The term “war,” referring to a set of measures taken by the US government with regard to a specific problem, signifies their magnitude and radicality. In this sense, the War on Polio is a less known but highly illustrative example. According to Oshinsky, American officials’ policies were primarily focused on radical “traditional methods of control,” since the nature of the poliovirus was not clear at that time.1 The War on Drugs is a longstanding US government campaign against drug trafficking and use, both domestic and international. This paper performs a comparative analysis of both “wars” and advocates that radical measures are totally ineffective when the root of the problem remains unresolved.
The polio outbreaks in America coincided with events before or after two World Wars. The first epidemic occurred in 1914, and the second started after the victory over Germany, and by 1949 there were almost 40,000 cases of disease.2 The government’s first responses were improved sanitation of public places, purification of water and food, and an information public health campaign on the necessary actions to cope with the pandemic. However, the disease continued to spread, and radical measures were taken, including isolation of sick children in hospitals and quarantine of entire families.3 It should be noted that at the moment, it is difficult to assess the feasibility of these measures, and to what extent they prevented the spread of polio infection. It is rather probable that such strict quarantine measures were not necessary, and the principle of the disease spread offered an opportunity to mitigate the threat in other ways.
Given the limited understanding of the virus’s spread and the lethal danger to children during the rapid growth of the birth rate, the government was forced to take the strictest preventive measures possible. At the same time, huge funds from the federal budget were spent on the development and testing of polio vaccines. Moreover, scientists, healthcare professionals, and other specialists have spent a considerable effort to ensure that children get a “better, safer vaccine”.4 Thus, public policies and measures within the context of the War on Polio can be divided into two broad groups: preventive and root. The first group includes all information, quarantine, and containment activities, while the second group refers to research into the nature of the poliovirus and vaccine development.
The War on Drugs was initiated by President Nixon and was prohibitive and uncompromising from the very beginning. These policies included the introduction of prohibitive legislation, military assistance to other states in the fight against drug cartels, and even military intervention. The researchers note that in addition to the criminal prosecution of drug traffickers and consumers, the US has also used military forces, for example, to combat drug cartels in Mexico and Afghanistan.5 Since then, the War on Drugs has been associated with a considerable number of prisoners and armed clashes around the world.
It should be noted that prohibitive measures regarding traffic drag trafficking are not unique to the United States and were initially a global trend. The first convention on drug prohibition was signed back in 1909 in The Hague.6 Subsequently, many international agreements created a regulatory framework for prohibitionist drug policy, including within the UN. Drug legalization has long been considered extremely dangerous to public health and potentially increasing the influence of criminal drug cartels. According to Bergman, the “basic claim is that although prohibition does not eliminate the manufacture or use of these substances, it does limit them: laxer laws would only serve to exacerbate the drug problem”.7 The government of the United States pursued its War on Drugs policy in full compliance with this idea. Thus, all methods within the scope of this “war” can be consolidated into one group, united by the forceful nature and “symptomatic” approach.
Efficiency and Reasonableness
It is worth mentioning that the struggle against viral epidemics has always been one of the most complicated challenges throughout the history of humanity. Due to the highly individual characteristics of each virus, scientists have to study it every time, from the very beginning, in order to develop effective medications.8 Some epidemics end with natural immunization of the population, when the majority of people get sick with a particular disease, and their organisms produce the necessary antibodies. For example, this often happens with various non-hazardous flu types. At the same time, the consequences of polio were so dangerous and painful for the population that it was unacceptable to expect immunization. In some cases, various drugs are being developed to address viruses or related symptoms. However, according to Ashesh and Basak, “vaccines, rather than drugs, are considered as the preferred means to combat viral infections the relatively lower development costs and times compared to drugs development are an advantage”.9 In addition to resource feasibility, vaccines cope with the root of the problem and make it possible to eradicate the disease completely.
