Review: America’s Longest War


DIRECTOR:    Paul Feine

America’s longstanding War on Drugs is one of the most shocking abuses of the democratic system in our Western world.  Written, produced and directed by Paul Feine, this film takes a critical approach to prohibition and the drug war, using a visually stunning cinematic sweep that is both captivating and elucidating for viewers.

Richard Milhouse Nixon started the War on Drugs in 1971, ostensibly to sway the rising tide of chemicals affecting the nation’s youth since the hippie explorations of the 1960s. “Homosexuality, dope, immorality in general, these are the enemies of a strong society,” Nixon said in his secret tapes, that survive to this day and are judiciously quoted in the film. It was essentially a political crusade against all those the right wing establishment saw as a threat to their vision of society, and over 40 years later not much has changed.

The first congressional report in 1972 looked at the science and recommended decriminalisation; Nixon rejected this and instead took a military approach. Every successive president since Nixon has since upheld the scheduling of marijuana, creating a black market supply and demand and vastly empowering the criminal organizations involved. It also bloats the justice system and the enforcement agencies: over half of all budgets and resources now go to drug related crimes.

Writer-producer-director Paul Feine has created a solid look at the drug war which covers all bases, whilst not substantially offering anything new to the conversation. The wide rage of interviews from government officials and related experts shows overwhelmingly the failure of the war on drugs, and the criminalization of everyday people. And this is the heart of the film: the suffering and injustice of this war.

Feine shows the human underbelly of the war, and the massive loss of life and property that mirrors larger wars.  And it is here the film shines, showing case after case (over 55,000 every year) where innocent Americans were raided, assaulted, jailed or killed by drug SWAT teams in the war on drugs. And these are not anomalies, but frequent cases. As well as his excellent interviews, Feine has secured access to many SWAT raids, which show the horrifying results of the war on drugs on the frontline. Interviews with survivors of SWAT raids, and real time footage make this a chilling film.

Feine also examines the militarization of the police force as community defenders have now become extreme soldiers in an idealogical war, armed with military hardware, tanks, weapons and mindsets. The film argues that non-violent drug offences should not be met with military force, and at the same time criminal elements and gangs worldwide gain the funds and resources from the black market to themselves become militias, and the war just starts to grow and engulf entire countries, like Mexico.

One of the key targets in the film is marijuana, and the film parallels the rise of the medical marijuana movement in many states with the federal crackdown and hypocrisy between the two systems. The prison industry also benefits, as do all the industries around it, and the capitalist system itself which makes money off human misery. Over 2.3 million Americans are now in prison – 20% of the world’s prisoners – and over half of them are in jail because of drugs.

This is not just a war on drugs, it’s a war on consciousness and the people that choose to change it, and films like America’s Longest War are antidotes to the culture of hate, fear and misery that ride hand in hand with war.


***   Rak Razam

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