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|The Opium Monopoly|
THE OPIUM MONOPOLY
BY ELLEN N. LA MOTTE
VI --OPIUM IN SIAM
BANGKOK, Siam, January, 1917- Siam, an independent kingdom. As a matter of fact, "protected" very sternly and thoroughly by Great Britain and France, so that its "independence" would about cover an oyster cracker. However, it is doubtless protected "benevolently" for what protectorate is anything but benevolent? The more rigorous the protectorate, the more benevolent its character. The Peace Conference seems to have given us a new word in "mandatory." We do not know as yet what adjective will be found to qualify mandatory, but it will doubtless be fitting and indicative of idealism-of sorts. Therefore, all will be well. Our suspicions will be lulled. It is high time that a substitute was found for "benevolent protectorate."
The particular form of benevolence noted in Siam was the total inability of the Siamese to exclude British opium. They are allowed, by the benevolent powers, to impose an import duty on all commodities imported except opium. That is free. The treaty between Siam and Great Britain in 1856 says so. We rather fancy that Great Britain had more to say about this in 1856 than Siam but maybe not. Anyway poor old Siam, an independent kingdom, is bound to receive as much opium as may be imported, and is quite powerless, by the terms of this treaty, to enact laws to exclude it. In the last year or two, the Government of Siam has been obliged to put the opium traffic under government control, in order to minimize the worst evils in connection with it, although to restrict and regulate an evil is a poor substitute for the ability to abolish it.
All this, you will see, is rather tough on the Siamese, but good business for the British Empire.
However, opium is not bad for one. There are plenty of people to testify to that. We Americans have a curious notion to the contrary, but then, we Americans are so hysterical and gullible. An Englishman whom we met in Bangkok told me that opium was not only harmless, but actually beneficial. He said once that he was traveling through the jungle, into the interior somewhere. He had quite a train of coolies with him, carrying himself and his baggage through the dense forests. By nightfall, he found his coolies terribly exhausted with the long march. But he was in a hurry to press on, so, as he expressed it, he gave each of them a "shot" of morphia, whereupon all traces of fatigue vanished. They forgot the pain of their weary arms and legs and were thus enabled to walk all night. He said that morphia certainly knocked a lot of work out of men-you might say, doubled their capacity for endurance.
The night we left Bangkok, we got aboard the boat at about nine in the evening. The hatch was open, and we looked into the hold upon a crowd of coolies who had been loading sacks of rice aboard the ship. There they lay upon the rice sacks, two or three dozen of them, all smoking opium. Two coolies to a lamp. I rather wondered that a lamp did not upset and set the boat on fire, but they are made of heavy glass, with wide bottoms, so that the chances of overturning them are slight. So we leaned over the open hatch, looking down at these little fellows, resting and recuperating themselves after their work, refreshing themselves for the labor of the morrow.
Opium is wonderful, come to think of it. But why, since it is so beneficial and so profitable, confine it to the downtrodden races of the world? Why limit it to the despised races, who have not sense enough to govern themselves anyway?
The following figures are taken from the Statistical Year Books for the Kingdom of Siam:
Foreign trade and navigation of the port of Bangkok, imports of opium:
1911-12 1,270 chests of opium
1 914-15 2,000 Imported from India and Singapore.
Also, from the same source, we find the number of retail opium shops:
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