As previously noted, despite the severity of quarantine and restriction measures during the polio epidemic, government efforts have also focused on developing a vaccine against the disease. Oshinsky states that “millions of foundation-raised dollars were spent to set up virology programs and polio units across the United States”.10 Thus, the radical measures called “war” were aimed at preventing the critical spread of the disease, while a cure was being developed to end the epidemic. They have saved many lives, and therefore may be considered reasonable. By now, the poliovirus has been eradicated almost everywhere in the world except in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where vaccination is treated with hostility for ideological reasons.11 These long-term effects of the War on Polio prove its success.
It should be noted that the problem of drug trafficking, unlike the virus epidemic, is more complex, multi-cause, and challenging to solve. Researchers, politicians, physicians, and economists argue about possible reasons that could be considered as roots of the problem, including poverty, low levels of education, social inequality, and genetic proclivities. However, each of these challenges is no less complex and challenging in itself. That is why the War on Drugs has not yielded positive results to date, and neither professional experts nor governments of different countries have a clear solution.
The US government considered criminalization, prosecution, and military measures within the War on Drugs as an effective way to address the problem. However, according to Coyne and Hall, “in 1980, 580,900 people were arrested on drug-related charges in the United States” and “by 2014, that number had increased to 1,561,231”.12 Thus, it should be noted that these coercive activities have not only failed to reduce the level of a drug crime but also increased it.
The reasons why people resort to drugs, including poverty, psychological disorders, lack of awareness, remained unresolved. For this reason, the War on Drugs is generally considered to have been defeated by the US government.13 International organizations, including the UN and WHO, are calling for reforms in drug policy, and some states, such as Canada, Uruguay, and some US states, are decriminalizing certain types of drug use or introducing lenient sentences.14 Thus, it should be noted that most progressive societies are moving away from the traditional war on drugs.
It may be concluded that radical measures to combat the polio epidemic were effective because of their purposefulness. Their main objective was to prevent the spread of the disease, while the development of a vaccine was designed to eradicate it. At the same time, police and military efforts to combat drug trafficking and consumption were considered by the government as the primary method of action. The War on Drugs proved to be ineffective since these policies did not resolve the cause of the growing drug addiction.
Bergman, Marcelo. “Legalize, Regulate, or Prohibit? Public Policy Dilemmas.” In Illegal Drugs, Drug Trafficking and Violence in Latin America, 99-111. Switzerland, Cham: Springer, 2018.
Marcelo Bergman discusses the significant directions of drug policy adopted both by governments of different states and at the level of international conventions and organizations. Legalization typically involves decriminalizing the trafficking of a specific type of drug, with appropriate licensing, or legalizing consumption with the criminalizing of production and distribution. Regulation involves the monitoring and analysis of data on the production, distribution, and use of legal, partially legal, and illegal drugs, as well as the control of drug trafficking in specific areas, including medical care. Drug prohibition generally involves legislative criminalization of the production, distribution, and sometimes consumption of drugs, as well as prosecution of drug sector actors. The author discusses the implications, consequences, and effectiveness of these approaches in various socio-economic situations. The American government’s War on Drugs is most waged by prohibitionist methods, and this article allows its evaluation in the context of results and effects.
Coyne, Christopher J., and Abigail R. Hall. “Four Decades and Counting: The Continued Failure of the War on Drugs.” Cato Institute Policy Analysis 811, (2017): 1-28.
Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall analyze the position of drug prohibition proponents in terms of its effectiveness with regard to eliminating drug-related diseases and overdoses and preventing criminal drug activity. The authors provide statistical data on the outcomes of US government policies and examine it in terms of economic consequences and social inequality. Moreover, they consider the implications of the War on Drugs not only in the domestic environment but also in foreign states, with the example of Afghanistan. Coyne and Hall conclude that prohibitive measures to reduce drug trafficking and consumption are counterproductive. An extensive assessment of the US government’s efforts in the context of the War on Drugs is used in this paper to compare its key characteristics with those of the War on Polio.
Godlee, Fiona, and Richard Hurley. “The War on Drugs Has Failed: Doctors Should Lead Calls for Drug Policy Reform.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 355, (2016): 1-2. Web.
