FEDERAL NARCOTICS czar Harry J. Anslinger is gone, but his style goes marching on at the National Air and Space Museum.
Anslinger (1892-1975), head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962, is best remembered for playing his pompous and portentous self in "Reefer Madness," an anti-narcotics diatribe that was so silly it became a cult film of the drug culture.
"The War Against Drugs," now showing in a main-floor exhibit at Air & Space, is hardly in the "Reefer" class, but its style and tone are pure Anslinger, updated to reflect the fact that 90 percent of illegal drugs now come in by air.
The brief film opens with an anvil chorus of slamming cell doors and stentorian narration about the extent of the drug-smuggling problem and how heroically the U.S. Customs Service is dealing with it. There's a mix of fine footage of actual busts and clumsy reenactments, and the viewer is supposed to go away with the impression that, hey, it's a terrible problem but, wow, our guys are doing a great job.
Of course anyone who occasionally reads a newspaper or watches TV news knows that, by the government's own account, the bad guys are winning. The hundreds of planes and thousands of tons of drugs seized by customs agents represent only a small fraction of what comes across our borders; anyone in America who wants illegal drugs can get them.
The docudrama bears about as much relation to reality as your average army recruiting film, and what the heck, one wouldn't really expect the customs service to make a movie about how it's being overwhelmed. But it is odd to encounter such a thing in the institution James Smithson dedicated to truth.
THE WAR AGAINST DRUGS -- On indefinite exhibition in the Hall of Transportation, National Air and Space Museum.