The New York Times July 3, 1921
The opium question is again before the world. According to the terms of the Versailles
Treaty, the opium question was placed under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations,
America, being neither a party to the Versailles Treaty nor to the League of Nations, had
no official voice in the recent meeting held in Geneva. But America cannot be eliminated
from its solution, as opium is a problem which she has to meet.
The United States inherited the opium question along with the Philippine Islands. In taking over the Philippines, America was confronted with the opium problem as it affected her Chinese and native population. In her effort to protect the people under her jurisdiction from this curse she was drawn irresistibly into the maelstrom of discussion that for a hundred-odd years had agitated the Far East. At the instance of President Roosevelt an international commission was invited to meet in shanghai to study the entire situation, with the hope of arriving at some conclusion.
The Shanghai Commission met in 1909. There followed, under the leadership of the United States, three international conferences at The Hague. A wide international movement developed which at the Third International Conference held at The Hague, seemed fast approaching its goal. But a few weeks later the great war broke out and the opium question was not the least of constructive movements making for good that suffered under its destructive grip.
Before the war, India and China, inspired perhaps by the advent of the United States and a new spirit at work, made the ten-year agreement: India agreeing to cease the exportation of opium to China on that country's promise to stop her domestic cultivation.
China assailed her problem at home with such fervor and success that, in an incredibly short time, the poppy had been practically eradicated from Chinese soil. And the Indian Government, convinced of China's sincerity, generously reduced the agreement by several years--so that, in 1913, it was officially announced in Parliament that the Indo-Chinese opium trade had come to an end. Thus a trade which had existed over a century, from which the Indian Exchequer had vastly benefitted, was brought to a close voluntarily on the part of India, in recognition of China's good faith. This won from the world immense commendation for the Indian Government. For the question of taxation is no easy one in Eastern countries and the matter of substitution often a perilous experiment.
If, on the heels of India's sacrifice and China's admirable effort, The Hague Convention had been promptly enforced the recent complications in China could not have occurred. In 1914 every nation in the world save two had either signed or ratified the convention and had given a further guarantee to sign the protocol drawn up at The Hague, by which the convention, with its rigid obligations as to foreign and domestic legislation, would go into force and China and the world be internationally safeguarded from the menace of drugs. But the war broke out and the good work and intentions of The Hague conferences were abruptly checked. Out of all the nations present at the conference of 1914 but five signed the protocol at The Hague.
China, isolated by the war, became the victim of selfish individuals and nations. Morphine was substituted for opium; China was deluged with it. The price of drugs went soaring upward and the cultivation of the poppy was renewed.
Americans Enter Trade
The direct exportation of opium from India was checked, it is true. But the thousands of odd chests let loose in the East inevitably made their way to China. Morphine was poured into every crack and crevice of China. And American wholesale druggist, under cover of the general confusion, were not slow to take advantage of the easy route to Chinese markets. The good name of America was thus damaged by the actions of an unpatriotic few.
China is today facing a political crisis. The Central Government is powerless before the lawless audacity of a handful of military leaders, or Tuchuns. These usurpers are playing fast and loose with the good name of China and utterly destroying the credit she had won through the energy and good faith, with which she had carried out her obligations. These despots have ridden roughshod alike over China's agreement with India and the still wider international obligations assumed by China at The Hague.
India, in bitterness of spirit, assails China's insincerity and the flagrant breaking of her treaty. She asks, perhaps not unjustly, why India should sacrifice a much-needed revenue for the purpose of allowing China to control the opium market, which unless China be checked in her downward course, is inevitable, as China's poppy cultivation can greatly exceed that of India. By underselling the Indian product she at once controls the world's market.
This is the menace. But it must not be taken too seriously. China demonstrated the capacity when, in a few years, she practically wiped the poppy from her fields. With a stable Government her laws can once more be enforced and the will of he people be given expression, as it was in 1919, when the Government in Peking openly burned opium to the value of $15,000,000.
Opium Committee Appointed.
