General Smedley Darlington Butler's Shocking Revelations of U.S. Meddling

Major General Smedley D. Butler:

“I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

During his era, the first decades of the 20th century, General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940) was the most decorated soldier in American uniform, a Marine battlefield hero who campaigned in most of America’s foreign military expeditions from 1898 to the late 1920s. Among many medals, Butler was twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award for bravery. He was Commander of the U.S. Marine Corps school, and passed over for Marine Corps commandant only because of his increasingly anti-imperialist views. Because of his tremendous courage, patriotism, compassion, multiply demonstrated willingness to save injured soldiers at great risk to his own life, and preference to avoid bloodshed when other methods could accomplish desired ends, Butler was extremely popular with rank-and-file soldiers and veterans. Here was an aristocrat who championed the common man, a leader who strove to help the oppressed of the countries he occupied as the commander of U.S. imperial fighting forces.

At home, he became the leading national advocate for paramilitary police reform, and strongly defended the "Bonus Marchers" attacked by U.S. troops under General Douglas MacArthur and Colonel Dwight Eisenhower in Washington DC in 1932. In an incident whose history is suppressed today, Gen. Butler was approached by representatives of the J.P. Morgan Bank who wanted him to lead a fascist military coup d'état against the Roosevelt government in 1932. Butler refused and went to the press. A Congressional investigation was eventually suppressed.

Due to the increasingly fascist, imperialist tendencies he observed in his beloved USA, after his retirement General Butler, who had been raised a Quaker, renounced war altogether. He frequently associated with leftist political causes, as did millions of other Americans during the terrible Great Depression, when it was obvious that unbridled capitalism had grievously failed America’s vast majority. Butler demonstrated that true patriotism does not mean blind allegiance to flawed or evil government policies with which one cannot agree.

Gen. Butler expressed his grave concern with America’s out-of-control militarism and racist imperialism in a number of articles, letters and speeches.

For instance, in a 1933 speech, he declared, “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…. 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.

Elsewhere he stated: “War, like any other racket, pays high dividends to the very few. But what does it profit the masses? The cost of operations is always transferred to the people who do not profit…. But there is a way to stop this racket. It cannot be smashed by disarmament conferences, by peace parleys at Geneva, by resolutions of well-meaning but impractical groups. It can be effectively smashed only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to stop it is by conscription of capital before conscription of the nation’s manhood…. Let the officers and directors of our armament factories, our gun builders and munitions makers and ship-builders all be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage paid to the lads in the trenches. Give capital thirty days to think it over and you will learn by that time there will be no war. That will stop the racket—that, and nothing else.” (Forum magazine, Sep. 1934)

A noted, much quoted, article by Butler appeared in the newspaper Common Sense, Vol. 4, No. 11 (Nov. 1935), pp. 8-12. This was later published as a widely-read pamphlet, War Is a Racket (available from Veterans for Peace, POB 142562 Gainesville, FL 32614, $5 + $1.50). Some of his views drafted below appeared almost verbatim in the New York Times, August 21, 1931. Here below follow excerpts from this eminent U.S. soldier’s 1935 article.

Remember that everything Butler describes occurred decades before the launch of the anti-communist Cold War in the late 1940s—the supposed pretext for all our overt and covert wars in Indochina, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere from the 1950s onward. In light of Butler’s remarks, it is obvious that many of these overt/covert wars of recent decades were a "racket," enacted primarily for the sake of profits for American business. These wars had little or nothing to do with the stated reasons for U.S. involvement.

[Begin excerpts from 1935 article by Major Gen. Smedley Butler:]

I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country's most agile military force—the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a 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 for capitalism. …

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 guys," (to plan war preparations) and a "Big Boss" (super-nationalistic capitalism)….

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical of everyone in the military service.

Thus 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. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped 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. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.

The war racket operates at full swing in our own country today. Make no mistake. We no longer fulfill by our example as a nation the role of Leader in Disarmament and Peace-Maker to Mankind. Our present war preparations and military expenditures forever nullify the Kellogg Peace Pact to which we subscribed, and all our previous efforts to ease the burden of war throughout the world.…

Our army and navy have only recently completed their largest and most ambitious peace-time maneuvers. Our National Guardsmen have done even better. In the past two years large National Guard forces have seen active service in 20 strikes in as many different states, from the Pacific Coast to New England, from Minnesota to Georgia. They have used gas, bullets, and tanks—the most lethal weapons of modern war—against striking workers. Casualty lists have been impressive. In one instance they erected barbed wire concentration camps in Georgia to "co-ordinate" striking workers with all the efficiency of the fascist repressive technique….

Defense or Offense?—It is commonly supposed that our armed forces are entirely defensive in nature, that they have nothing to do with the making of war or the creating of situations that lead to war. The General Staff states publicly, that the military organization "is founded on the principle that we must be unready for aggressive war, yet fully capable of defending ourselves... To be defensive in motive, as we intend to be, a nation must surrender all thought of initiative."

