IN THE world of U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics H J Anslinger, the drug addict is an “immoral, vicious, social leper,” who cannot escape responsibility for his actions, who must feel the force of swift,impartial punishment. This world of Anslinger does not belong to him alone. Bequeathed to all of us, it vibrates with the consciousness of twentieth-century America. Anslinger, however, has been its guardian. As America’s first and only Commissioner of Narcotics, he has spent much of hls lifetime insuring that society stamp its retribution in to the soul of the addict.
In his thirty years as Commissioner (Anslinger is now sixty-seven), he has listened to a chorus of steady praise. Admirers have described him as “the greatest living authority on the world narcotics traffic,” a man who “deserves a medal of honor for his advanced thought,” “one of the greatest men that ever lived,”a public servant whose work “will insure his place in history with men such as Jenner, Pasteur, Semmelweiss, Walter Reed, Paul Ehrlich, and the host of other conquerers of scourges that have plagued the human race.” But some discordant notes, especially in recent years, have broken through this chorus. Critics—mostly social workers, doctors, lawyers and judges—have cried, often out of their frustration, that Anslinger is a despot, a terrifier of doctors, a bureaucrat single-handedly preventing medicine from ministering to the sick, aimless addict.
These critical views reflect the philosophy expressed in The Nation in 1956 and 1957 by Alfred R. Lindesmith, Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. "The addict belongs in the hospital, not in the prison," Lindesmith wrote. "If we recognize that punishment cannot cure disease, if we want to take the profit out of the illicit traffic, we need to return the drug user to the care of the medical profession—the only profession equipped to deal with him." ("Traffic in Dope Medical Problem," April 21, 1956). Lindesmith said the country’s stringent narcotic laws stem from “conceptions of justice and penology which can only be adequately described as medieval and sadistic." (“Dope: Congress Encourages the Traffic," March 16, 1957).
Anslinger has replied to such critics with more scorn than argument. Confronted with a recent medical proposal to set up government clinics where doctors would treat addicts and, in some cases, allow them to continue their drug diet, the Commissioner announced: “The plan is so simple that only a simpleton could think it up.” When this plan began earning support from influential men within the American Bar Association, the Commissioner answered their loglc by telling a national radio audience. “Certainly the ABA should have hired a lawyer to read the laws and find out what it is all about.” Warming up to the debate in an issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, he added his clinching argument: “Following the line of thinking of the ‘clinic plan’ advocates to a logical conclusion, there would be no objection to the state setting aside a building where on the first floor there would be a bar for alcoholics, on the second floor licensed prostitution, with the third floor set aside for sexual deviates and, crowning them all, on the top floor a drug-dispening station for addicts."
A PENNSYLVANIA Dutchman, Harry J Anslinger was born in Altoona on May 20, 1892. It was the era of unlimited traffic in narcotics. Cigarette smoking irritated public morals more than did opium eating (to shush their hahies, mothers bought 750,000 bottles of opium-laced syrup a year). Drug manufacturers mixed laudanum, heroin and cocaine into their tonics and pain-killers. “The more you drink," one tonic advertised, “the more you want.” The fashionable bought gold hypodermic needles, studded with diamonds.