Major General Smedley Butler: War is a Racket
By TLB Contributor: Ken LaRive
Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940), nicknamed “The Fighting Quaker” and “Old Gimlet Eye”, was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and, at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
With 34 years of the Marine Corps under his belt, Smedley Butler had seen it all. He was awarded many medals for heroism and duty, including the Marine Corps Brevet Medal (the highest Marine medal at its time for officers), and twice the Medal of Honor, one of only 19 people to have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice. He was one of only three Marines 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 situations.
In addition to his military career, Smedley Butler was noted for his outspoken anti-interventionist views, and writes about this extensively in his book War is a Racket, and descriptions of what we now know as the military-industrial complex.
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 known as the Business Plot to overthrow the government.
Needless to say, the survival of America’s democracy is not an automatic or sure thing. Americans need to remain vigilant against all enemies… both foreign and domestic.
Born: West Chester, Pa., July 30, 1881
Educated: Haverford School
Married: Ethel C. Peters, of Philadelphia, June 30, 1905
Awarded two congressional medals of honor:
- Capture of Vera Cruz, Mexico, 1914
- Capture of Ft. Riviere, Haiti, 1917
Distinguished service medal, 1919
Major General – United States Marine Corps
Retired Oct. 1, 1931
On leave of absence to act as director of Dept. of Safety, Philadelphia, 1932
Lecturer — 1930’s
Republican Candidate for Senate, 1932
Died at Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, June 21, 1940
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.
-General Smedley Butler
— Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.
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.