Walter Cronkite: Telling the Truth About the War on Drugs

Former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite has a long piece at HuffPo telling us “the way it is” on the drug war.

Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens. I am speaking of the war on drugs.

And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.


And what is the impact of this policy?

It surely hasn’t made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people…disproportionately people of color…who have caused little or no harm to others – wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort – with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clichés of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we’ve become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

The tone of the piece gives the impression that Cronkite thinks he has stumbled upon this revelation through dogged reporting rather than stating something that most of us have known for years. Still, his name still carries a certain gravitas and may garner some attention.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. G A Phillips says:

    Another uberjackass of the highest order!

  2. none says:


    just wait till one of your kids gets busted with some pot and has their life ruined. By the way, have you ever seen a “falling down pothead?” Again, another example of garbage policy in the US. Cigarettes-legal, alchohol – legal, pot for terminally ill people – illegal, kill someone in a dui – varies but not comparable to getting cought with a lb of pot. equality under the law – LOL

  3. none says:


    ga, you don’t need to advertise your motto, we know what it is.

  4. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Cronkite is an idiot if he thinks no one else but the user is effected by use of illegal drugs. Let me state here that Alcohol is a drug. A legal on that has too many people addicted to it to become illegal. I work in the recovery field. I see the damage drugs do every day. While prison is not the answer, neither is legalization. Societies have to be able to decide what is and is not acceptable. Drug use should not be acceptable. Normal people do not use drugs.

  5. none says:

    No one said make it legal, just decriminalize it. I’m sure you know that ~65% of federal prisoners are there for drugs.

    As far as society deciding what is and is not acceptable, let me propose a little scenario:

    Let’s say I believe that organized religion is the major source of evil in the world. I manage to convince alot of people that this is true. We have a vote and voila – no more religion. Oops, there is the constitution. But the constitution also says “pursuit of happiness.” Who are YOU to judge what makes someone else happy.

    If you don’t like drugs, don’t do ’em, but don’t try to tell me what to do. I’ll bet more people die every year from all the bad eating they’ve done over the years. What are you going to do about that? Enforce diet restrictions? Outlaw McDonald’s?

    This is the problem in this country today, we have way too many people inflicting their moral sense on others. Get over it! Live and let live! This is what this country was founded on, not a bunch of “I know what’s best for you” zealots deciding how we should exist.

    The right to slowly destroy oneself is one of those unenumerated rights in the constitution. It may be a shame, but it sure as hell ain’t no crime.

  6. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘just wait till one of your kids gets busted with some pot and has their life ruined.’

    wtf? Has their life ruined?!?! I guess taking responsibility for ones own behavior is for other people?

  7. none says:


    I have no problem with personal responsibility, but that is a victimless crime and I do have a problem with punishing people for that.

    Have your kids ever a a sip of wine or champagne? Should you be arrested for endangering a minor?

    Please refer to my last post as to my right to kill myself if I desire. Remember, it’s not a crime to commit suicide, only to fail at it.

  8. DC Loser says:

    I’m waiting for LJC to weigh in on this.

  9. DC Loser says:

    Oops…I meant LJD.

  10. Honey P says:

    Get off your high horses.
    Walter Cronkite has more more Respect and Morals.
    Than any 10 of your GOP god like brainwashing so called
    news personality’s could accumulate in a lifetime.

    Real people know the war on drugs is something
    that cost us dearly and produces no real results.

    But god forbid anyone come out and say a policy
    is flawed. No way can a Republican supported ideal have flaws.

    Can anyone tell me who Walter Cronkite votes for?
    No one has any doubts who Rush, Hannity, Orielly,
    or 85% of Fox reporters Cast there votes for.
    Now who is a real reporter and who is reporting

    You can not demand respect it must be earned and
    Mr Cronkite has earned mine and Generations of
    people who new what real news was. From the richest
    to the poorest those with education and
    those who gave up education to support family’s
    Mr Cronkite America needs reporters like you again.

  11. ICallMasICM says:

    Get off your nursing home meds.

    ‘Can anyone tell me who Walter Cronkite votes for?’

    News flash – everyone knows who Cronkite votes for since he’s a fund raiser for the Democrats.

