Robert E. Gladd,
Thesis work-in-progress internet edition:

UNLV Institute for Ethics & Policy Studies

Body Count:
the latest drug war views of William J. Bennett

     “Except for some advocates of drug legalization, no on seriously doubts that drug abuse kills and injures millions of Americans and their children each year.” - William J. Bennett co-author of Body Count: Moral Poverty...and how to win America’s war against crime and drugs, page 19.

Really? Are Ron Kotulak and JAMA off the mark by orders of magnitude?

   The authors insist in Body Count that “[R]igorous and empirical data are the foundation for our analysis and the discussion that follows. As you will see, this book is chock-full of the latest and most reliable facts, figures, charts, and graphs about violent crime and drugs. To you the reader we say: bear with us. These numbers are crucial—crucial because we believe that any fruitful discussion about crime and punishment in America should proceed from a proper regard for facts.”

   No disagreement with respect to that last sentence. Body Count, however, repeatedly offers up one correlation mistake after another.

   Bennett et al begin with a lengthy and lurid recounting of unspeakable, headline-grabbing recent violent crimes: from drive-by shootings to thrill-killings to horrific tales of child abuse. This is followed by a segment entitled Liquor, Disorder, and Crime, then a chapter on Restraining and Punishing Street Criminals. Only after 136 numbing pages of poignant crime victim vignettes and “hard” yet irrelevant data, do the authors get to their fundamental assertion (Chapter 4, Drugs, Crime, and Character): that illicit drug use is caused by and causes what they call “moral poverty,” and by direct implication, that drug use causes the bulk of our crime problem.

   For these authors, illicit drugs are more or less circularly bad because they are illicit, illicit because they are bad. More to the point, drugs are bad because they are “pleasurable” (pg. 141) and that “drug use fosters moral poverty and remorseless criminality; that drug use destroys character and brutalizes the lives of users and those around them” (pg. 139). Total abstinence is the only solution for Bennett, DiIulio, and Walters.

   Never mind that the vast majority of illicit drug users commit no crimes other than their acquisition and use of drugs. Never mind that the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded (see Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Workforce) that “[M]ost alcohol and other drug users do not develop patterns of clinically defined abuse or dependence.

   This lamentable book is shot through with the usual weasel words and phrases such as “fosters,” “associated with,” “linked to,” “correlated with,” and so forth ad nauseum. The “hard data” come from the usual lineup of suspect partisan sources. The authors’ conclusions? More enforcement; harsh punishment for even occasional recreational drug use; drug testing; zero tolerance; dismissal out-of-hand of all talk of “root causes” (other than their own take on the topic); more Loving-Two-Parent-Norman-Rockwell-Families teaching Just-Don’t-Do-It; more God in our lives.

   More empirical and policy baloney of the sort this book typifies.

Click on the book cover image above to review some online excepts from this polluted wellspring of drug war factoids.

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