Assassin Of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History Of Harry J. Anslinger?s War On Drugs

Hardcover | September 30, 2016

byAlexandra Chasin

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Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from its establishment in 1930 until his retirement in 1962, Harry J. Anslinger is the United States’ little known first drug czar. Anslinger was a profligate propagandist with a flair for demonizing racial and immigrant groups and perhaps best known for his zealous pursuit of harsh drug penalties and his particular animus for marijuana users. But what made Anslinger who he was, and what cultural trends did he amplify and institutionalize? Having just passed the hundredth anniversary of the Harrison Act—which consolidated prohibitionist drug policy and led to the carceral state we have today—and even as public doubts about the drug war continue to grow, now is the perfect time to evaluate Anslinger’s social, cultural, and political legacy.

In Assassin of Youth, Alexandra Chasin gives us a lyrical, digressive, funny, and ultimately riveting quasi-biography of Anslinger. Her treatment of the man, his times, and the world that arose around and through him is part cultural history, part kaleidoscopic meditation. Each of the short chapters is anchored in a historical document—the court decision in Webb v. US (1925), a 1935 map of East Harlem, FBN training materials from the 1950s, a personal letter from the Treasury Department in 1985—each of which opens onto Anslinger and his context. From the Pharmacopeia of 1820 to death of Sandra Bland in 2015, from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the last passenger pigeon, and with forays into gangster lives, CIA operatives, and popular detective stories, Chasin covers impressive ground. Assassin of Youth is as riotous and loose a history of drug laws as can be imagined—and yet it culminates in an arresting and precise revision of the emergence of drug prohibition.

Today, even as marijuana is slowly being legalized, we still have not fully reckoned with the racist and xenophobic foundations of our cultural appetite for the severe punishment of drug offenders. In Assassin of Youth, Chasin shows us the deep, twisted roots of both our love and our hatred for drug prohibition.

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From the Publisher

Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from its establishment in 1930 until his retirement in 1962, Harry J. Anslinger is the United States’ little known first drug czar. Anslinger was a profligate propagandist with a flair for demonizing racial and immigrant groups and perhaps best known for his zealous pursuit of harsh drug ...

Alexandra Chasin is associate professor of literary studies at Eugene Lang College, the New School. She is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction.

other books by Alexandra Chasin

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:352 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.1 inPublished:September 30, 2016Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022627697X