    ‘No one has any doubts who Rush, Hannity, Orielly,
    or 85% of Fox reporters Cast there votes for.’

    Rush, Hannity and O’Reilly aren’t reporters – they’re commentators.

    ‘But god forbid anyone come out and say a policy
    is flawed. No way can a Republican supported ideal have flaws.’

    Do you think drug enforcement is a GOP policy? I live in the bluest of blue states with a completely Dem congressional delegation and 1 statewide GOP office holder. Do you think they don’t enforce and support drug laws? Do you think the anti-gang legislation and anti-gun and drug laws aren’t related? Do you think that drug prosecutions aren’t a valuable tool in combatting gang related violence?

    ‘You can not demand respect it must be earned and
    Mr Cronkite has earned mine and Generations of
    people who new what real news was.’

    wtf are you talking about?

  12. MrGone says:



  13. MrGone says:


    I don’t know how Cronkite votes but I can tell you that he came out against the Iraq War and to many on this blog, that essentially means he’s a “traitor.”

    You can see this from GA’s post above.

  14. vader says:

    The last time Cronkite publicly pronounced a war lost, the consequences were not pretty. Perhaps it would have been lost anyway — and perhaps this one is as well — but one worries that the pronouncement is self-fulfilling.

  15. Honey P says:

    Just how miss used some drug laws are.

    I stood and watched as the police cuffed
    and hauled a man from his home. On a anonymous
    tip that he had a meth lab in his garage.
    The evidence produced to support this charge?
    1) a 2lb bag of garden fertilizer. (the man gardened)

    2) Some Hose off a old truck. ( His brother had left
    when he used the garage to work on his truck)

    3) Drano 1 small can ( His wife had used to make
    a homemade furniture stripper. My mother and
    Grandfather gave her mom the recipe for 10 years

    4) a empty 5 gallon gas can.

    In the eyes of the police this added up to a meth lab.
    It cost the family 6000 dollars in legal fees
    and mandatory drug and alcohol classes to assure
    the lesson had been learned. His wife lost her
    job at the local gas station because the owner
    did not think his customers would be comfortable
    with her working there.

  16. Herb says:


    You talk like a kid with a paper assh**e.

    I bet you are a drug user and a part of the problem.

  17. lunacy says:

    I’m no fan of Walter Cronkite but just because he’s wrong some of the time doesn’t mean he’s wrong all of the time.

    First off, getting busted for pot rarely ruins anyone’s life.

    I agree completely that decriminalizing or even legalizing pot would be an appropriate thing to do. There is no more harm in a hooter than a beer.

    I’m not an advocate of legalizing other drugs but sometimes I wonder how much wind would be sucked from the sails/sales of gangs and other organized criminals if cocaine and meth were legalized. Quite a bit, I’d wager.

    I’ve used many times, a number of substances, being a child of the 60s. Didn’t prevent me from getting my education (post grad) or getting and keeping a good job.

    Frankly, smoking cigarettes was more hindering to me than alcohol, pot or coke. I finally quit the cigarettes. The other substances never had a hold on me. Some times I’d participate when offered, some times I wouldn’t. Sometimes I sold, sometimes I didn’t. The addiction seems purely psychological from my perspective. Like any other recreation, from computer games to soduko, doing it compulsively, 24/7 can be a drag on your ambitions and responsibilities.

    Funny how Old Cronkite finally came around to agreeing with Wm F Buckley and Rich Lowry.


  18. MrGone says:


    What an idiot! I’m sorry, I don’t even get the reference.

    FYI, not that you care, I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s and yes I did drugs. Everyone did, even the minister’s son. So what! Do I still? No. Does it matter? No.

    Let me correct myself, I do smoke cigarettes and drink beer so I guess I still do drugs. I just got to the point that the risk of jail wasn’t worth it so I only do corporate sponsored, acceptable, revenue type drugs. I think that’s the point here you imbecile.

    When I talk to my kids about drugs, I’m not against them because they’re drugs, I tell them that if you’re caught, the consequences are severe and not worth it. I also take the time to explain what drugs are and why they have a place in society.

