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High in America

  The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana

    Patrick Anderson

  Chapter 12

    One afternoon in mid-October of 1977, Stroup was airborne, about to land in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, his last stop on a three-night lecture tour. He was tired and in a lousy mood, because he didn't like flying and he didn't much like lecturing either. He did it because it brought in several thousand dollars a year to NORML. The first stop on this swing had been a small college in Ohio, where the turnout was small and the kids apathetic. 'When will marijuana be legal?" one boy finally asked, and Stroup wanted to say, "When you turkeys get off your asses and help change the laws!" The late 1970s' apathy infuriated him. These kids could get all the dope they wanted and weren't likely to be busted, so what did they care about political action?
    The next night, in Denver, was better. The audience were mostly law students, and they asked good questions. After the lecture Stroup stayed up late getting high with local NORML backers. So he had slept most of the way to Canada. He hadn't wanted to go to Canada at all, but an American named George Baker, a fugitive from a drug charge in Arizona, had joined with four Vancouver lawyers to start Canada NORML, and on this visit, besides lecturing, Stroup would meet his new international allies.
    As he waited in the line at customs, Stroup was unconcerned about the border crossing. He had a joint on him, some good Hawaiian grass he'd brought for a get-acquainted smoke with George Baker, but he could see at a glance that customs was a formality. He gave the routine answers to the first agent he came to—he was in Canada on business; he would be there two days—and then he stepped to the second, final checkpoint.
    The agent there was a pinch-faced man in his forties who gave Stroup a cold stare. With his shoulder-length hair, designer jeans, open collar, and sunglasses, Stroup wasn't the typical American businessman.
    "What's that pin?" he asked.
    As always, Stroup was wearing his gold-plated marijuana-leaf pin. He loved those little pins. NORML raised thousands of dollars selling them, and reporters almost always mentioned them in stories about him. Once, in Texas years before, Stroup had been stopped for speeding and the trooper had asked about his pin, and Stroup had said it was his garden-club pin. This time he was more candid.
    "It's a marijuana leaf," he said. "I'm a public-interest lawyer, and I work for the decriminalization of marijuana in the United States."
    "What are you doing in Canada?"
    "I'm here to give a lecture."
    "Open your briefcase."
    Stroup opened his briefcase, somewhat amused, since it contained mostly NORML brochures. The agent examined the pro-pot literature, then noticed the pile of marijuana-leaf pins, just like the one Stroup was wearing.
    "You can't bring jewelry into Canada without paying a tax," he said. "I'm going to confiscate these."
    "Come on," Stroup protested. "Those are worthless. They cost a dime each to make and I give them away."
    "They're still jewelry."
    "No, they're not," Stroup shot back. "They're trinkets, and you know it."
    "Open your suitcase," the agent said.
    Stroup did as he was told, knowing there was nothing illegal in the suitcase. But he didn't like the pleasure the agent and a second agent took in slowly going through every item in his suitcase, and he didn't like the disdainful looks he was getting from the other airlines passengers who were clearing customs without incident. He glared back at them, trying to keep his temper.
    A third agent, in civilian clothes, appeared and ordered Stroup to follow him. He led him through an unmarked door into a small, windowless room. Stroup felt a shiver of fear. The plainclothesman flashed his badge and said they would perform a body search. Another agent came in and told Stroup he would have to take off every item of clothing, one at a time, and when he was naked, he would have to submit to an anal inspection. Stroup thought of a lot of wisecracks he could make, but instead he quietly began taking off his clothes. The agents were deadly serious, and he was scared. All his life he had hated and feared authority, people who had power over his life, and now he was naked in a windowless room in a foreign country with two policemen who clearly hated his guts.
    Still, he thought he had out-bluffed them. The dope was in his coat pocket, and they'd already checked the coat once. It was so obvious they were going to miss it.
    Then one of the agents began to reexamine the coat, and after a moment he pulled out the stick of Maui grass from the vest pocket.
    "What's this? Marijuana?"
    "Come on. Surely you don't care about that small an amount."
    "Importation of marijuana is a seven-year felony."
    "Bullshit. Possession is a misdemeanor. What do you care if I have a joint or not?" There was no use denying he had the marijuana. His only hope was to bluff them out of pursuing such a minor case.
    "How much more do you have?" one of the agents asked.
    "That's all," Stroup said. "Just one joint to share with a friend."
    The agents left the room. He hoped they were going to consult their superiors. Surely they wouldn't prosecute for one joint. But he could hear the agents laughing outside, as they told their colleagues of their big bust. He had made their day.
    The agents returned and told him the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were coming to take him to jail. Stroup wondered if they'd come on horseback. The agents left him alone again. They guffawed outside while Stroup got dressed.
    The three Mounties who came for him were young and hip-looking—probably smokers, Stroup thought. As they led him out of the airport, Stroup heard someone calling his name.
    "Keith? Is that you? What's happened? I'm Baker."
    "That's my friend," Stroup told the Mounties. "I've got to explain to him."
    "Keep walking," one of the Mounties said.
    "They busted me," Stroup yelled over his shoulder. "They're taking me to jail."
    By 7:00 P.M., three hours after his plane landed, Stroup was locked in a cell in the Calgary jail. He had been questioned, fingerprinted, and relieved of his shoes, his belt, and the $26 he'd been carrying. It didn't look like he'd make his eight-o'clock lecture. Probably he'd be held overnight, although one of the Mounties said it might be possible to get a magistrate to set bail tonight.
    To his delight, George Baker arrived at eight with the student lecture-board representatives, a magistrate, and a check drawn on the student-activity fund to cover the $350 bail. Stroup was a free man again. He had never been so happy in his life. On the drive to the university, he shared a joint with his hosts and laughed until he almost cried.
    As he mounted the stage at the university auditorium, an hour late, a thousand students stood and cheered. He was a hero. When the cheering stopped, Stroup cracked, "Why'd they search me? Do they think I smoke the stuff?" The crowd roared with delight, and soon he had them in the palm of his hand. They'd have stormed City Hall if he'd given the order. During the part of the lecture when scenes from Reefer Madness were shown, Stroup stood in the back of the auditorium taking hits from the joints and hash pipes that the Canadian students kept handing him. He felt wonderful. It was worth an hour in jail to win this sort of acclaim.
    His high continued the next day when he flew to Vancouver. He gave some interviews there, denouncing a law that would arrest a man for possessing one joint of marijuana. That night he ate dinner in an elegant French restaurant with some of the lawyers who'd started Canadian NORML. After dinner someone lit a joint and proposed a toast to the chef. They smoked openly, and no one seemed to mind.
    His only remaining concern was how the media would handle his bust, and when he got back to Washington, he found it was fine. The Washington Star had put its story on the front page and played it tongue in cheek. Other papers had put it in "personality" columns—dope lobbyist busted for dope. Stroup was pleased. There was only one remaining question. Would he return to Canada for his trial? He didn't have to. He could simply forfeit bail. The problem was that his new friends in Canada wanted him to come back and be a test case. For Canada NORML that would mean a million dollars' worth of free publicity. Stroup was undecided, but his trial was not until the next spring, so he could worry about it later. In the meantime the 1977 NORML conference was coming up, the first to be held during the Carter administration, and Stroup wanted to make sure that it was the biggest and best ever. In particular, he wanted to make sure the Saturday-night party was a sensation, the party of the year.

    On Friday, December 9, the day the NORML conference began, the White House press office issued a release on behalf of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy, Peter Bourne's office. Its key paragraphs were these:

In response to recent concern that Mexican marijuana plants which have been sprayed with Paraquat might be harvested and imported into the U.S., the Office of Drug Abuse Policy has issued the following statement.
While we do not at present time see any major health hazard associated with Paraquat-treated marijuana, we have directed the National Institute for Drug Abuse to conduct research to determine if marijuana contaminated with Paraquat is being imported and, if so, whether its use could cause injury to the marijuana user.
Samples of marijuana confiscated in the Southwest Region of the United States by the Drug Enforcement Administration were analyzed by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Out of 45 samples, six were found to be contaminated with Paraquat.
    In other words, the government's own tests showed that 13 percent of the marijuana coming into the U. S. from Mexico was contaminated.
    Peter Bourne was disturbed. Seven months earlier, when he'd toured the Mexican marijuana fields, the DEA officials had told him this couldn't happen. But it had, and now Bourne had medical concerns and political concerns as well. He had come to understand how committed the State Department was to the spraying program, and he knew, too, how bitterly opposed to the program NORML was. Bourne was caught in the middle. He knew how troublesome Stroup could be, how he delighted in running to the press. Bourne was not only caught in the middle between NORML and the State Department; he was increasingly feeling political pressure from organized anti-marijuana groups. On a recent trip to Atlanta he'd met with an intelligent, determined woman named Sue Rusche who was outraged by teenage drug use and by the proliferation of head shops that sold drug paraphernalia to minors. Rusche had organized a group called Families in Action, others like it were springing up around the nation, and they were furious at Jimmy Carter for endorsing decriminalization, which seemed to them to be the same as telling young people it was all right to smoke marijuana.
    But NORML was the immediate problem. Clearly the government's admission that poisoned marijuana was coming into the country would outrage the scientists and reform activists who were arriving in Washington for the NORML conference that weekend. That concern was one reason Bourne decided to drop by NORML's party the next night, Saturday night, December 10. Some good people were associated with NORML, and if this paraquat issue heated up, he didn't want them denouncing him and the president. So he would make an appearance at the party, shake hands, mend his fences, play politician for an evening, build up his personal contacts. Peter Bourne considered himself a rather skillful politician, and he knew that, in politics, the personal touch is everything.
    The planning of the 1977 conference was in the hands of a talented and ambitious NORML activist named Marc Kurzman, who had worked hard to make the conference outstanding. Kurzman was a wiry, intense man with bright brown eyes and a neatly trimmed black beard. He had unusual credentials for drug-law reform, in that he was both a lawyer and a pharmacist. He had been active in the anti-war movement, and then he had started a drug-education program at the University of Minnesota. His program became a huge success, receiving several million dollars in state and federal funds and earning Kurzman a national reputation. He had also become involved with NORML, becoming its Minnesota coordinator, then its Midwest coordinator, and playing a central role in bringing about Minnesota's 1976 decriminalization bill. Stroup admired Kurzman's talents and viewed him as someone who might in time succeed him as NORML'S national director. He suspected Kurzman had the same thought.
    Much of Saturday, the first day of the conference, was devoted to an impressive series of workshops that Kurzman had assembled. There was a workshop, for example, on marijuana and science, featuring a NIDA official, and one on research and regulation that included Drs. Zinberg and Ungerleider and three FDA officials. Six women participated in a panel on marijuana and women, including Linda Lucks, a feminist and political activist who was NORML'S Los Angeles coordinator; Lucks's complaints had prodded Stroup toward some improvement in the male domination of NORML.
    One highlight of the conference was a legal seminar attended by some seventy drug lawyers from around the country. Many of them were members of NORML'S new legal-defense committee and took constitutional cases pro bono, with Peter Meyers providing backup assistance from Washington. Meyers outlined to them some of the cases NORML had been involved in that year. One case involved twenty-one-year-old Brian Kincaid, who had been decorated for valor in Vietnam before returning to the University of Idaho, where he was student-body vice-president when he was one of thirty students arrested during a crackdown on drugs. Police broke into his apartment, with guns drawn, handcuffed him, and found less than an ounce of marijuana. Kincaid pleaded guilty of possession, the prosecutor recommended a fine, but the judge said he was a danger to society and sentenced him to nine months in jail. NORML entered the case, raising constitutional right-of-privacy questions. (Eventually the Idaho supreme court upheld the conviction, and Kincaid served several months in jail.)
    In New York, NORML had mounted a major constitutional challenge in the case of Dr. Martin Shepard. Police forced their way into Shepard's house when he was away, found several marijuana plants growing in a window box, and interrogated Shepard's baby-sitter and his twelve-year-old son. Rather than plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, Shepard decided to raise a right-of-privacy defense, aided by Michael Kennedy and Gerald Lefcourt, NORML lawyers who worked on the case without charge.
    Meyers could report some victories that year. At NORML'S urging the governor of Pennsylvania ordered the release of a man who had served seven months of a three-year sentence for selling an ounce of marijuana to a friend for $15. Also that year, Judd Golden, NORML'S Iowa coordinator, won a suit to stop random searches of people entering rock concerts.
    There was one other important development at the legal seminar. NORML'S national legal committee adopted a resolution that its members would not represent informants. The resolution said it was "inherently inconsistent" for a NORML lawyer to fight the marijuana laws and at the same time to help enforce those laws by representing informants. The resolution reflected the scorn the drug culture felt for people who would use drugs and then betray other drug users. It became more significant a few months later when some people at NORML felt that Stroup had, in effect, informed on Peter Bourne.
    One of Stroup's guests at the 1977 conference was a young man who knew all too much about informants, Jerry Mitchell, then a college student in Missouri, awaiting the appeal of his seven-year sentence. Another of the delegates was a tall, thin man from New Mexico named Lynn Pierson, who was dying of cancer and had come to the conference to learn what he could do to force the government to let cancer patients use marijuana legally to ease the agonies of chemotherapy.
    The conferences were like that, reflecting the issue itself, largely serious, but always with an undercurrent of craziness. Some of the craziness was seen at the luncheon that Saturday. Stroup had arranged for Christie Hefner, Hunter Thompson, and Craig Copetas to address the luncheon. Copetas was to give a slide show on the paraquat-spraying program, which he'd been investigating for High Times. As they waited for lunch, Thompson grumbled that he couldn't get a drink, and they all agreed they were wiped out from partying the night before.
    There had indeed been quite a party in Stroup's suite the night before. It had been like the stateroom scene in one Marx Brothers movie, with more and more guests crowding into the suite, with someone always ordering more food and champagne from room service, with various people turning up with excellent cocaine. Some of the guests who had come and gone, in addition to Stroup, Copetas, Thompson, and Hefner, had included Tom Forcade; Gerry Goldstein; Vicky Horn, from High Times; and a Washington rock singer named Root Boy Slim and his Sex Change Band.
    So they were all wasted, not entirely sure they could survive the luncheon, and then one of Thompson's fans came forward, gulped a hello, and slipped his hero a bit of cocaine, which everyone agreed was just the pick-me-up they needed. Copetas produced a New York Times, which he held up in front of them, and Christie Hefner sighed and looked away while the three crazies snorted coke in more or less full view of three hundred luncheon guests.
    The luncheon antics were only a prelude, it turned out, to the greater madness that evening, for that was the night that Peter Bourne shocked so many people by making his way to the little room on the top floor of the S Street town house and, as various witnesses would later attest, using cocaine with Stroup, Copetas, and the others.
    Stroup slept late Sunday morning, almost till noon, and he awoke feeling guilty, for he was supposed to be seen at the conferences. He was concerned, too, about the Bourne incident, wondering how much gossip there was, wondering if the media might get wind of it. So he dressed quickly and went downstairs to the hotel's conference area to see what he could learn. It was then that he became caught up in the infamous Yippie pie-kill.
    A few days before the conference Marc Kurzman learned that a delegation of Yippies wanted to attend. He didn't want them and proposed to keep them out by insisting that each pay the full $50 registration fee; Yippies, of course, never paid for anything. When Stroup heard of this problem, he felt that Kurzman didn't fully appreciate the politics of the matter. The Yippies were Tom Forcade's people, and Tom Forcade was one of NORML'S most important backers. In the end, a compromise was reached: Forcade paid the fees, and the Yippies turned out en masse.
    One of the Yippies whom Stroup had got to know was Aaron Kaye, a big, bearded, bear-like man, usually dirty and disheveled, who was America's foremost pie-thrower. Tom Forcade had invented political pieing, but Kaye had popularized it, with Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, Mayor Abe Beame, and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant among his targets.
    Stroup was on friendly terms with Kaye, but he was never entirely comfortable around him, because he feared his Yippie friend might decide to pie him. When Stroup saw Kaye at the hotel on the opening night of the conference, he said, in a friendly way, "Aaron, if you're here, there's bound to be trouble."
    Kaye replied seriously, "Is there gonna be anybody here worth pieing?"
    Stroup laughed. "Maybe Joe Nellis," he said.
    Kaye frowned. He thought he knew all the pie-worthy figures in America. "Who's he?"
    "Oh, he's one of the real bad guys on the Hill. He's chief counsel for Lester Wolff's subcommittee, and they keep screwing us."
    "Then what's he doing here?"
    "He's on a panel on Sunday. Come to speak to the crazies."
    Aaron Kaye nodded thoughtfully and went off to meet his friends.
    But the next day, Saturday, he approached Stroup again and asked if he really thought this guy Nellis was pie-worthy. Stroup laughed and told him that was his decision.
    Thus it happened that Sunday morning, when Stroup went downstairs, with Peter Bourne very much on his mind and Aaron Kaye not at all, the first person he saw was the mad pie-thrower.
    "You still think I should pie that guy Nellis?"
    "Oh, shit, Aaron, you decide."
    "But whadda you think?"
    What Stroup thought was fairly complex. His friendship with Tom Forcade had given him more sympathy for the Yippie world view than was prudent for a Washington lobbyist. He had come to see pieing as a legitimate form of protest, so long as the pie-thrower was willing to pay the legal consequences. And Stroup thought that most of Kaye's victims richly deserved a pie in the face. Moreover, Stroup's feelings about Joe Nellis were not entirely rational. He resented the way Nellis (and his boss, Congressman Wolff) had treated him politically, and he had developed a personal loathing for Nellis. The truth was that Nellis reminded Stroup of his father: Physically he was the same sort of short, stocky figure, and his behavior struck Stroup as gruff, humorless, and oppressive. The comparison may not have been fair either to Nellis or to the elder Stroup, but it was there in Stroup's subconscious and it was part of the reason for his gut response to Aaron Kaye's question.
    "Aaron, if you want my honest opinion, I can't think of anybody who deserves a pie more than Joe Nellis."
    The Yippie beamed, then looked worried. "But where can I find a pie on Sunday, Keith?"
    "You mean the world's greatest pie-thrower can't find a pie?"
    Kaye looked pained. Pieing was an art, no laughing matter. "You know I don't know Washington, Keith. Help me out."
    Stroup sighed and told Kaye where there was a bakery, a few blocks away. But there was one more problem.
    "Keith, could you loan me some money to buy the pie with?"
    "For Christ' sake, Aaron, do I have to throw the fucking pie for you?"
    But he gave Kaye six dollars to be rid of him.
    Then he began to look around the conference, and what he found was that the Yippies were out of control. They'd been disrupting workshops all morning, asking hostile questions, grabbing the microphones and making speeches, and eventually they focused their attentions on the afternoon workshop on international control of marijuana. Its panelists included Joe Nellis; Richard Bonnie, from the University of Virginia law school; and Robert Angarola, the chief counsel of Peter Bourne's Office of Drug Abuse Policy in the White House.
    Stroup watched for a while from the hallway as the panelists tried to answer questions over the jeers of the Yippies. He saw Aaron Kaye enter the room with a white box under his arm. Then, a moment later, Mark Heutlinger and Marc Kurzman rushed up to Stroup. Kurzman had heard about the planned pieing, and he was furious. Stroup quickly agreed that Kurzman was right, and Heutlinger went into the conference room and brought Kaye out. With Stroup and Kurzman looking on, Heutlinger read Kaye the riot act.
    "Aaron, the pieing is off! There can't be any pieing. You can't screw up our conference. No pie-kill—do you understand?"
    Kaye seemed to agree, and he shuffled back into the conference room. He did not, however, surrender the lemon cream pie he had purchased. Instead, he produced a knife and cut off several slices of the pie and shared them with his friends. For a time all seemed peaceful, with the Yippies eating lemon pie while the discussion droned on.
    What no one realized was that Kaye was sitting next to a San Francisco doctor named Eugene Schoenfeld, who wrote a medical column under the name Dr. Hip. And Dr. Hip was doing his best to persuade Aaron Kaye that Stroup and Heutlinger hadn't really meant it, that of course they wanted him to pie Joe Nellis; that was what everyone was waiting for.
    Meanwhile, a Yippie named Dana Beal was giving Joe Nellis a hard time. Beal was an aging Yippie with long brown hair and a drooping mustache, an urban desperado in his black shirt, white tie, and leather vest. He was making a speech to the effect that Americans have a God-given right to smoke dope. Nellis countered with something called the Single Convention, an international anti-drug treaty that in theory makes legal marijuana impossible in the U.S.
    "It's the law of the land," Joe Nellis declared. "As long as we're a signatory of the Single Convention, no legalization is possible."
    "Justice, justice," cried the Yippies.
    Just then, Aaron Kaye slouched forward, a burly man in a tweed coat and a black hat, with half a lemon cream pie in his hand.
    Joe Nellis, seeing the assassin lurch toward him, rose to defend himself. He was a husky man and was wearing a dark suit and a dark shirt, open at the neck, and he had a cigarette in one hand. He looked rather like Edward G. Robinson in a gangster movie, and he also looked like a man who could take care of himself.
    The pie sailed through the air—and plopped harmlessly on the floor. There were both jeers and cheers from the startled audience. Aaron Kaye raced away, crying, "Yip, yip, yip!" Joe Nellis was outraged. The pie had missed, but in the confusion a water pitcher had been knocked over, soaking his pants.
    A moment later Mark Heutlinger escorted Joe Nellis out of the room, trying to convince him that it was actually an honor to be pied by Aaron Kaye.
    The angriest man in the room was not Joe Nellis but Marc Kurzman. He had worked hard for months to put together an outstanding conference, and now, as he saw it, Stroup had sabotaged him, humiliated him. It had been Stroup who'd let the Yippies come to the conference, and it might as well have been Stroup throwing the pie himself. Moments after the pie was thrown, Kurzman grabbed the microphone and began to denounce Stroup. One man was responsible for this outrage, he said. "I ask you all to join me in condemning the actions of the national director of NORML for this individual, immature act," he said furiously.
    Craig Copetas, who was enjoying the scene hugely, began a straight-faced interrogation of Kurzman. "Sir, do you mean to suggest that Keith Stroup, the national director of NORML, would be a party to a vicious pie-kill?" For a time Kurzman was too angry to realize his leg was being pulled.
    Down the hall, Heutlinger raced up to Stroup.
    "Aaron just pied Joe Nellis," he said. "People are really pissed. You better disappear until it cools down."
    Stroup agreed, and went up to Hunter Thompson's room, where he found Thompson and Michael Stepanian, the San Francisco drug lawyer. The three of them watched a football game and smoked a few joints, and then Dr. Hip joined them and brought a tape recording of the pieing and Kurzman's denunciation of Stroup.
    "This is an outrage, Stroup," Hunter Thompson declared. "You've been up here getting high all morning. I want you to march down there and say, 'What pie? I don't know anything about any pie."'
    They discussed the "What pie?" defense, but at length Stroup decided the best strategy was to stay in Thompson's room getting high the rest of the evening.
    But the pie incident was not so easily ignored. The next morning Stroup was awakened by Gordon Brownell, who was banging on his door, wanting to talk about it. There were other complaints, and in the weeks ahead Stroup began getting reports that Kurzman was telling everyone that he was irresponsible, that he was doing too many drugs, that he was no longer fit to run NORML.
    In late December, hoping to put the pie incident to rest, Stroup wrote a memo to NORML'S staff and advisers in which he detailed his role in the matter. He admitted he had been unwise to encourage Kaye, but he added that the affair was insignificant and that they should all forget it and get on with their work.
    Stroup was wrong, for the pie affair was significant in two ways. First, it was another in a series of incidents that showed he was not taking his work as seriously as he should. Stroup loved NORML—it had been his life for seven years—but he was also bored with it. He was ready to move on to something else, but he didn't know what. He could practice law, but he still viewed that as "selling out." He thought vaguely of some other public-interest project, some other issue, but its nature eluded him. So, while he pondered the future, he enjoyed himself. He had paid his dues for a long time, he thought, and he deserved some fun. Which was fine, except that his bad-boy antics were starting to detract from NORML'S serious work.
    The pieing was significant, too, because it would come back to haunt Stroup. After he wrote his memo, he thought the issue was closed, just as he thought the Peter Bourne incident was closed. In a strange, maddening way the pie-throwing, the Bourne incident, and the paraquat issue had become linked. It was an ungodly mixture—cocaine, lemon cream pie, and a deadly herbicide—a witches' brew that in 1978 proved fatal to several people.

    There was a final footnote to the fun and games of 1977. FBI statistics, later compiled and made public, said that 458,000 people were arrested on marijuana charges that year, the most ever. Despite changing attitudes, despite reform laws in a dozen states, the arrests continued to mount, lives continued to be damaged, and the war continued to escalate.

Chapter 13

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