Good Example Of Essay On The War On Polio Vs. The War On Drugs

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: War, Drugs, Terrorism, Terror, Nation, Politics, Policy, History

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/01/14

Since the nation’s founding in 1776, the United States has waged war on a number of foes. While some of those foes were entire nations or threatening factions within other nations, others have been harder to define and even harder to defeat. Several notable non-military wars waged by the US are the War on Polio, undertaken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the War on Drugs, officially declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971 (“A Brief History of the Drug War,” n.d.). Both wars aimed to address a growing public health epidemic - the poliomyelitis virus, which killed and crippled children in record numbers until its eradication in 1979 (Pitock, 2015), and illicit drug use and abuse, which continues to claim victims today. Another non-military war is the War on Terror, declared by Bush in 2011 following the deadly terrorist attacks on 9/11 (Jackson, 2014). These non-military wars have faced varying levels of success and failure throughout the years. The war on polio is over, but the war on drugs and the war on terror rage on to this day.
Polio existed globally at endemic levels for hundreds if not thousands of years before it began to reach epidemic proportions in the US (Oshinsky, 2005, pp. 9-10). While some of polio’s young victims recovered fully, many affected by the poliovirus were left partially or completely paralyzed or succumbed to death when the illness compromised the muscles of their respiratory system (Oshinsky, 2005, pp. 9). US president FDR, who had endured a bout of polio at age 39 and was subsequently wheelchair bound for the remainder of his life due to partial paralysis caused by the virus, gave polio a spot of great prominence on the national agenda, leveraging his massive popular support to generate funding for polio treatment and research (Maranzani, 2013). After organizing the wildly popular annual Birthday Balls in 1934, which served as both a celebration of the president’s birthday and a fundraising drive for his favorite cause, Roosevelt and his team established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) in 1939 to provide funding for research aimed at understanding the virus and developing a safe, effective vaccine (Maranzani, 2013). The NFIP organized the March of Dimes fundraiser, which implored every family to donate 10 cents per child to create a “march of dimes all the way to the White House” to help the cause (Maranzani, 2013). The success of the Birthday Balls, which raised an impressive $1 million in its first year, and the March of Dimes together mobilized massive amounts of funding to support the treatment of children affected by polio and establish the nation’s first research centers (Kluger, 2009). The NFIP made grants available for the years of costly but critical research that led to the development of the breakthrough injectable Salk vaccine in 1955, followed by the Sabin vaccine in 1957 (Pitock, 2015). Following the development of the Sabin vaccine, which was orally administered and greatly increased the ease by which children could be vaccinated in large numbers, especially in rural areas, the government spearheaded vaccination campaigns throughout the nation and polio cases decreased steadily until the disease was officially eradicated in the US in 1979 (Pitock, 2015). The War on Polio, while a long and costly one to fight, had finally been won.
The War on Drugs and the War on Terror have been neither as straightforward nor as successful. Psychedelic and mind-altering drugs have been used in various civilizations throughout history, including the US, for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes. It was not until illicit drug use increased and became more mainstream in the context of the swinging sixties that it earned a place on the national agenda. According to the Drug Policy Alliance’s “A Brief History of the War on Drugs,” while the use of LSD and other psychedelics was being touted by researchers as holding great promise in the field of psychiatry and mental health, President Nixon responded to the increase in drug use, which was often tied to “youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent” by reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule One drug and aggressively criminalizing drug use (n.d.). As a result of the ongoing criminalization of drug use throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, the prison population exploded - between 1980 and 1997, the number of nonviolent offenders incarcerated for drug possession jumped from 50,000 to over 400,000 (“A Brief History of the Drug War,” n.d.). The government funded a number of national public education campaigns such as the “Just Say No” and DARE programs, and continued increasing criminal penalties on drug users that have contributed to the US having the highest incarceration rates of all developed nations, not just slightly higher but in fact 7 to 10 times higher than our counterparts (Zakaria, 2012). Additionally of the $20-25 billion that the US spends annually fighting the war on drugs, much is spent providing resources and support to other countries, especially Mexico and Colombia, in an attempt to interrupt the growth, production, and transport of illegal drugs before they reach American borders (Porter, 2012).
The War on Terror was declared by President George W. Bush after the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. The war on terror, mostly fought against radical Islamic extremists, is described by Richard Jackson (2014) as “a multidimensional campaign of almost limitless scope,” and has led to a massive increase in funding for military, diplomatic and civilian operations throughout the world aimed at monitoring potential threats, identifying and dismantling terrorist groups, and reducing or eradicating the threat of terrorism worldwide. In the name of fighting terrorism, the US government has allocated massive amounts of money towards this ‘war,’ has passed controversial legislation such as the Patriot Act, created new institutions such as the Department of Homeland Security, and increased the power of federal agencies such as the National Surveillance Association and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Jackson, 2014). While the War on Terror has had some successes, such as the capture of many low and high-level terror suspects including Saddam Hussein, the war on terror has not significantly decreased; according to Cheung, reporting for the BBC, deaths caused by global terror attacks actually increased by 44% between 2012 and 2013 (2014). Similar to the war on drugs, the war on terror has received massive amounts of funding and support, yet has proven abysmally and tragically ineffective at reducing the threat of terrorism worldwide.
There are many differences between the successful war on polio and the faltering, failing wars on drugs and terror. The war on polio was far more straightforward and clearly defined - the enemy was polio, and the goal was complete eradication of the disease. It was a cause that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or religious beliefs could get behind, as evidenced by the incredible level of national engagement with the March of Dimes fundraising campaign. The goal of the war on polio was easily measurable, and thus it was easy to determine when the war had achieved success and officially been “won.” The goals of the war on drugs and the war on terror are much more vague, and far harder to measure. Does the war on drugs aim to eradicate all drug use in the US, even when individual states are taking steps to decriminalize marijuana use, and 67% of Americans support increasing access to treatment for drug users instead of imposing harsh criminal penalties (“America’s New Drug Policy Landscape,” 2014)? Will the war on terror be officially won when there are zero terrorist groups operating, or zero terrorist attacks occurring? How will we know we’ve won these wars if we cannot agree upon on a realistic and measurable end goal?
Furthermore, the war on polio was driven mainly by public support - while the NFIP heavily was established by Roosevelt and heavily promoted by his administration, the funds that it administered were donated by citizens (Kluger, 2009). The war on polio was not carried out solely by the government, but rather by the nation as a whole, with citizens as active participants. The war on terror is government-funded (using tax dollars) and carried out without active involvement from the majority of US citizens, save for those involved with military or intelligence organizations. The government is largely fighting the war on drugs and the war on terror alone, without citizen engagement. In fact, many citizens have reservations and misgivings about the two wars and their impact both domestically and abroad, such as the infringement upon civil liberties in the form of increased surveillance of innocent civilians (Hudson, 2011), the continued incarceration of record numbers of non-violent individuals, and rising death tolls related to drone attacks which, as of November 2014, had targeted 41 men but left a whopping 1,147 presumably innocent civilians dead (Ackerman, 2014).
Perhaps the most important distinction between the three wars, and the strongest indicator for why one was successful and the other two were not, is that the war on polio was driven by research performed by the most prominent medical minds of the times (Maranzani, 2013) while politicians perpetuating the war on drugs have routinely ignored the mountain of scholarly research that has been undertaken to determine what policies actually decrease drug use and addiction. Since decriminalizing drug use and promoting public education and treatment programs, Portugal has witnessed a slight decrease in rates of drug use, a decrease in crime, and a decrease in rates of HIV and hepatitis C among drug users (Murkin, 2014). Given that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug use in the US rose 8.3% between 2002 and 2012 (“DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends,” 2014), surely there are lessons to be learned by examining the successes achieved under the policies adopted by other countries who have proven more successful in reducing drug use or mitigating its societal effects. While there is great debate as to what tactics are actually effective in reducing the spread of terror, the rising death toll attributed to terrorist attacks worldwide is evidence that current policies are simply not working.
While the war on polio brought the nation together in pursuit of a common goal that all could rally around, the war on drugs and the war on terror are proving far more controversial. These two wars lack a clearly defined enemy, a measurable and attainable goal, and unlike the war on polio, are not being ‘fought’ according to the research regarding the efficacy of certain policies. The war on polio enjoyed a tremendous amount of public support, whereas the wars on drugs and terror are massively unpopular and increasingly out of line with the opinions of US citizens. Until the perpetrators of the war on drugs and the war on terror review and revise their policies and strategies, it seems unlikely that either war will successfully conclude anytime soon.

