A news item this week concerning a development in the Mexican presidential campaign has me thinking about an ancient Greek legend. Here’s how the story goes.
A fearsome multi-headed monster called the Hydra emerged from the marshes near Lake Lerna to terrorize surrounding villages. The breath and blood of this creature were so toxic that merely inhaling the vapors left in its tracks could be fatal. The legendary Heracles was summoned to track down and destroy the deadly creature once and for all.
Wrapping a cloth around his nose and mouth hoping, in this way, to lessen the monster’s devastatingly poisonous weapons, Heracles boldly faced the beast determined to sever each of its deadly heads. To his surprise and dismay, he found that each time he severed one of the toxic heads, two more sprouted in its place. The hero retreated, discouraged and fearful that the Hydra could never be defeated.
With the help of some supernatural counseling, Heracles recruited the aid of his nephew Iolaus who stood at his side with a flaming torch when the battle resumed. Each time Heracles struck off one of the Hydra’s heads, Iolaus cauterized the stump with fire. Through this cooperative effort, the Hydra was finally destroyed.
This ancient tale came to mind when I read about a development in Mexican politics that might add a new dimension to America’s struggle with the multi-headed monster that we call “America’s war on drugs.”
For many years, amoral, bloodthirsty cartels have been locked in deadly struggles for larger shares of the seemingly unquenchable American thirst for drugs. America’s prisons are stuffed to bursting with drug users and sellers. An enormous proportion of America’s criminal violence is traceable to the drug trade. Every American household has, in some adverse way, been touched by illegal drugs and addiction.
Since 1991, marijuana use among American high school students has been trending upward. According to some estimates, there are about 600,000 heroin addicts in the U.S. In the past five years, more than 55,000 Mexican citizens have died as result of drug-related violence. The bloodshed from these drug battles is now spilling over into our streets.
American taxpayers are bearing enormous financial burdens investigating, apprehending, prosecuting, incarcerating, housing and rehabilitating drug offenders. We have spent countless billions fighting the war on drugs. No matter how many drug kingpins are killed or captured; no matter how many corrupt officials are discovered and exposed; no matter how many staggering drug shipments are intercepted and destroyed; the war goes on. And, there seems to be no end in sight. According to one definition, neurosis is the blind determination to engage in identical behavior over and over again expecting a different result each time.
Mexico seems on the verge of trying something different. The three main contestants for Mexico’s presidency are all signaling that Mexico is prepared to withdraw its army from the war. Rather than focus on apprehending and imprisoning the big players in the drug trade, Mexico will redirect its resources to combating violence. In other words, those cartels operating discreetly may be left alone. The full weight of Mexican enforcement will be reserved for those who “can’t get along.”
The unspoken question is this: Why should Mexico perpetuate a war that costs so many Mexican lives because the U.S. can’t get a handle on its drug and addiction problems?
Note that both the Romney and Obama campaigns are remarkably quiet about plans for winning the war on drugs.
It’s time for us to start thinking in non-neurotic terms. We have to come up with a drug strategy that will end this.
So let me pose a question: What single stroke would break the back of the cartel cutthroats? The answer: Decriminalize and control these drugs — just as we control prescription medications, alcohol and tobacco.
Are there drawbacks to this approach? Of course. But consider this: Whatever those drawbacks may be, those who argue for blind continuation of the same failed policies that got us in this mess will be lending their support to the drug cartels who want things to go on just as they are. They’re content to see emperors come and go; they’re content to absorb temporary setbacks so long as the drug empire, supported by U.S. demand, still thrives.
Apparently, the Mexicans have had it with the mayhem. They seem poised to make a truce with the cartels in exchange for a reduction in the level of violence. That may work for them. So I’m listening, what can we do to cut off this Hydra’s many poisonous heads once and for all? I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.