Fiona Godlee and Richard Hurley discuss the ideal of a drug-free world and the attempts to implement it, starting with the UN international treaties since 1961. The authors report on the medical use of drug substances and the thin line that separates them from illicit use. Godlee and Hurley note that the War on Drugs is no different from any other war in terms of its consequences related to violence and lethal casualties. Therefore, international organizations, including the UN and the World Health Organization, encourage member states to change their strategies to combat drug trafficking and consumption. This article also provides examples of modern legal approaches to drug policy. It demonstrates the devastating results of the War on Drugs and an alternative path that better takes into account the root of the problem.
Nandy, Ashesh, and Subhash C. Basak. “Viral Epidemics and Vaccine Preparedness.” Journal of MPE Molecular Pathological Epidemiology 2, no. S1:06 (2017): 1-5.
Ashesh Nandy and Subhash C. Basak explore the emergence and spread of viral infections, as well as their periodicity and underlying causes. The authors examined such examples as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic in 2002-2003, the swine flu epidemic in 2009, and the Ebola virus epidemic in 2014-2015. The article discusses the issue of effective measures to combat viruses and epidemics, including scientific and medical efforts. Nandy and Basak discuss natural immunization, as well as the development of drugs and vaccines, which are the main existing solutions in this regard. The article discusses the successful experience and effective approach to combating epidemics by compiling relevant historical cases. It provides an opportunity to assess the success of the War with Polio and to compare the measures taken by the American government at that time with this approach.
Oshinsky, David M. Polio: An American Story. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.
David M. Oshinsky is a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In this book, the author recounts the history of the American nation’s struggle with one of the most devastating diseases of the 20th century. Oshinsky refers to statistical data, providing figures for those who became infected, recovered, as well as those who became disabled or deceased. The book reveals that polio was actually a relatively uncommon disease, but due to the terrible effects on child health and the high birth rate at that time, it caused great fear among people. This was the reason for the strict government measures, which are known as the War on Polio. The procedures and events described by Oshinsky in relation to American policies in this regard are used throughout this paper for analysis and comparison with the War on Drugs.
Toole, Michael J. “So Close: Remaining Challenges to Eradicating Polio.” BMC Medicine 14, no. 1 (2016): 43.1-43.4.
Michael J. Toole describes the current situation with regard to the struggle against polio. While Oshinsky was portraying the history of the epidemic in the United States, Toole presents the long-lasting consequences of the War on Polio. The author analyzes the effectiveness of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which was launched in 1988 and has achieved significant results to date. Under this initiative, polio has been eradicated from virtually every corner of the globe, including the African continent. This article emphasizes the purposefulness of the measures taken as part of the War on Polio and their effects to date.
- David M. Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 21.
- Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story, 4.
- Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story, 70.
- Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story, 230.
- Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall, “Four Decades and Counting: The Continued Failure of the War on Drugs,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis 811, (2017): 3.
- Marcelo Bergman, “Legalize, Regulate, or Prohibit? Public Policy Dilemmas,” in Illegal Drugs, Drug Trafficking and Violence in Latin America, (Switzerland, Cham: Springer, 2018), 100.
- Bergman, “Legalize, Regulate, or Prohibit,” 100.
- Ashesh Nandy and Subhash C. Basak, “Viral Epidemics and Vaccine Preparedness,” Journal of MPE Molecular Pathological Epidemiology 2, no. S1:06 (2017): 1.
- Nandy and Basak, “Viral Epidemics and Vaccine Preparedness,” 1.
- Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story, 70.
- Michael J. Toole, “So Close: Remaining Challenges to Eradicating Polio,” BMC Medicine 14, no. 1 (2016): 43.1.
- Coyne and Hall, “Four Decades and Counting,” 2.
- Fiona Godlee and Richard Hurley, “The War on Drugs Has Failed: Doctors Should Lead Calls for Drug Policy Reform,” BMJ: British Medical Journal 355, (2016): 1. Web.
- Godlee and Hurley, “The War on Drugs Has Failed,” 1.