Nov 14, 2010

MexicoBlog Editorial: Boys, Toys, and the War on Drugs

The notable focus this week in the reporting of the drug war has been its impact on youth. Time magazine presented Mexico's Lost Youth: Generation Narco  MSNBC did a video report entitled Mexico's Lost Generation. A sensationalist story, The Twelve Year-old Executioner, first appearing in tabloids like Britian's Daily Mail, subsequently got coverage in the mainstream press.  

AP's version was Gunmen in Mexico's Drug War Getting Younger. In this article, Pedro Luis Benitez, the attorney general of central Morelos state, speaking of the arrest of one of these boys, "implied they were young enough to be playing with toy guns. 'It is easy for them (criminals) to give them a firearm, making it appear as it if were a plastic weapon and that it is a game, when in fact it is not.'" We are sure these boys know that the guns are real. However, they likely don't know the difference between reality and their fantasies - fantasies of power. 

All of these stories point starkly to the powerlessness of youth trapped in poverty. For them becoming foot soldiers for the cartels is the only option they see for surviving, even if only for a short time, for making more money than they can at anything else and for feeling the sense of power and belonging that come with joining a gang - or the army or any group that possesses some form of potency. 

So much for the "bad boys." On the "good guys" side, there was the piece by a blogger in the AOL Associated Content system writing about it being Time to Rethink the Drug War. The author compared the paradigm of the prohibitionist war on drugs to the juvenile plots of comic book super-heroes. She wrote, "The problem with this theory (drugs have to be made illegal because they are bad) is that it paints the drug busters as caped crusaders fighting a never-ending battle against crime. As with any good comic book, the battle never ends because we never run out of villains. Still, we keep fighting, because they are villains and therefore we must fight them." 

The author hits the nail on the head in characterizing how we humans like to split off whatever is threatening within ourselves or our society and make it into an external, primal evil against which we are then justified to wage a holy crusade.  Professor Jeremy Elkins of Bryn Mawr College, has  thoroughly analyzed how this penchant for making the threatening into the "bad" and projecting this "evil" onto external "enemies" has pervaded U.S. politics since at least the latter half of the twentieth century.  (The paper is summarized on this site's page: A Disastrous Metaphor: Waging Domestic War)

How the juvenile "caped crusader" dynamic pervades the mentality of the "good guys" in their war on drugs was made crystal clear this week by President Calderon - in one of those off-hand comments that reveal so much. During a CBS Interview, the President showed the reporter "his top-secret, state-of-the-art, $100-million underground bunker - the Central Intelligence Command - in a secret location in Mexico City. " The name and secrecy of the "underground bunker" make it sound like it is modeled after the "war" or "situation room" at the White House (remember "The West Wing"?) Or, perhaps, after Batman's cave. 

But then the President of Mexico tells us that his Command center is modeled after the fantasies of slightly bigger boys: "... when we were designing this, I said, 'Do you remember the program '24,' the TV show? Well, I want all the toys, all that. All the instruments needed to be superior to the criminals.''

We also learned this week that "our boys," the U.S. military, are helping the Mexican "boys" (military) learn how to better use their toys, many provided by the Merida Initiative. And we also learned that the U.S. government effort to slow the flow of illegal "toys" to Mexico, Operation Gunrunner, is failing. The Mexican Ambassador to the United States dared to say that the NRA could help stem this flow.  The boys with the guns at the NRA replied that the (drug war) problem "originates" in Mexico and the "the solution has to come from within Mexico."

Boys - of all ages.  Boys -"bad" and "good."  Boys and their Superhero toys. This scenario would, perhaps, be bemusing if it were a comic book script. But this "caped crusade" is resulting in the indiscriminate death, not only of thousands of "bad boys," but of hundreds of "good boys" and girls,  The "good boys" who are leading the crusade call these innocent dead Collateral Damage. A Mexican journalist speaks of  Mexico's Nameless Dead

We recall from the early '80's a B movie, The Clash of the Titans, an action film aimed at boys of all ages. The gods fight one another for control of the world and nearly destroy it in the process. The movie has been remade this year, for a new generation of boys. The quasi-metaphorical "war on drugs" has been fought - and been destroying lives and liberty - in the United States for forty years. The all-too-real war on drugs in Mexico has been fought for the last four years. In this "caped crusade" not only are the Titans -  "good" as well as "bad" - wielding their toys to kill boys and girls, men and women, they are wielding them to undermine a society and destroy a nation. In Mexico, a movie has recently been made of all of this. It's called Infierno. Hell.

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