chapter  6
15 Pages

“A holy panic”

Race, surveillance and the origins of the war on drugs in Britain, 1915–1918
WithSascha Auerbach

The relationship of twentieth-century democracies to the explicit employment of fear and intimidation within their own national borders was an ambivalent one. On the one hand, police and judicial officials, responding to perceived public outcry or the insistence of higher decision-makers, have not been slow to adopt heavy-handed tactics to restore 'law and order' in times of serious internal disruption. On the other hand, frequent or excessive use of violence, mass arrests, or other extreme measures carries with it the danger of provoking a public backlash, fostering even more concerted resistance, or prompting the condemnation of the media, public interest groups and rival political groups. The judicial and police assault on Chinese residents suspected of involvement in the opium trade had been quick to develop, but it would be slow to abate. In Britain, the 'war on drugs' had claimed its first casualties, though far from its last.