It is easy to judge Harry Anslinger. But if we are honest, I suspect that everybody who has ever loved an addict*--everybody who has ever been an addict--has this impulse in them somewhere. Destroy the addiction. Kill the addiction. Throttle it with violence. Harry Anslinger is our own darkest impulses, given a government department and a license to kill.
And...I give him this, I almost had sympathy with Anslinger, this monster whom I have come to hate more than anyone in history, who has arguably victimized, destroyed, and murdered more innocent people than Hitler could have dreamed, reading about his frightening childhood experiences with addiction. I still disagree with him and I still see him as having been dangerously wrong and having launched one of the most evil institutions and societal endeavors in history, but at least I could feel a bit sorry for him. My own mother grew up dealing with alcoholics--which is also an addiction that is, in many cases, far more common and damaging than any illicit drug--and can understand him too, but she was able to understand that alcohol was not to blame in itself and that most people can have a drink without having a problem with it.
Then I read the rest of the chapter, which detailed not only his lenience and kindness toward white people with addiction while persecuting Billie Holiday to her death even as she asked for help to kick her habit. It is made extremely clear that Anslinger was not motivated by "love of an addict" or "desire to destroy addiction" but to use the boogeyman of addiction against black people. His motivation was rank bigotry and racism and the desire to control the increasingly "uppity" black people. If he was motivated to fight "drugs" or "addiction", he wouldn't have exhibited that blatant double-standard between the treatment of white and black people with addiction.
Not only that, he didn't persecute Holiday for having an addiction, he persecuted her for singing "Strange Fruit", a song about lynching. He ordered her to stop singing a song that an oppressive white culture found uncomfortable and upsetting and used the criminalization of drugs and addiction to silence her, to make an example of her to silence others like her.
Any sympathy he could have gotten from me is erased completely by how he went about furthering his cause. And all of this is just from the first chapter--further reading into Chapter 2 has also detailed his witch-hunt techniques, his illegal activities, his outright lying and persecution, and other evil methods he used to push his wrong-headed hate-filled agenda, but I wanted mostly to address this particular entreaty of the author to have sympathy for poor Anslinger after clearly showing us exactly why he deserved no sympathy whatsoever.
Harry Anslinger was a monster, and I can't wait until we bury his child, his legacy, the Drug War, deep into annals of history as the massive and immoral failure it is. I can't wait to further piss on his grave by seeing his name go down in history as the villain he was, and it's only too bad he can't see it.
*I wish the author would not refer to people struggling with addiction as "addicts". This is a damaging term that is often used to dehumanize and demonize such people, as if they are entirely defined by this one issue in their lives. I have been trying to eliminate this term from my own vocabulary, and if I miss it anywhere in my writing, I encourage readers to point it out.