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In His Own Words: Carroll O’Connor’s very personal war

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Editors’ Note: Carroll O’Connor, who died Thursday at the age of 76, was a great actor. His legacy lives on in reruns of “All in the Family” and
his most enduring creation, Archie Bunker. But in recent years the cause most dear to Mr. O’Connor was the war on drugs. It was a personal fight. In 1995 his only son, Hugh, who had been hooked on drugs, killed himself. Drugs and Hollywood remain a tragic story. We thought a fitting remembrance to Mr. O’Connor would be to reprint his testimony about the drug war, given just three months ago before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was considering drug war legislation.
Good morning. My dear senators, I’m honored by your invitation to be here. I’m deeply involved in our war on drugs but only as a wounded victim of it, without expertise in the conduct of it. I am presuming here simply to speak for 5 million other victims. Or should I say 10 million? Is there a true number? We only know that there is hardly a family in America, on any level of life, that has not been wounded lightly or severely or fatally by the assault of the drug empire upon our country.
The loved ones of insensate addicts, like my own poor son, write to me every day imploring my help, as if I, being well-known, might persuade our leaders to protect and defend them in this war, or at the very least help them care for their wounded and dying. This committee, by this legislation, is now directing serious attention to the care of the wounded and dying. This is a good bill. This war against the drug empire is a good war, and except for some who call it a lost war, who would legalize drugs and turn the country over to the invader, the American people are not clamoring to withdraw from this war.
This war is raging in the streets around them. They tell me in their letters that they don’t understand why we are not fighting this war and winning it. They understand that they are spending billions to raise blockades and sanctions against so-called enemy countries like Libya and Cuba, and to fly bomber patrols over Iraq to prevent the Iraqis from making chemical weapons to use against us, but they know that the only country in the world attacking us daily with the poisons it makes is Colombia, the key country in the drug empire. Colombia, which says to us, “Control your own deadly habits; we don’t create them, we merely supply them. Meanwhile can you let us have 2 billion dollars and some American troops to deal with our rebels down here?”
If this is an unsophisticated picture of our foreign relations, it is nevertheless starkly real to our despairing people. The picture might better be presented to some other committee of the Congress, but it is impossible to leave it out of any consideration of the drug war. I cannot guess how our people will receive the proposals advanced by this good legislation, and I am afraid that the expenditures here proposed for treatment and rehabilitation are not going to be enough by half. I would have said that we needed new, free rehabilitation centers in all of the major counties of our 50 states. How many? Two hundred, three hundred? At what cost? Perhaps a billion? A low guess? Just to start the program.
Addicts cannot help themselves; they have to learn control, to re-regulate brain cells in expert medical facilities, places with living facilities closely available that will receive them without delay when they are ready to offer themselves. Our people are not ungenerous, but they are not well-informed. Care and rehabilitation of thousands and thousands of junkies is not something they are ready to pay for on a grand scale. But that must be done. And now, when we are at the flood tide of our national wealth, is the only possible time to do it.