Thursday, March 20, 2008

War is a Racket

Who is Smedley Darlington Butler, and what can we learn from him?

A Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and, at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
During his 34 years of Marine Corps service, Butler was awarded numerous medals for heroism including the Marine Corps Brevet Medal (the highest Marine medal at its time for officers), and subsequently the Medal of Honor twice. Notably, he is one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor, and one of only three to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor, and the only person to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.
In addition to his military career, Smedley Butler was noted for his outspoken anti-interventionist views, and his book, "War is a Racket". His book was one of the first works describing the workings of the military-industrial complex and after retiring from service, he became a popular speaker at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists and church groups in the 1930s.
In 1934, he informed the United States Congress that a group of wealthy industrialists had plotted a military coup to overthrow the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Butler was educated at the West Chester Friends Graded High School and later at The Haverford School, a secondary school for sons of upper-class Quaker families near Philadelphia, but he dropped out to join the Marines, 38 days before his 17th birthday.

Butler served in Guantanamo Bay, twice wounded in the Boxer Rebellion, Honduras, Nicaragua, Vera Cruz Mexico, Haiti, and World War I. After he left the service, he looked back with honesty and wrote a few books- one titled "War is a Racket"

Butler was known for his outspoken lectures against war profiteering and what he viewed as nascent fascism in the United States. During the 1930s, he gave many such speeches to pacifist groups. Between 1935 and 1937, he served as a spokesman for the American League Against War and Fascism .
In his 1935 book, War Is a Racket, Butler presented an exposé andcondemnation of the profit motive behind warfare.

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

Here are some excerpts from his WAR IS A RACKET book:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few -- the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people -- who do not profit.

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits -- ah! that is another matter -- twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent -- the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let's get it.

Of course, it isn't put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and "we must all put our shoulders to the wheel," but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket -- and are safely pocketed.

But the soldier pays the biggest part of the bill.

If you don't believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran's hospitals in the United States. On a tour of the country, in the midst of which I am at the time of this writing, I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men -- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed at home.

So by developing the Napoleonic system -- the medal business -- the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated. Until the Civil War there were no medals. Then the Congressional Medal of Honor was handed out. It made enlistments easier. After the Civil War no new medals were issued until the Spanish-American War.

In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn't join the army.

So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side . . . it is His will that the Germans be killed.

The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation -- it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted -- to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages -- all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers -- yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders -- everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn't they?

They aren't running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren't sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren't hungry. The soldiers are!

Another step necessary in this fight to smash the war racket is the limited plebiscite to determine whether a war should be declared. A plebiscite not of all the voters but merely of those who would be called upon to do the fighting and dying. There wouldn't be very much sense in having a 76-year-old president of a munitions factory or the flat-footed head of an international banking firm or the cross-eyed manager of a uniform manufacturing plant -- all of whom see visions of tremendous profits in the event of war -- voting on whether the nation should go to war or not. They never would be called upon to shoulder arms -- to sleep in a trench and to be shot. Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.

A third step in this business of smashing the war racket is to make certain that our military forces are truly forces for defense only.

To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket.

We must take the profit out of war.

We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.

We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.

Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations were concerned, and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, or had radio been available to broadcast the proceedings, America never would have entered the World War. But this conference, like all war discussions, was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a "war to make the world safe for democracy" and a "war to end all wars."

Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of democracy than it had then. Besides, what business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are Fascists or Communists? Our problem is to preserve our own democracy.

But victory or defeat will be determined by the skill and ingenuity of our scientists.

If we put them to work making poison gas and more and more fiendish mechanical and explosive instruments of destruction, they will have no time for the constructive job of building greater prosperity for all peoples. By putting them to this useful job, we can all make more money out of peace than we can out of war -- even the munitions makers.

So...I say,


>>>>>>Wow! I heart Smedley Butler! It is interesting to hear these words & solutions coming from the early 1900's era.
I love the idea that the profiteers, including the government, must take the same pay as soldiers. Can you imagine Halliburton, Boeing & Dick Cheney taking drastic pay cuts for the war effort? I'm pretty sure the whole thing would end right then & there.

Although this guy's name sounds like something out of a cartoon- right there with Dudley Doright (Canadian Mountie), Snidley Whiplash, or Yosemite Sam, he was a military insider who saw the military industrial complex for what it is.... and offered solutions.
Too bad he is not alive & running for president in 2008. We'd be out of Iraq & Afghanistan faster than you could say the word *racket*.


Mary said...

Wow! Thanks for bringing him to my attention.

Mary said...

Oops I hit enter too soon.
The pay idea is fabulous! Talk about a fast war. Great post.

Gary said...

Very interesting! Smedley Butler is someone to remember. There should be a Smedley Butler Medal for brave souls who take on the establishment...

Fran said...

I really love his idea of only allowing those who would go to war, to decide if it is justified- not the profiteers. He really knew what makes the whole industrial war machine tick & how to gum up the works. Fantastic he spoke out.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I LOVE Smedley Butler, plus he was the one who uncovered the plot to assasinate FDR.

Semper fi.

Distributorcap said...

i never heard of him -- thanks

if the Iraq war would have been unprofitable for Halliburton and FOG (friends of George) -- he would NOT have gone.

enigma4ever said...

thank you another great had never heard of him...

Anonymous said...

You guys, don't forget about our current brass, who knows what really is going on behind closed doors, let's hope they are charting a better course for us. This is an older list which includes Eaton, Zinni, Newbold,Batiste, Riggs and Swannuck, I'm sure there are many more by now:


Weirdly, the Marines always seem to produce some real rebels, perhaps because they have seen the horrors of war. My dad was one.

Great blog BTW Fran, you are on fire, go girl.


Anonymous said...

P.S. don't mean to hog yur blog, but don't forget these guys, scroll down to read more about them:


Isn't Capt. Eric H May a fox?

heehee, see ya.

Fran said...

Mary - good to see ya-- how is that son of our in Iraq doing???

Gary~ I love the Smedley Butler award idea.

Marjorie-- Interesting thing about rogue Marines speaking out. current brass has spoken out, but they ain't speaking loud or strong enough to put a stop to this war.
Thanks for the kudos.... nice to get positive feedback.

Distrib: You nailed it. It's all about profit & not about installing democracy. BTW- I love your blog & twisted sense of humor. = )

enig-- After reading your post about your son, he might benefit from reading Butler's book. That way Mom (you) is not giving her opinion- it comes from someone who has already been there & done it & figured it out a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Distributorcap is so right! The old adage still applies...follow the money.

susan said...

Sorry I haven't dropped by before but I'm sure you know how the equation goes regarding how many hours in the day vs just how many worthy blogs we can visit.

Anyway, I went to say 'Hi' to Mary and found her link. I've read about Smedley Butler before and I'm glad to see you've brought him to the attention of your fellow bloggers. We just got the new book by Nicholas Baker called 'Human Smoke' in which he does nothing other than use 400 pages of quotes from newspapers and diaries from the 1920's to 1942 to describe the background machinations that lead to WWII. It's really extraordinary.

Hayden said...

Thanks for the info.

(here by way of Mary's blog)

Anonymous said...

quite interesting article. I would love to follow you on twitter.