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27 April 2017
Afternoon Sedition

"I Was a Racketeer, a Gangster For Capitalism"

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.

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

There is an old saying in philosophy, cui bonum; literally, "who benefits?". The point is to ask, for any situation, who benefits from it. Asking that question about war is, to some extent, pointless, because we know who benefits: the military-industrial-political complex. It never met an armed conflict it didn't like. Today's blog entry contains words from a military man who understood the evils of war. Although his words are seventy years old, they are just as applicable today, if not more so.

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler was not a coward. A coward would not have received not one, but two medals of honor for acts of bravery during wartime, and would not have been widely respected and honored for his courage and valor. Neither was he a pacifist who favored appeasement at all costs. Such men do not serve in a variety of conflicts, nor do they rise to the rank of Major General, nor do they publically criticize fascists like Mussolini. General Butler was a soldier who came to loathe and despise war because he felt it served only to enrich the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the ordinary people: workers, families, and soldiers.

The United States Marine Corp's writeup on General Butler certainly establishes his bona fides to comment on the evils of war:

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, one of the most colorful officers in the Marine Corps' long history, was one of the two Marines who received two Medals of Honor for separate acts of outstanding heroism.

He was not yet 20 when the citizens of his native West Chester, Pennsylvania, presented him with a sword on his return from the Boxer Rebellion in China. Some 50 years later that trophy was presented to the Marine Corps for permanent custody.

General Butler, later known to thousands of Marines as "Ol' Gimlet Eye," was born 30 July 1881. He was still in his teens when, on 20 May 1898, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps for the War with Spain.

Following a brief period of instruction at Washington, D.C., he served with the Marine Battalion, North Atlantic Squadron, until 11 February 1899, when he was ordered to his home and honorably discharged on 16 February 1899.

He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 8 April 1899; promoted to captain, 23 July 1900; to major, 13 May 1908; to lieutenant colonel, 1 August 1916; to colonel (temporary), 1 July 1918; to brigadier general (temporary), 7 October 1918; to colonel (permanent), 9 March 1919; to brigadier general (permanent), 4 June 1920; and to major general, 5 July 1929.

...

His first Medal of Honor was presented following action at Vera Cruz, Mexico, 21 and 22 April 1914, where he commanded the Marines who landed and occupied the city. General Butler (then a major) "was eminent and conspicuous in command of his Battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22d and in the final occupation of the city."

The following year, he was awarded the second Medal of Honor for bravery and forceful leadership as Commanding Officer of detachments of Marines and seamen of the USS Connecticut in repulsing Caco resistance on Fort Riviere, Haiti, 17 November 1915.

During World War I, he commanded the 13th Regiment in France. For exceptionally meritorious service, he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Order of the Black Star. When he returned to the United States in 1919, he became Commanding General of the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, and served in this capacity until January 1924, when he was granted leave of absence to accept the post of Director of Public Safety of the City of Philadelphia. In February 1926, he assumed command of the Marine Corps Base at San Diego, California. In March 1927, he returned to China for duty with the 3d Marine Brigade. From April to 31 October he again commanded the Marine Barracks at Quantico. On 1 October 1931, he was retired upon his own application after completion of 33 years' service in the Marine Corps.

United States Marine Corp, History Division

Now it is time to consider what he said about war and who profits from it. This is excerpted from a speech he gave in 1933 before he had written his book, War is a Racket:

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 capitalism.

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 (where have I heard that name before?). 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.

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

He went on to expand these ideas into a book. Here is the opening part. It is worth reading, even if it is similar to the speech because it could very well be describing the Iraq war:

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.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

His conclusions are as valid today as they were in 1935:

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

1. We must take the profit out of war.

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

3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

Sources and Further Reading

  1. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  2. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  3. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  4. "War is a Racket" speech by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, 1933 (note: this is not the same as the previous links to books)

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.

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

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