture,
it's also of interest to look at the way in which drugs and the Vietnam
War, are inextricably linked, since drugs are ideological. For example,
the "strung-out" vet, in part, and not the government, were routinely held
accountable for failure in winning the Vietnam War, at least until the
mid-to-late 80s. For the Vietnam vet, particularly, accusations of drug
abuse was, and often still is, leveled against him as a visible display of
"moral weakness." Although overwhelming evidence points to the United
States' "shadow government" as complicit in the drug trade in southeast
Asia, as well as in Latin America, Richard Nixon's 1973 "war on drugs"
program incarcerated numerous non-violent drug users, many veterans among
them. In fact, "the war on drugs" has replaced the long-standing war on
communism to a considerable extent.

In Ronald Siegel's Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise, he
suggests that "throughout our entire history as a species, intoxication
functioned like the basic drives of hunger, thirst or sex, sometimes
overshadowing all other activities in life. Intoxication is the fourth
drive" (10). About heroin use, especially, during the Vietnam War, Siegel
has this to say:

"Approximately one out of every three soldiers tried heroin while in
Vietnam and half of them became addicted. The point is not whether they
were good or bad soldiers, but that heroin use did not necessarily result
in dysfunction and life-long enslavement to the habit. When the men
returned to the United States, and were removed from the social setting of
the war, their craving was minimal. Although heroin was less accessible
and more expensive in the States, half the returnees who had been addicted
in Vietnam used heroin again at home. Surprisingly, only 12 percent became
readdicted-a remarkably low recidivism rate. Many soldiers found they
could use heroin, even at the rate of more than once a week, without
readdicton" (305).

Siegel credits low recidivism on "chipping," or sporadic substance use, to
control addiction. Curiously, though, he does not mention the enormous
capital that was made from heroin by top-brass South Vietnamese and U.S.
officials. During 1970, particularly, heroin use, both domestically and
among GIs, had almost reached "epidemic" proportions (according to the
media), and the period is in fact referred to as the "Heroin Epidemic of

Yet Robert Jay Lifton, who acknowledges addiction as a problem for the vet,
also looks at the politics of drug use, and in this way differs from Siegel
on a few crucial points: "There has to be no doubt about the actuality
during the early 1970s of widespread heroin addiction in Vietnam-probably
related to such factors as easy, low-cost availability of the virtually
pure drug, the drying up (at least temporarily) of marihuana supplies, the
death-linked corruption of the environment, and the related apathy of those
who were (in one journalist's words) 'at the butt end of a bad war.' Yet
despite the actuality, the drug epidemic takes on near mythic quality. The
men are sent to war and encounter evil; they take on the taint of sickness
of that evil in the form of the 'heroin plague' (the mass media term); the
society that sent them becomes terrified of them, lest they carry the
'plague' back home; a system of forced 'testing' and 'decontamination' is
set up before the men can be permitted to reenter the society . . . but
the system does not always work, the fear of contagion remains acute, as
images of the infected men returning to spread their plague throughout the
mother country. Now the addicts, instead of the war itself and the way we
are fighting it, become the locus of evil" (125).

Lifton cites Alfred W. McCoy's The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in
the Global Drug Trade, which is an in-depth analysis of U. S. involvement
in the heroin drug trade, to corroborate his position on drug use in

McCoy's expanded and updated reworking of his 1972 The Politics of Heroin
includes information on the lucrative cocaine industry in Latin America of
the 1980s, as well as his earlier investigations into heroin trafficking
from the "Golden Triangle" (where Burma, Thailand and Laos converge) before
and during the Vietnam War. This rigorously researched work historically
traces the cultivation of the poppy: the Greek physician Hippocrates
(466-377 B.C.) described it as a great boon for healing, and Homer
mentioned opium in The Odyssey which "lulls all pain and anger, and brings
forgetfulness of every sorrow" (3). Much of McCoy's focus, though, is on
"the rise of large-scale heroin production in Southeast Asia [as] the
culmination of four hundred years of Western intervention" (77).

In 1971 the CIA published its own version of the "The GI Heroin Epidemic,"
allegedly in response to a "need" for top-grade heroin in South Vietnam.
But McCoy's take on the "epidemic" is vastly different than the CIA's-in
fact, he closely documents the CIA's role in the Laotian heroin trade.

