The War on Smoking is really just another War on Something.
We always seem to be fighting Wars on Something. And these wars are always eventually lost.
US alcohol prohibition 100 years ago was another War on Something. More recently there’s been a War on Drugs, from which tobacco and alcohol and most pharmaceutical drugs were initially excluded. And now of course we have a War on Tobacco.
It seems that as soon as one war ends, there’s a brief pause before a new enemy is identified, and a new War on Something Else starts up. So we might expect that once the War on Tobacco ends, there will begin a War on Tea or a War on Coffee or a War on Cocoa.
The enemy, whatever it happens to be, is always thoroughly demonised. Alcohol, Opium, Marijuana, Cocaine, and now of course Tobacco, have all been depicted in terrifying terms. All are “addictions”, of course. And all wreak terrible havoc, driving people mad in different ways. And of course chiiildren must always be protected from them.
Many of these wars start life in the USA. And they may well be connected to the seeming propensity of the USA to forever fight hot wars and cold wars all over the world. One of Donald Trump’s great crimes, in his enemies’ eyes, is that he doesn’t want to keep fighting these “forever wars.” Yet it seems to be a requirement of US identity to be forever fighting wars against existential enemies, with marines charging up beaches somewhere in the world, and air armadas unloading bombs. And whenever one of these existential enemies – a Hitler or a Tojo – is defeated, a new enemy needs to be immediately found to replace him – the Soviet Union, Red China, Castro’s Cuba. And so of course after the eventual demise of the Soviet Union, it was simply replaced after a brief pause by… Russia. (Or is it Ukraine now?)
There seems to be a demon-haunted mindset at work here, one that sees threats lurking everywhere, It’s a mindset that sees demonic powers in alcohol and opium and cannabis and tobacco and sugar and chocolate and salt, but also demons in Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin and Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Everything and everyone is always utterly demonised.
And there’s now the new demon of carbon dioxide, of which many people seem genuinely terrified.
Yet it’s not as if this mentality is confined to the USA. It’s also very prevalent in Britain. A few days ago I listened for a while to Peter Hitchens in conversation with James Delingpole. I already knew that Hitchens was a true believer in Reefer Madness, and regarded cannabis as being an extremely dangerous drug. What I wasn’t aware of was that he thought the same about both tobacco and alcohol. He said that if we had known how dangerous they all were, we would never have been allowed their consumption. Hitchens is a thorough-going prohibitionist. He’d ban not only cannabis, but also tobacco and alcohol, and presumably a long list of other things as well.
I don’t know very much about Hitchens, except that he had a rather more well-known brother, Christopher. But one thing I know is that he used to be a Trotskyite (or as he termed it, a Trotskyist). And it occurred to me that if he once was a Trotskyist, he probably – in fact certainly – still was one. And the evidence of this extremism could now be found in his extreme prohibitionist propensities. For isn’t a wish to completely prohibit cannabis and alcohol and tobacco an ambition of global human reformation that is not essentially different from the ambitions of revolutionaries like Trotsky and Mao and Castro and all the rest. These are people who wish to radically remake the whole world. And if they can’t remake it along Trotskyist lines, they’ll be trying to remake along other lines.
And martinets like Hitchens seem to always be possessed of intense moral certainty. They know they’re right. And in fact, at one point in his tetchy conversation with Delingpole, he says exactly that (13:15): “The question remains: am I right? And the answer to that is: Yes I am.” It was an assertion of quite staggering arrogance, and the point at which I stopped listening.
Another example of this sort of intense moral certainty may be found in Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, who is now lecturing the whole world about global warming. But there are lots more where she came from.
Perhaps such people make names for themselves because they are so terrifyingly certain of what they say. Everyone else is assailed by doubt and uncertainty, very often to the point of feeling unable to say anything at all. So it’s the loudest of the loudmouths who get heard, simply by shouting everyone else down.