ISBN - 13:9780226276977

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

1          The Trouble with Harry
Martha, the last passenger pigeon, 1967
2          In a Word       
The Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America, 1820
3          The Square Last Mentioned   
Pennsylvania Railroad Company, deed, Hollidaysburg, PA, 1849
4          Maybe Born in Bern  
Ship manifest with Harry J. Anslinger’s father, 1882
5          A Willing and Cheerful Obedience Thereto . . .        
Pennsylvania Railroad Company, “General Rules,” 1857
Timetables, 1886–1891
6          To Prohibit Vice Is Not Ordinarily Considered within the Police Power of the State         
Wasp cartoon, 1888
Map of San Francisco, 1875
7          Now Building at Altoona      
Altoona Mirror, May 20, 1892
8          In All Cases of Doubt or Uncertainty           
Rules and regulations for schools, Altoona, 1894
9          Alcohol Is a Poison    
Washington and Lincoln Elementary Schools
Albert F. Blaisdell, The Child’s Book of Health, 1905
10        The Narcotic Element Is the Siren . . .           
Pennsylvania Railroad Company, “Signals,” 1857
11        Lotus Eaters: Whosoever       
The Odyssey, Book IX, 1879
The Grammar of the Lotus, fish diagram, 1891
The Odyssey, map, 1900
12        The Education of Harry Anslinger    
Harry J. Anslinger, job application, 1918
13        Horseplay Turns to Tragedy  
Shanghai opium commission report, 1909
14        A High-Priced Man: So Stupid That the Word “Percentage” Has No Meaning to Him      
Frederick Winslow Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management, 1911
15        Keystone State of Mind        
Fatty Joins the Force, Keystone Kops movie poster, 1913
16        The Harrison Act       
The Harrison Act, 1914
17        Becoming a Fed         
Harry J. Anslinger, job application, 1918
18        Only Words from Which There Is No Escape: Jin Fuey Moy           
Jin Fuey Moy, 1898 and 1921
19        Not One Minute Darkness     
Harry J. Anslinger travel diary, July 1918
20        Within the Words      
Webb v. United States, 1919
21        I Would Not Endeavor to Descrive   
Harry J. Anslinger, travel diary, November 1918
22        On the Basis of Science         
Narcotic prescription charts, in Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, 1919
23        Human Wreckage: Wally Reid          
Wallace Reid, 1922
24        Lotus Eaters: In Dolce Far Niente     
La Guaïra–Caracas Railroad, 1924
25        Linder v. United States (1925), or Vice Versa           
“Health Talks by Dr. Charles O. Linder,” 1930
26        A Set of False Teeth in Its Stomach  
Harry J. Anslinger, “The Assignment or Infinite Echoes”
27        Prohibition as Substance: Putting the Bureau in Bureaucracy           
Harry J. Anslinger, “Statement of Training and Experience,” 1929
28        The Federal Bureau of Politics: With Camel Hair Glued over Them
US Coast Guard and rumrunner, 1924
29        A Plastic Palimpsest   
SS Selma, 1913
30        The Collected Stories of Harry J. Anslinger  
“Assassin of Youth,” American Magazine, 1937
31        Funking the Necessary Immigrations
Map of East Harlem, The Sun, 1935
Map of Chicago, in Frederic M. Thrasher, Gangland, 1926
32        The Marijuana Tax Act          
Anslinger’s Gore Files, 1937
33        The Unbridled Powers of a Czar       
Saliva test, Post Time, 1935
34        Anslinger Nation, or Double Agency
Bullets or Ballots, 1936
The Public Enemy, 1931
35        Fiction Alone Has No Monopoly in This Field: Real Detective Stories        
“New Orleans’ Dope Secret,” Startling Detective Adventures, 1938
36        This Fellow Ought to Be the Figment of Somebody’s Imagination 
Federal Bureau of Narcotics Training School curriculum, 1950s
37        In Doctor Nation       
Morphine chart, 1938
38        Spindoctrination        
“Narcotic ‘DON’TS’ for the Physician”
39        The World’s Leading Authority        
Harry J. Anslinger photo, 1958
40        The Oriental Communists Had a Twofold Purpose   
“How Opium, a Jap Weapon, Perils the World,” Sunday Mirror Magazine, 1945
41        Lotus Eaters: 1953, or The Imponderabilia of Actual Life   
“Drills and Drilling Operations” and “Rules,” Shop Theory, 1942
MAFIA, 1960
The Grammar of the Lotus, decorative element, 1891
42        Dr. John Blank           
Prescription forms, Kansas, 1940s
43        Chasing the Ghostwriters      
John A. Williams, The Angry Ones, cover, 1960
44        Every Inch a Man      
Harry J. Anslinger residence, Hollidaysburg, PA
45        Out with a Whimper  
Harry J. Anslinger grave, Hollidaysburg, PA
46        Chasing the Ghost     
Harry J. Anslinger, “Perspective of a Small City Place”
47        Toward a Poetics of Drug Policy       
Martha, the last passenger pigeon, 1914
Personal letter from the Treasury Dept., 1985
48        Lotus Eaters: Charadrius Dubius      
The Grammar of the Lotus, fish diagram, 1891
Las Marthas, 2014
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Editorial Reviews

“Assassin of Youth is an extraordinary book: part biography, part cultural history, part lyric essay, part critique of a century of public policy—and from beginning to end a singular experiment in literary form.  In a voice that is by turns rhythmic, interpretative, interrogative, ruminative, and digressive, Chasin makes daring leaps through space and time, showing us things about Harry Anslinger and the origins of prohibitionist drug policies that no one has shown us before. Chasin’s prose is absorbing. Her point, timely, even urgent.”