The Netherlands Government has turned over to the League of Nations duties hitherto carried out by that Government, in so far as they relate to the Governments which are parties to the League. In February last a committee was appointed by the Assembly to advise the Council as to its future program. This committee was composed of representatives from eight countries particularly interested in the opium question---Great Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, China, Japan, Siam and India. To this committee were added three assessors or experts, chosen because of their knowledge of the subject and irrespective of nationality.
According to Article 295 of the Versailles Treaty, the signing of that treaty was equivalent to the signing of the protocol opened at The Hague. This refers to the signatory and belligerent powers alone. The neutral and non signatory powers, however, having either signed or ratified the opium convention of 1912, being, therefore, still under the jurisdiction of the Netherlands Government, have been asked by that Government to fulfill their further obligations by signing the protocol at The Hague, which will bring them in line with the treaty powers.
As for the recent meeting of the Opium Committee held in Geneva, there is a feeling
that the League failed to take advantage of the great opportunity presented. The opium
question is free from politics. It deals primarily with the welfare of humanity. And it
was generally understood that the League would express specifically its intention of
pressing this problem to its ultimate conclusion, irrespective of material interests
involved. But there seemed to be a determined effort on the part of the majority of the
committee to restrict the convention to a most rigid interpretation---to stick to the
If the League is to take the responsibility of this great humanitarian movement it should lose no time in stating definitely its position. The report of the committee was satisfactory so far as it went---but it must be frankly stated that the ground covered was extremely limited. In the final analysis there is but one solution to the opium problem---the suppression of the cultivation of the poppy save for medicinal purposes. The Hague Convention calls for legislation to restrict and regulate the trade, and no country has passed more rigid legislation than the United States. But no rules or regulations can protect a country from opium or its kindred drugs so long as the source of the trouble is not removed.
League's Great Opportunity.
The Indian Government is prepared to abide by the strict letter of the convention, and agrees to prohibit the exportation of opium to countries which have laws against its importation, but it refuses to curtail its trade to countries accepting the drug. This means that opium inevitably makes its way through illicit channels to countries which prohibit, thus defeating the purpose of the convention of 1912.
For a hundred and fifty years opium has been a curse to humanity. It has all but undermined one of the greatest nations of the East---and, unless checked, presents a menace of increasing seriousness to the West. The opium monopolies of the East must be abandoned.
The giving up of slavery entailed great financial sacrifice. But Great Britain, at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, was the first to propose its abolition. It took, in America, an appalling civil war to accomplish the same end. The opium habit is worse than slavery. The drug should not be tolerated as a basis of revenue, an obsolete practice inherited from a primitive and unethical past.
The opium problem presents to the League of Nations an extraordinary opportunity. If it can bring about its solution, that alone would justify its being. But it must be prepared to see it through to the end irrespective of material interests involved.
It is not necessary or desirable to pull down ruthlessly the financial structure of India or the colonies of the East, which at present rests upon this unwise source of revenue. But the principle of its eventual abolition must be accepted, and other means of raising revenue substituted. That opium is of incalculable value to humanity when legitimately used is undeniable. But once released from these bounds, it becomes an instrument of immeasurable evil.
The opium raising countries of the world today are India, Turkey, Persia, and China. It is not just that the burden of sacrifice should fall alone upon the shoulders of India. Persia is already a party to the convention of 1912 --though with reservations. And Turkey , through the Treaty of Sèvres must eventually submit to similar restrictions. China will do again what she has done before; public opinion there will demand this when she once more has a Government capable of enforcing laws. India, the best government of all Eastern countries, can see her laws enforced at will. Therefore, with India rests the greatest responsibility of all.
Opium should be placed on a plane with radium, as something of infinite worth to humanity, and of great monetary value. As the cultivation of the poppy is restricted to what is needed for medicinal use, the price must automatically ascend, and opium will still remain a large factor in the revenue of the East, but its value will be based on the legitimate need for it, not on its power to corrupt.