    Unfortunately, it’s people like you, who wish to regulate behavior, that are truly the biggest threats. Human behavior cannot be regulated! Time and time again we have seen that this just doesn’t work. It only leads to criminal actions. Remember Al Capone and prohibition? How about prostitution? How about abortion? Consensual sex between adults? The moment you make it illegal, you only feed the underground, feed the criminals and gangs. How do you think all the gangs and organized crime makes their money? You never make it go away, you just make people pay dearly for getting caught. That’s real useful!

    As a corollary, I would suggest, from the my knowledge of my children’s friends, that the more strict the parent, the less open with their kids about these things, the more the parents try to inflict a moral code, what ends up happening is that the kids are THE worst partiers and have the LEAST responsibility.

    My kids tell me EVERYTHING, good bad and ugly, and we work it out. Do yours?

  19. floyd says:

    with liberty comes responibility. take all the drugs you want , but please don’t expect me to pay for the resulting disability through taxes because you may be sick or unemployable. i say you should take a drug test to be eligible for welfare , just as with a job. the left position seems to be much as this quote from kipling; ” and after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins,when all men are paid for existing, and no man must pay for his sins”

  20. MrGone says:

    How ’bout this Floyd, you take a IQ test before receiving any SS or medicare benefits. If you’re of low IQ then you couldn’t have contributed much, therefore we don’t owe you! That’s a means test eh?

    Better yet, take a genetic test to see if you will cost society more than your FAIR SHARE. There’s a plan!

    If that’s the world you believe in, then there’s a place for you…I think it’s called Jonestown…

  21. RJN says:

    Revision of our drug laws is so overdue.

    The drug laws only increase the size of law enforcement, and the pain and suffering of recruited addicts, as they produce profits for the worst in society and great cost for the rest of us. Decriminalize.

    Our drug laws do not prevent drug use, but instead greatly increase it. Pushers are called pushers for a reason. They work 24/7 to increase addiction all over the U. S. Decriminalize.

    All of this was evident 25 years ago; now it is worse. We should decriminalize.

  22. floyd says:

    mrgone; carry the man who can’t walk; leave the man who won’t.

  23. floyd says:

    mrgone; think before you write! your comment is blathering nonsense.if you wish to insult me personally, at least be coherent.calm down; have a glass of kool-aid[lol]

  24. G A Phillips says:

    Yo, Nothing, you have no idea who I am, I know more about drugs and there effects then you can possibly Imagine, and what does this have to do with W.C. being a Donkey god, I was just pointing out that whatever he says or thinks is worthless because of this, and if you want to know how I rate you on my scale, you are like a stable hand who shovels the poo.

  25. G A Phillips says:

    Oh, and Nothing, if you want to win the war on drugs we are going to have to invade about 50 countries including parts of this one and kill a sh-t load of people, so think a lot harder before you come before me and spout your puny liberal dribble, and if you want to commit suicide, be a man about it.

  26. LJD says:

    DC has waited ling enough, so I suppose I’ll proceed to blow his socks off… Cronkite is absolutely correct.

    Prohibition as a policy dos not work, never has, never will. I don’t know if legalization for all drugs is the answer, but perhaps more tolerance in how we deal with the problems it generates.

    The drug business is profit driven. The violence, the dangerous quality of drugs because of how they are made or cut, are all related to the money. You take away the monetary incentive, and you take away much of the ‘crime’. Of course, you could always place a government tax on consumption. Then you will have all the funds needed for rehabilitation programs. Very likely, due to the appetite in the U.S., you could make a sizeable dent in the deficit.

    Prohibition supports unhealthy behavior. Abuse is more rampant because the behavior is usually hidden, and the abuser usually attemps to use more of a substance in a shorter time to avoid being caught.

    Too many violent criminals, murderers and rapists, are going through the revolving door or our prison system. THere’s not anough room for them because of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. If a drug offender was not a hardened criminal before they were incarcerated, they likely will be when they get out. Unable to get a decent job as a felon, and well trained by the hoods on the cell block, they should make a valuable contribution to our society.

    I can’t at all understand the logic people have that want the governemnt to raise their kids for them. If your kid is on drugs and you don’t want them to be, do something about it. If you don’t know they’re on drugs, you’re not involved enough in their lives. If you did a good job as a parent, they have the values necessary to make smart decisions. If they’re older than ten, they LAUGH at the ‘just say no’ commercials.

  27. DC Loser says:

    Couldn’t agree more.