Critical Book Review of Web of Smoke
This paper entails a book review of Webs of Smoke by Kathryn Meyer and Terry Parssinen. The book contains a fascinating history concerning the international drug trade during the first half of the 20th century. The history follows various stories of American gangsters and narcs, Japanese spies, warlords of China, and fortune soldiers whose livelihoods depend on opium. The books shows clearly the way the world was linked by drugs with the drug supply and markets spreading across nations both in the West and in the East. It is clear that the drug trade was centered in China.
China was the world’s largest market for narcotics before the fall of 1949. This could provide a clue on why China has been too strict whenever it comes to drug trafficking or abuse. Various personalities that are extraordinary are depicted through the authors’ stories. It is very shocking that such drug trade was facilitated by key personalities in both Chinese government and other key global figures as depicted in this review. The scandal crossed all the way from the United States, Europe, to Asian countries, especially China. Such aspects are so unique and fascinating in showing how the market for drugs had unveiled throughout East Asia with respect to the East Asian history.
This book contains over 300 pages that provides all historical information concerning drug trafficking and the drug market before the 1950s. The author states clearly that campaigns against opium were popular among many officials as well as intellectuals during the time. In contract to this popularity among officials and intellectuals, the campaign was hardly popular among the peasants. Peasants found it possible to have better lives through the cultivation of poppies. Such a case is the basis of the book but can still apply in the present world of drugs trafficking and market. Only some aspects have changed such the laws against such drugs and markets, the markets, and the motives of engaging into the business. This implies that the book is applicable in the world of drug abuse today. The authors intended to show the way different interests as well as interest groups clashed with each other in the modern drugs history. Such groups and interests are taken into consideration irrespective of races, nationalities, social interests, economic aspects, or political drives. It is evident in the book that every actor depicted in the history had some similarities in terms of programs or beliefs. Only a few people seemed to corporate with international bodies in an effort to curb or demolish the international narcotics trafficking. The book is adequately clear on the processes both the war against the drug trafficking and the barriers to the respective efforts. The book is also clear on who held the drug trafficking and kept it going. Co-operations were also involved in the smuggling. Liaisons and various associations of drug trafficking kept the trade alive.
The book is very detailed to provide the reader with everything that happened to facilitate the drug trafficking and the entire system alive for such a long time. The subject matter is however hardly human since it involves a class of various commodities. In some cases, the authors give the reader a nuance picture of the various groups that acted on the two sides of the law at the time. These contradicting cases are seen to have been happening concurrently. They authors are able to sketch out vividly the individuals or organizations that populated global drugs market. These were warlords, Nouveaux riches, Merchants, Bureaucrats, solders, and spies with Americans forming the majority of the most involved individuals. The only problem with depicting such groups or individuals is the authors’ abilities to reveal the actual identities of the key actors. Conversely, such parties or matrix provides the reader with a full sense of the way various kinds of people got involved in this type of illegal trade. Such a clue also shows how it was difficult to prevent the growth of such commerce as time went by.
A major setback in the book is the amount of repetition of various issues. The actors seem to float at some point thereby continually requiring re-introduction. To the readers, it becomes rather difficult to follow since the chapters are not historically sequential. Instead, the chapters overlap freely. The books employs complex strands, which are drawn together to show the various dimensions of this illegal trade. Individual personalities are taken to be crucial but not all cases depict individual personalities. Again, only the large companies and the key national figures could be identified. While many organizations could have participated, only large companies are depicted. One of the most prominent companies identified is the European manufacturers. The book seems to concentrate on the most important events but like any other aspects of historical information, minor participants are not vividly identified and the role each played. This is perhaps acceptable in writing since extreme details could destroy the real flow of the book. This argument could be strengthened by the sense that the historical events indicated in the book are already complex and hardly arranged in a chronological manner. Some key personalities seem to be generalized to other key individuals representing top countries and the world at large. The case of personalities like Delevinge, the English statesman shows how key individuals with the similar racial origins were highly involved in the drug trade.
The book however shows some of the most vital events that contributed to the growth of the drug trafficking business. Events like both the World War I and the World War II contributed a lot to the growth of this drug business. Many factors associated with the two great wars accelerated the growth of drugs market but the book is hardly capable of addressing all of them. Another major event contributing to the growth of the drug business and market is the 1929 Depression. The contribution of this great economic depression is also explained in the book in terms of the way it contributed or affected the drug trade around the world. The book also shows that the power of capitalism was a major aspect and contributor of the drug trade. Again, national governments had their unique roles to play to either promote the business or curb the problem. The contribution of the government could have been varied since different countries today employ different laws and policies to solve the drug trade problem. The authors try to bring out a story about the drug business that has been extended to the world of business today but their story is created during a time when there were great shifts in political climates. Such political climates also acted as a catalyst to the market growth. As far as political climates and national governments were concerned, the authors portray a mixture of opinions and intentions. While some of the national governments were working hard to stop the harmful world business, other nations were reluctant in stopping the drug trade business due to both economic and social reasons. While the book does not show these disparities clearly, the key players are adequately tackled in the book.
Generally, the book is great since it gives the reader a broad perspective of the drug business as it happened during the first half of the 20th century. Readers are able to understand about the various players and their contribution towards the growth of the global drugs business or towards the end of the business. Major events such as the World War I, World War II, and the Great Depression of 1929 are clearly explained and how they are linked to the drug trade. The only thing that seems to confuse the reader is the book title, which appear to depict a history of the global drug trade while in real sense the book concentrates mainly on the drug business in East Asia, with a few cases of links drawn to European manufacturers and the Americans. Areas like South East Asia, Latin America, and Africa among other regions are shallowly explained or are not explained at all. The real picture of the global history on drug trade is not fully brought out but the book is good enough to show the key players, who could have had great influence on the international drug trade in today’s world.
Meyer, Kathryn and Terry Parssinen. Webs of Smoke: Smugglers, Warlords, Spies, and the History of the International Drug Trade. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002. Print.