The History of the Culture of War
6. The drugs-for-guns trade 5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war


Another taboo topic is the long and important history of the drug trade in the culture of war. This relation goes back at least to the colonial wars, with the most dramatic being the Opium Wars by which the Americans and Europeans subjugated and exploited China. Alcohol was often used in colonial domination and genocide, for example the European subjugation of the native peoples of North America.

One does not usually think of the drug trade in conjunction with the military-industrial complex, but in the following account, it should become evident that a major part of the drug trade in recent years has become, in effect, a military-industrial complex that is illegal and yet engaged by secret military and quasi-military services of governments.

Many in my generation became aware of the drugs-for-guns trade during the Vietnam War. Air America, a company established and controlled by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, flew sorties between Laos and Hong Kong, said to be carrying heroin one way and guns and ammunition for anti-communist Laos tribesmen the other way. By selling the heroin to Mafia-related distributors in Hong Kong, the CIA was able to finance a secret war without having to obtain funds from the U.S. Congress. The size of Air America was enormous. It was, in effect, a secret military-industrial complex. According to the following information previously on the internet at (no longer on the Internet as of March 2010), it had the largest airline fleet in the world at that time:

"Air America was owned by the CIA and played a leading role in logistic air support of the CIA's forces in Laos from 1959 to 1974 . . By 1966 Air America had almost 6,000 employees. At its peak in 1970, Air America had the largest airline fleet in the world, in terms of numbers of aircraft owned, although a lot of these aircraft were small or helicopters. Air America operated up to 30,000 flights per month by 1970."

For an account that has not yet been removed from the Internet see the wikipedia article.

The drug trade was managed through secret collaboration between the government and the Mafia. Similar arrangements between the CIA and the Mafia have been documented with regard to the repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, and a particularly remarkable exposé is that of Claudia Furiati (1994), ZR Rifle: The Plot to Kill Kennedy and Castro, based on files from the Cuban State Security Department about the collaboration between the CIA and the Mafia in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The trade of drugs for guns surfaced again during American support of Afghan rebels against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, as documented, for example, by Alfred McCoy (1997) in The Progressive, Drug fallout: the CIA's Forty Year Complicity in the Narcotics Trade:

"[Soon after CIA operations began against the Soviets in Afghanistan] the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world's top heroin producer, supplying 60 percent of U.S. demand . . CIA assets again controlled this heroin trade. As the Mujahideen guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant opium as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan Intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories. During this decade of wide-open drug-dealing, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islamabad failed to instigate major seizures or arrests ... In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. 'Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade'"

The drugs-for-guns trade was especially blatant during the Contra War run covertly by the CIA against Nicaragua. It was said that planes flew regularly between small airports in Central America and the United States, carrying guns one way to the Contras and cocaine the other way that was transferred to Mafia distributors in the US. It may be assumed that many of the documents shredded by Marine Colonel Oliver North to avoid investigation in the so-called "Iran-Contra Scandal" were records of the aircraft flights that he managed from the basement of the Reagan White House in Washington. Trying to find public data on this is not easy, however, because of the fears and taboos involved.

Perhaps no topic has been more taboo in recent years than the drugs-for-guns trade. One exposé in the New York Times on April 10, 1988 mentions the trade in Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Contra War, but it stops short of mentioning direct involvement in the drug trade by the U.S. government and CIA. Another series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 was more explicit about government involvement, but it resulted in a wave of criticism and retractions. The public portions of the trials and hearings on the so-called "Iran-Contra Scandal" omitted discussion of the involvement with drugs, while many portions of their reports remain secret.

A non-governmental organization, the Christic Institute, filed a lawsuit and distributed videos at that time providing documentation of government involvement in drugs for guns, but the videos were sought out and confiscated by the U.S. government, and the organization was destroyed in a bizarre series of court cases and murders which can be tracked by entering "Christic Institute" on an Internet search engine. Perhaps the closest there is to a public record of this issue came from the United States Senate Committee Report on Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy (1986) chaired by Senator John F. Kerry, from which the following quotation is taken:

"While the contra/drug question was not the primary focus of the investigation, the Subcommittee uncovered considerable evidence relating to the Contra network which substantiated many of the initial allegations laid out before the Committee in the Spring of 1986. On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter."

Among the airports involved in the network was that of Mena, Arkansas, in the United States (many details are available by putting this into an Internet search engine), and that of the ranch of John Hull in Costa Rica. The following information about the latter comes from the Kerry Subcommittee hearings (see above Internet source):

"John Hull was a central figure in Contra operations on the Southern Front when they were managed by Oliver North, from 1984 through late 1986. Before that, according to former Costa Rican CIA station chief Thomas Castillo's public testimony, Hull had helped the CIA with military supply and other operations on behalf of the Contras. In addition, during the same period, Hull received $10,000 a month from Adolfo Calero of the FDN--at North's direction . . "

"Five witnesses testified that Hull was involved in cocaine trafficking: Floyd Carlton, Werner Lotz, Jose Blandon, George Morales, and Gary Betzner. Betzner was the only witness who testified that he was actually present to witness cocaine being loaded onto planes headed for the United States in Hull's presence.

Lotz said that drugs were flown into Hull's ranch, but that he did not personally witness the flights. He said he heard about the drug flights from the Colombian and Panamanian pilots who allegedly flew drugs to Hull's airstrips. Lotz described the strips as 'a stop for refuel basically. The aircraft would land, there would be fuel waiting for them, and then would depart. They would come in with weapons and drugs.'"

Drugs continue to arrive in the U.S. as part of U.S. military missions in the 21st Century. Cocaine comes from Colombia where U.S. forces are secretly involved in the so-called "Plan Colombia" and heroin comes from Afghanistan where opium remains a major cash crop in the areas contested by NATO forces on one side and the Taliban on the other. The effect of drugs on the streets of the United States and other countries is a terrible side of the culture of war. Not only are many people addicted, but there is a very high murder rate associated with drug distribution and many of the two million people now in prison in the United States are there under conviction for offenses related to the drug trade.

On a global scale, the trade in narcotics, often associated with gun-running, is one of the largest industries in the world. The United Nations World Drug Report of 2005 estimated the total retail value of the world narcotics trade at 321 billion dollars. This may well be an under-estimate since the trade is illegal, cloaked in secrecy, and often, it may be assumed, protected by government agencies.

Much of the violence at a local level is a result of the drug trade and the closely related illegal trade in guns. Drug cartels target for assassination those who threaten their trade, and local dealers engage in "turf wars" with rival dealers. This violence often takes on the characteristics of feuding and can be considered its modern equivalent, as each murder requires vengeance and another murder. Since all of this takes place under the moral umbrella of a criminal justice system based on the principle of "an eye for an eye", the entire process is best understood as an integral part of the culture of war.

To take part in a discussion about this page, go to the discussion of the Military-Industrial complex by clicking below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

discussion board

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?