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The Myth of the Addicted Army

Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs

Jeremy Kuzmarov

Publication Year: 2009

The image of the drug-addicted American soldier—disheveled, glassy-eyed, his uniform adorned with slogans of antiwar dissent—has long been associated with the Vietnam War. More specifically, it has persisted as an explanation for the U.S. defeat, the symbol of a demoralized army incapable of carrying out its military mission. Yet as Jeremy Kuzmarov documents in this deeply researched book, popular assumptions about drug use in Vietnam are based more on myth than fact. Not only was alcohol the intoxicant of choice for most GIs, but the prevalence of other drugs varied enormously. Although marijuana use among troops increased over the course of the war, for the most part it remained confined to rear areas, and the use of highly addictive drugs like heroin was never as widespread as many imagined. Like other cultural myths that emerged from the war, the concept of an addicted army was first advanced by war hawks seeking a scapegoat for the failure of U.S. policies in Vietnam, in this case one that could be linked to “permissive” liberal social policies and the excesses of the counterculture. But conservatives were not alone. Ironically, Kuzmarov shows, elements of the antiwar movement also promoted the myth, largely because of a presumed alliance between Asian drug traffickers and the Central Intelligence Agency. While this claim was not without foundation, as new archival evidence confirms, the left exaggerated the scope of addiction for its own political purposes. Exploiting bipartisan concern over the perceived “drug crisis,” the Nixon administration in the early 1970s launched a bold new program of federal antidrug measures, especially in the international realm. Initially, the “War on Drugs” helped divert attention away from the failed quest for “peace with honor” in Southeast Asia. But once institutionalized, it continued to influence political discourse as well as U.S. drug policy in the decades that followed.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

A work of this nature would not have been possible without the assistance of many people. First, I thank Brandeis University and the Crown family for funding my studies. I also thank the librarians at the Brandeis and Bucknell University libraries for responding to numerous interlibrary loan requests efficiently and the archivists...

Abbreviations Used in the Text

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pp. xi-xiv

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Introduction - The Politics of Scapegoating

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pp. 1-14

On June 17, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon ushered in a new carceral age in American history by officially declaring a “War on Drugs.”1 In recent months, there had been growing public concern over revelations of rampant heroin addiction among American troops in Vietnam, compounding existing fears about the spread of middle- class drug use...

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Chapter 1 - "The Press Has Done a Tremendous Disservice": Historical Perspective

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pp. 15-36

In December 1970, comedian Bob Hope generated a wave of laughter from a crowd of American troops telling jokes about marijuana and the use of drugs in Vietnam. Sent to boost morale as part of the United Service Organization (USO), Hope proclaimed, “Is it true the officers are getting flight pay?...

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Chapter 2 - Creating the Myth of the "Nam Junkie": Mass Media and the Rise of a Drug Scare

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pp. 37-55

The screaming headlines said it all. In February 1969 the Washington Post published articles titled “Turn On, Tune In and Fire Away” and “GIs Deep into Drugs.” The U.S. News & World Report subsequently declared, “Marijuana— The Other Enemy in Vietnam”; and Newsweek, “A New GI for Pot and Peace.”1...

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Chapter 3 - Deconstructing the Myth: The Great National Drug Debate of the Sixties and Seventies

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pp. 56-74

In October 1967, countercultural icon Timothy Leary faced off against Dr. Donald B. Louria, president of the New York State Council on Drug Addiction, in a public symposium on lysergic acid diethylamide at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York. Dressed in a white robe to accentuate his newfound persona as a “spiritual holy- man,” Leary argued before a packed crowd of students that LSD was a panacea capable of expanding brain capacity and leading the nation’s youth on a path of self- discovery...

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Chapter 4 - "A Generation of Junkies": The Antiwar Movement, the Democratic Party, and the Myth

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pp. 75-100

In June 1972, Alfred W. McCoy, a twenty- six- year- old graduate student at Yale University, found himself enmeshed in a hurricane of controversy after writing The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia . The book accused the CIA of supporting opium warlords in Southeast Asia and provoking the GI drug “epidemic.” McCoy had previously appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and provided documents that had been leaked...

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Chapter 5 - The Brass Responds, Part I: Nixon's War on Drugs

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pp. 101-120

By the early 1970s, thanks to the spread of misinformation and hyperbole, the myth of the addicted army had become firmly embedded in the American popular consciousness. Former FBN agent John Finlator captured the prevailing mood in comparing the threat of heroin to barbarians menacing the Roman Empire...

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Chapter 6 - The Brass Responds, Part II: From Counter Insurg

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pp. 121-147

Never in his wildest dreams could Bill Hart have envisioned himself running a heroin clinic— especially in Vietnam. On July 4, 1971, however, the colonel found himself in just that position as the head of a newly created drug treatment center at the Long Binh military stockade. At 9:30 p.m., Hart phoned Dr. Tom Robbins of the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to report on the clinic’s progress. Displaying a brief level of candor, he asked Robbins, “Did you ever think that you would be doing this?”...

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Chapter 7 - "Get Up You Doped Up Bastard!": The Myth in Hollywood and Popular Television

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pp. 148-165

In the 1973 Columbia Pictures film The Stone Killer, a black veteran named Gus Lipper appears to be out of control. Scarred by the brutality of the war and its apparent purposelessness, he is arrested for selling heroin and holds up a policeman at gunpoint. When taken into custody, he is gunned down by a team of assassins, who are also Vietnam veterans, competing...

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Chapter 8 - The Crackdown: The Reagan Revolution and the War on Drugs

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pp. 166-188

In 1989, journalist Jefferson Morley smoked a rock of crack cocaine and wrote about his experience for the New Republic in “What Crack Is Really Like.” Though Morley was known to indulge in recreational drug use, the piece held deep political significance: it was written as a parody of the sweeping drug sensationalism that he saw pervading the country...

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Conclusion - The Myth Endures

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pp. 189-194

Rarely is history predictable. From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, American policymakers were consumed with the Cold War and preventing the spread of “falling dominos” in Southeast Asia. By first extending financial support for nation- building projects in South Vietnam and then committing American ground troops, they hoped to create a bastion of American influence and check the spread of what they perceived to be an international Communist movement...

Abbreviations Used in the Notes and Bibliography

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pp. 195-196


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pp. 197-246


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pp. 247-286


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pp. 287-303

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761182
E-ISBN-10: 161376118X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558497047
Print-ISBN-10: 1558497048

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Soldiers -- Drug use -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Soldiers -- Drug use -- Vietnam -- History -- 20th century.
  • Drug control -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Drug abuse -- United States -- Prevention -- History -- 20th century.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Social aspects.
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