Carlton Meyer, “Protecting the American Opium Empire” (Tales of the American Empire, 9 July 2020)
For an 11-minute video, this is perhaps a little too far-ranging both in time and space, and viewers might need to watch it once or even twice again for everything to sink in. The video starts way back in the 1700s when the British are encroaching upon Imperial China and opium addiction is starting to become a major public health menace in that empire. The British find that selling opium to the Chinese is profitable business and nets them the silver they need to buy Chinese manufactures. The Qing empire attempts to outlaw the sale of opium in its territories and as a result Britain and China fight two major opium wars, both of which China loses and which weaken the empire to the extent that Chinese territories are ripe for takeover by Britain and other European powers.
France and the United States also become involved in opium production and selling in China and Southeast Asia. The Corsican underworld is heavily involved in opium production in Laos. Two American families – the Forbes and the Delanos (the latter being the ancestors of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) – become wealthy from producing and selling opium in China. For the first half of the 20th century while China is unstable and wracked by civil war, and then invasion by Japan, the opium business is doing well – but after the Communist victory in October 2019, China shuts down opium production and weans its people off opium. The opium production business moves south to Burma, Thailand and Laos, into an area spanning the northern parts of these countries that becomes known as the Golden Triangle.
The video links the Vietnam War, and the US involvement in it, to opium production in Southeast Asia and in particular the CIA’s reliance on opium production for profits to be used in undertaking clandestine operations around the world – operations that among other things include overthrowing governments not to the liking of US corporations and those US politicians the corporations fund during Presidential and Congressional election times. After 1975, when Communism spreads to the whole of Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia become Communist as well, the CIA focuses on Afghanistan as its major de facto opium factory. To that end, the agency helps to finance and supply the warlords (with the help of Saudi engineer Osama bin Laden) with guns, ammunition and soldiers to fight the Soviet-backed government and Soviet forces through the 1980s. After the Soviet withdrawal, instability in Afghanistan contributes to the rise of the Taliban to power in 1996. The Taliban gets rid of opium production and for its pains is overthrown by US invasion in late 2001, ostensibly because the Taliban was the culprit behind the World Trade Center Twin Towers attacks in September that year. Of course, the Taliban never was. The video brings viewers up to date in describing how continued US military occupation in Afghanistan serves not only to keep that country unstable and poor, but also protects the opium crop even though US soldiers see no point in staying in a country whose people resent the US presence.
As an introduction to the history of opium production and its usefulness to the CIA as a ready source of profits to fund its various activities around the globe, the video can be a real eye-opener, tying together different and parallel narratives in different parts of the world. The Oliver Stone interview which concludes the video, and in which the film director is asked about what he thinks of US President Barack Obama’s turnaround from promising to get US troops out of Afghanistan to keeping them there, and Stone replies that he believes Obama knows much more than the President and the White House are prepared to admit, seems rather out of place in a video that has concentrated on showing maps and pictures and delineating how opium has a McGuffin role in a network in which some players seek to dominate the world and steal its resources by forcing farmers to grow a drug that creates misery, crime and poverty, and through addiction enables governments to control people’s bodies and minds; and at the same time use the profits from producing, distributing and selling that drug to remake the world according to their own depraved vision.
When one considers that the West is in thrall to the fentanyl (synthetic heroin) pandemic, and Britain and the US in particular are badly affected by fentanyl addiction, the fact that much of that fentanyl is made in China might appear to be some sort of cosmic justice. But the reality is that poor people in the US and UK who have been denied a share in their nations’ wealth are the ones suffering from fentanyl and other addictions, and some of those who profit from the new addictions may well be the same people who in the past profited from past mass opium and heroin addictions around the world.