Major General Smedley Butler USMC
Throughout the years various men of military service
have spoken up and spoken out against the actions of the American
military. Some men speak up about atrocities
that have gone covered up, about discrimination, about deceptions that have
been used against the American public, and about actions that have been taken
that are contrary to what they view as American principles. Major General Smedley Butler is one of the most outspoken
military service men who opposed the actions of the military that he served
Marine Smedley Darling Butler is one of the most highly
decorated military men from the pre-World War II era. He served from 1898 to 1931 and saw action all over the
Butler (second from right) in Veracruz, Mexico - 1914
Butler became a prominent political figure and was one
of America’s important leaders of the liberal movement of the
1930s. Butler advocated military isolationism
and was against American involvement in World War II. His isolationist views are certainly unpopular today, and
in fact are not compatible with the current geopolitical
situation. His views, however, developed from
33 years of serving as what he called “a gangster for
Smedley Butler at his 1931 retirement ceremony
Though Butler was not a member of the American Communist
Party he did give speeches at Communist Party meetings in the 1930s as well
as many speeches for the League Against War and Fascism. When asked about the company he was keeping he noted,
“They told me I’d find a nest of communists here. I told them ‘What the hell of it!’”
Smedley Butler preparing to speak at one of his stops
in the 1930s
All told Butler gave over 1,200 speeches in over 700
cities during his speaking tour of the United States.
In 1935 Butler published War is a Racket, which
got high praise at the time, as well as strong criticism. The forward by Lowell Thomas spoke of Butler’s
“moral as well as physical courage” and noted that
“Even his opponents concede that in his stand on public questions,
General Butler has been motivated by the same fiery integrity and loyal
patriotism which has distinguished his service in countless Marine
What Butler fought so hard to do was to take the focus
off of moral and ideological arguments for war and concentrate on the
geopolitical factors that actually motivated war. He tried to raise awareness of what the real motivating
factors of war were as well as the consequences of war. He was one of the first Americans to really bring the
economic implications of war to the forefront of the public
conscience. In War is a Racket Butler
“names names” and lays out in wonderfully blunt detail how the
American “military machine” was used to the benefit of wealthy
American industrialists. He noted how
proponents of war typically call on God as a supporter of the cause and how
they embellish the mission as one of liberation and the spreading of freedom,
but that these people tend to shy away from discussing the economic details
of military ventures.
Butler didn’t choose sides when it came to
expressing his views on war. Butler could
certainly be considered a liberal but he spoke out against the liberal FDR
administration and also broke ties with anti-fascist groups when they called
for war to defend against fascism. In 1935 he commented to a veterans meeting
on the subject of the growing interest in the FDR administration to become
involved in the conflicts of Europe that, “The political leaders of
this country are for another conflict to cover up their
Though most today would agree that his isolationist
views would have been harmful had they been followed by the country in regard
to American involvement in WWII his views on imperialism and the economic
implications of war are still as relevant today as ever.
The following is an excerpt from a speech he gave in
“War is just a racket. A racket is best
described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority
of 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 masses.
I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and
nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The
trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here,
then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag
follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect
some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should
fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of
Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.
There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the
military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its
"muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations,
and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.
It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such
a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and
four months in active military service as a member of this country's most
agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks
from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most
of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street
and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time.
Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never
had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties
remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This
is typical with everyone in the military service.
I helped make Mexico, 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 benefits of Wall
Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the
international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light
to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I
helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back
room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could 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.”
In a few selected quotes from War is a Racket he
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...
In the World War 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...
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...
...a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds
of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of
physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.
Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit –
fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up.
By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat
packers. Speculators. They would fare well.
Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn't they? It pays
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.
Butler goes on to name American companies that saw huge increases in
profits during World War I. Below is a listing
of pre-war vs. intra-war profits for American companies that are included in
Butler’s analysis as well as some additional companies.
Average profits in the last pre-war
Average profits during the four
years of war
U. S. Steel
Republic Iron and Steel
American and British Man.
Canadian Car & Foundry
Niles, Bement Pond
Scovill Mfg. Co.
It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers
that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum,
$39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure
yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and
millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be
sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few...
Who provides the profits – these nice little profits of 20, 100,
300, 1,500 and 1,800 per cent? We all pay them – in taxation. We paid
the bankers their profits when we bought Liberty Bonds at $100.00 and sold
them back at $84 or $86 to the bankers. These bankers collected $100 plus.
It was a simple manipulation. The bankers control the security marts. It
was easy for them to depress the price of these bonds. Then all of us
– the people – got frightened and sold the bonds at $84 or $86.
The bankers bought them. Then these same bankers stimulated a boom and
government bonds went to par – and above. Then the bankers collected
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...
Perhaps the following sounds familiar of the current
Bush administration as well? Just replace
“Germans” with “Iraqis.”
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
And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill the
allies...to please the same God. That was a part of the general propaganda,
built up to make people war conscious and murder conscious.
Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die.
This was the "war to end all wars." This was the "war to make the world
safe for democracy." No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that
their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these
American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own
brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to
cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents.
They were just told it was to be a "glorious adventure."...
Butler proposed that the only way to actually prevent war is take the
profits out of war. He proposed several ways to achieve this. What is important to note is that it is possible to take
the profitability out of war, but it must be done at an international
level. Taking the profitability out of war and
out of the weapons industry is really the way that is most likely to be able
to achieve some level of global peace. Of
course there has never been any effort to do this in America, in fact the
opposite is true, and right now the Bush administration is making war even
more profitable, only ensuring its proliferation.
The General concludes by proclaiming:
TO HELL WITH WAR!
War is a
Racket - Smedley D. Butler
For more on Smedley Butler, and info on the assassination plot against FDR