Friday, October 7, 2016

Alexandra Chasin's "Assassin of Youth"

Alexandra Chasin is associate professor of literary studies at Eugene Lang College, the New School. She is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger's War on Drugs:
To play Anslinger, there has never been any question in my mind: Woody Harrelson actually looks like Harry J. Anslinger, and with his pro-pot politics, he would be perfect.

Harry J. Anslinger was commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from its founding in 1930 until his retirement in 1962. He was like the J. Edgar Hoover of drugs, but without the personality. Anslinger was a consummate bureaucrat, surviving both Republican and Democratic administrations. He passed federal legislation criminalizing marijuana, and supported harsh penalties (including compound penalties for repeat offenders), and mandatory minimum sentencing. And he had a particular genius for propaganda, forging indelible connections between certain drugs and certain racial and immigrant groups. In other words, he started the war on drugs, long before Nixon’s declaration in the 1960s and the Rockefeller Drug Laws of 1973.

But before all that, Harry grew up in Altoona, the sixth of nine children born to a couple who had immigrated from Switzerland just a few years earlier. Altoona was a company town, the headquarters of the mechanical shops of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Anslinger worked his way up through the PRR, learning the ways of the ascendant corporation (the PRR was the largest private corporation in the world at the time) before taking those lessons with him into government service.

So, he was a rigid, doctrinaire Midwesterner who could make the trains run on time. Though friends describe him as having a sense of humor, there is not much funny about his contributions to the mass incarceration system, which so disproportionally damages African-American and Latino men, their families, and communities, that it looks like that’s what the war on drugs is for.
Visit Alexandra Chasin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue