It goes without saying, had the war on drugs ever gone well, we would not even know about it nowadays. It goes badly. All this can teach us about ourselves. The only drug-addicts we see are disgusting creatures, barely human. The sellers are barbarians. They are fought by semi-barbarians & their bureaucratic overlords. The criminals are led by fear & greed. They are capitalists after the latest fashion. The cops are led by ambition & fear of public scandals. – They are democratic politicians. They know how America works & their own place.
Cops come in three varieties. There are the men, including that woman cop, Greggs, who seems share the men’s opinion about women & cowards. Nobody likes them; they cause trouble. Even so, Greggs is less acrimonious than McNulty. Men want to do their jobs well, but reveal their manliness when they have to kill. Then there are the cops, generally speaking. They are invested with authority & haunted by procedures & responsibility. We can say they are just men & law is in their soul. They are lazy, vaguely competent procedure-wise. The trick is to understand that the more brutal among the young & the petty pilfering among the old must be put together to understand the nature of the thing.
The meaning of what we are shown can be reduced to two plain principles: The closer you get to killing, the less democratic you are; the more democratic, the more sophisticated. Such are necessity & law. Our knowledge of our world must start here.
One of the criminals explains to his underlings how crime is like chess. You win by making a decisive attack on the enemy’s center of gravity, like Clausewitzs says. They are pawns; they have some ambition, but few prospects. Apparently, this knowledge of how to win & lose works regardless of the laws. It logically ends in tyranny. The rules of the game are there to protect the tyrant: In fact, the tyrant makes the rules. That’s why they call crime a game. – This shows that this learned criminal, D, doesn’t belong with the others. He is not blind to injustice & ignobility, but there is nothing he can do, being weak. He is not describing crime. We know his soul by his specific misunderstanding of crime & political science. Chess abstracts from accidents, which we can also call horror. It is too conventional.
Finally, we see the powerful cops, whose lives are never in danger. These are sophisticated creatures & the reason we wonder what the laws even mean. They know the structure of American law & politics; they do not yearn to do justice, punish evil, & police the city.