According to McCoy, South Vietnamese officials benefited most by the
"plague"-amassing an 88 million dollar profit on the sale of heroin-which
ironically jeopardized the GI's ability to fight for South Vietnam: "In
probing the causes of the heroin plague, the mass media generally found
fault with the U. S. army: the senior NCOs and junior officers came down
too hard on strong-smelling marijuana and drove the GIs to heroin, which is
odorless, compact, and much harder to detect; the GIs were forced to fight
a war they did not believe in and turned to heroin to blot out intense
boredom; and, finally, the army itself was an antiquated institution from
which the GIs wanted to 'escape.' Much of this was no doubt true, but the
emphasis was misplaced. Officers and NCOs had been cracking down on
marijuana for several years without the GIs turning to heroin. By 1968 the
emotional malaise of the Vietnam GI was already well developed; the race
riot in Long Binh stockade and the My Lai massacre were only the most
obvious signs of the problem. But there was no serious heroin use until
the spring of 1970, when large quantities were being sold everywhere in
Vietnam. And the simple fact is that there would have been no epidemic
without this well-organized, comprehensive sales campaign. The roots of
the problem lay not with the GI victim or the army's marijuana crackdown,
but with those Vietnamese officials who organized and protected heroin
traffic" (224).

How did U. S. military officials "face the twin liabilities of the Vietnam
drug problem-the heroin epidemic among the GIs and the growing exports to
the United States"? With a mixture of "embarrassment, apathy and
complicity," insists McCoy (254).

Larry Ingraham's "'The Nam and The World'" tries to clarify the most common
misconceptions which people back in "the world" had about drug abuse,
namely that heroin was mostly used by injection, led to criminal behavior,
meant a loss of job proficiency, was a sign of mental illness, was used to
relieve combat stress as well as to relieve boredom, and was counter
cultural. Before 1969, 60 men were polled about drug use in the army, but
material on heroin was difficult to obtain, although the men described
marijuana or other drug use. By polling 78 enlisted men who tested
positive for opiates after 1969, his findings indicate that heroin use was
much more widespread. Still, injection of heroin was frowned upon-the
preferred method was mixing it with tobacco-and that those men who only
smoked marijuana, rather than used heroin, speed, or LSD, were given the
"highest status," since grass users rarely fought, nodded out, displayed
erratic behavior, or jeopardized any of the other men. Although "heads"
and "juicers" worked together by day, at night they were mostly segregated.
Participation in the "head" society meant acceptance and sharing of each
other's drugs, food and music: "You really got into each other. We were
all really tight in a way really different from juicers. There were no
fights, no need to brag about your girl, no need to argue. Everyone was
equal, honest and 'real,' if you know what I mean" (126). Black and
Chicano soldiers who shared "J's" with others "stated that before Vietnam
they would never have believed that 'whites would willingly eat from the
same spoon or drink from the same can of soda as blacks'" (126).

Although the "heads" would use counter-cultural phrases-"fascist pigs" for
police, the "green machine" for Army bureaucracy-Ingraham suggests that
this "did not reflect a 'radical-left' political ideology, and did not
represent a rejection of conventional values and living patterns" (123).
Overall, his findings indicate that drug use was important for a sense of
community while in Vietnam, but that the majority of soldiers did not use
illicit drugs.

In contrast to Ingraham, John Steinbeck, the son of the famous author,
claimed that 75% of soldiers smoked marijuana while in Vietnam, and "that
use of the drug did not seriously affect the soldier's fighting ability,
but made the horrors of combat easier to endure" ("U.S. Denies" 10).

The Pentagon refuted Steinbeck's findings, but not surprisingly, in an
attempt to demonize marijuana use, the Criminal Investigation Division
(C.I.D.) of the Army interrogated the soldiers of Charlie Company about the
use of marijuana before and during the My Lai Massacre: "The C.I.D.
interviewed more than seventy-five witnesses by November 26, 1969. Many of
them recalled being asked about the use of marijuana in Charlie Company;
that question seemed of special interest to the investigators. The GIs all
acknowledged that many members of the company smoked or otherwise made use
of marijuana, which is plentiful in South Vietnam, but none believed it was
in any way a significant factor in what happened at My Lai 4" (Hersh 121).

Hersh, Seymour. My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and its Aftermath. New
York: Random House, 1970.

Ingraham, Larry H. "'The Nam' and 'The World'. Heroin Use by U.S.
Enlisted Men Serving in Vietnam." Psychiatry 37 (May 74): 114-28.

Lifton, Robert Jay. Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans Neither Victims
Nor Executioners. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.

McCoy, Alfred, W. The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global
Drug Trade. Brooklyn, New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991.

Siegel, Ronald K. Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise.
New York: E. P. Dutton, 1989.

Starks, Michael. Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness: An Illustrated History
of Drugs in the Movies. New Brunswick, NJ: Cornwall Books, 1982.

"U.S Denies 75% of GIs in Vietnam Use Marijuana." New York Times 28
December 1967: 10.

I also created a "Drug Filmography" of movies directed or written by
"grunt," or front-line filmmaker-soldiers, who served in Vietnam,
specifically, Oliver Stone, Jim Carabatsos, Gustav Hasford, Patrick Duncan
and Michael Herr. I'd be happy to send anyone the Filmography.

[Sorry for this monster post, particularly the long quotes. ]