Works Cited

“A Brief History of the Drug War.” (n.d.) The Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved from, S. (24 Nov 2014). “41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground.” The Guardian. Retrieved from
“America’s New Drug Policy Landscape.” (2 Apr 2014). Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
Cheung, H. (18 Nov 2014). “Global terror attack deaths rose sharply in 2013, says report.” BBC
News. Retrieved from
“DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends.” (2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse - National Institute
of Health. Retrieved from
Jackson, R. (13 Aug 2014). “War on Terrorism.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved
Kluger, J. (24 Jun 2009). “The Other War - On Polio.” Time Magazine. Retrieved from,28804,1906802_1906838_19068
Maranzani, B. (3 Jan 2013). “Franklin Roosevelt’s Personal Polio Crusade, 75 Years Ago.”
History in the Headlines. Retrieved from
Murkin, G. (11 Jun 2014). “Drug decriminalisation in Portugal: setting the record straight.”
Transform Drug Policy Foundation. Retrieved from
Oshinsky, D. (2005). Polio: An American Story. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Pitock, T. (Jan/Feb 2015). “The War on Polio.” The Saturday Evening Post. Retrieved from
Porter, E. (3 Jul 2012). “Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War.” The New York Times. Retrieved
Zakaria, F. (2 Apr 2012). “Incarceration Nation.” Time Magazine. Retrieved from,9171,2109777,00.html

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