“The War On Drugs” is often used as a euphemism for enforcement of United States drug law, but in his book “To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War,” California journalist, John Gibbler, provides a fearless and unflinching look at the bloody reality of the ‘real’ drug war happening south of the U.S./Mexico border.

Gibbler begins by stating, “The bare facts are so terrifying, they pass beyond the edge of anything credible,” and over the course of the following 200 pages, proceeds to thoroughly corroborate his assertion.

He shows us a world where narcotraffickers travel in broad daylight in caravans through city streets, their vehicles outfitted with police sirens and custom license plates displaying the name of the cartel to which they belong.

It’s a world where murderers don’t run from the scene of their crimes, they casually walk away; a world where violent death is commonplace. One man Gibbler spoke with nailed a sign to the wall of his house that read, “Prohibited: littering and dumping corpses.” Two months later, the man found his own daughter, murdered—her body was deposited directly under the sign.

Most Americans probably just assume that Mexico is a democratic country, after all, it shares a border with the “leaders of the free world.” But Gibbler shows us that it is the drug cartels – presently the Sinaloa Cartel – that are really calling the shots in Mexico, and that the administration of Mexican president Felipe Calderon barely meets the criteria for a functioning government.

Nearly 40,000 homicides have been committed since Calderon declared “war” on drugs in 2006, and only five percent of them have been solved. The official government line is always that the persons killed were “dirty;” somehow mixed up in the crimes which inevitably lead to their demise. This rationalization has been largely accepted by the Mexican people, to the point where they have internalized it as a kind of conventional wisdom, creating a cultural divide between themselves and the daily havoc of the drug war.

That willingness to accept the government explanation is likely intimately linked to the current vacuum in Mexican journalism. In Mexico, the craft of reporting is a dying art, and legitimate journalists are literally an endangered species.

In 2011 alone, ten journalists have been murdered. The most recent killing is that of Marisol Marcia Castaneda, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Primera Hora. Castaneda was found decapitated on Sept. 23. According to a large, handwritten note found by her body, Castaneda was targeted for using social media to report on cartel violence.

In lieu of legitimate journalism, there is ‘la nota roja,’ a bustling tabloid industry dedicated exclusively to covering the daily slaughter. The stories run front page photos of the carnage, with descriptions of how the death(s) occurred, but never who the victims actually were and no information what so ever as to who might be responsible.

Of course, the violence is always narco-related, and the people who read the tabloids know this, but they also know what happens to people who write or speak frankly about these matters. The word “impunity” is used over and over again by Gibbler and the people he interviews to describe the way those involved in the narco-industry operate.

Gibbler rightly doesn’t shy away from attempting to contextualize all this mayhem in the greater socio-economic picture, one he believes has been created by globalism and “free trade.”

He makes sure to point out that the multi-billion dollar narcotics industry is more profitable than ever, and that by every conceivable measure, the war on drugs has been an abject failure – more people are using recreational drugs than ever before.

The war on drugs, according to Gibbler, is not about keeping people from using, it’s about economic and social control.

This is an important book, a lucid account of affairs that is essential for anyone seeking to gain a better understanding of what is happening in Mexico and why. Through the story of his travels in Mexico and extensive communications with Mexican journalists and citizens alike, Gibbler illuminates a situation that is at once horrifying, infuriating and ludicrous.

It’s a situation those of us living in the U.S. don’t think about as often as we should. At one point, one of the interviewees asks Gibbler what Americans think about all the violent death in Mexico.

The embarrassed but truthful response Gibbler gives is: “they don’t.”