…Close examination reveals that it is just another publicity release from that military sap factory known as the War Department. Training Regulations No. 10-5 of the War Department contain the official "Doctrine of War," for the United States…. Section V, paragraph 6, says "the object to be attained by (military) training is to enable the Army to wage offensive warfare. While training must cover certain phases of defensive doctrine and police doctrine, the Army must definitely understand that these are only means to the definite end—offensive warfare—and every individual in the military service must be imbued with the spirit of the offensive."

…The military deal of our country has never been defensive warfare. Since the Revolution, only the United Kingdom has beaten our record for square miles of territory acquired by military conquest. Our exploits against the American Indian, against the Filipinos, the Mexicans, and against Spain are on a par with the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the Japanese in Manchuria and the African attack of Mussolini. No country has ever declared war on us before we first obliged them with that gesture. Our whole history [up to the 1930s] shows we have never fought a defensive war…. The War Plans Section spends all its time creating blue-prints for the "defense" of this country. This means, of course, vast schemes for foreign invasion and offensive war…. Our armed forces have up to date plans for offensive warfare against almost every country on the globe—all in the sacred name of "national defense."…

The opinion of Mr. John A. Public would be that we are acting like damn fools. None the less our military finger men keep busy pointing out enemies and making bigger and better war plans. The gold braid boys are reliable puppets, obeying the string-pulling of their bosses and bowing to imperialist expediency whenever commanded….

[Here follows Butler’s criticism of various aspects of the war machine, starting with military intelligence agencies.]

The import of these military intelligence reports can best be judged by the homework of military intelligence. The domestic brand of M.I. is mainly unadulterated Red hunting. Hence intelligence officers cooperate more or less openly with such bulwarks of home defense as William Randolph Hearst, Ralph Easley, Harry Jung of Chicago, and such organizations as the National Security League, the American Vigilantes and the Order of '76. The intelligence men further justify their jobs by spy work on radical gatherings, by attending public forums in an attempt to detect political or economic heresy, by keeping tabs on various suspects, and by smelling out what they consider to be subversive activities everywhere. In these extra-curricular activities whole-hearted cooperation from professional patrioteers and the Reserve Officers is received….

Now should the "finger" and "muscle" and "brain" men get the country all set for another war where would we get the supplies?… Since the National Defense Act of 1920 the Procurement Planning division of the War Department has been busy surveying the industry of the country and its potential manufacturing capacity for war purposes. Thousands of factories have been visited and the manufacture of 2,500 articles in gigantic quantities for an army of several million men has been fully plotted…. But there is just one little flaw in this vast procurement plan of the army's. They haven't bothered to figure out any way to pay for all the thousands of tons of articles and raw materials needed. In their procurement work they have devised a dummy contract with all the various manufacturers ... but this contract does not specify price, payment or credit arrangements…. Every manufacturer who has one [of these dummy contracts] … is a great big booster for the military. The fortunate industrialist! He knows that as soon as hostilities break out there will be nice fat orders to keep his factories running for some time…. Not only have the procurement plans of the army convinced the minds of industry that war means more and bigger business, but the War Department in the years since the war has looked slightingly at any attempt to introduce legislation that would limit profits [i.e., profiteering] and impose higher taxes on war earnings…. This means that the War Department and the government, under the present law, is at the mercy of the rulers of industry and finance. The contracts of the War Department for future war supplies exist—industry will have its own way about profits. …

Add up these phases of the war racket we harbor and encourage, and the result is a pretty picture. We support armed forces that have all the evils of the old-time European prussianized military systems. They point out "enemies" for us. The speediest and most deadly branch, the Air Corps, is engaged in activities liable to drag us into a world crisis. The intelligence branch of the army is engaged in collecting useless and incendiary information abroad and in reprehensible activities at home. And industry has been invited into partnership with our armed forces so that the advent of war cannot be less than welcome to it….

The correction of these evils is our immediate duty. We must deny to our armed forces the functions of diplomats, politicians and agents provocateur. To do this means reorienting the military both in location and in policy as well. Our entire doctrine of war must be restated as a defensive doctrine in theory and adhered to in practice.

[The conclusion of Butler's article—adamantly isolationist—is omitted here, given its limitations for certain situations after his time, such as the need to contain and destroy the Nazi threat. But his views are highly relevant for U.S. misadventures in Vietnam in the 1960s-70s, Iran in 1953, Iraq in 1991 and 2003, and throughout Latin America, Africa, and other regions of the world, as detailed by William Blum in Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, 3rd. edition, Common Courage, 2004.]

For further reading:

Anne Cipriano Venzon (Ed.), General Smedley Darlington Butler: The Letters of a Leatherneck, 1898-1931, NY: Praeger, 1992.

Smedley D. Butler, War Is a Racket, NY: Round Table Press, 1935.

Hans Schmidt, Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1987.

Jules Archer, The Plot to Seize the White House, NY: Hawthorn Books, 1973.

Grover Furr's "Politics and Social Issues Page." http://chss.montclair .edu/english/furr/butler1.html

[--Compiled by Timothy Conway, Ph.D.]