The Business of War
(an excerpt about Smedley Butler)
By Wade Frazier
Smedley Butler was one of the most beloved military leaders in American history. Teddy Roosevelt called him, "The finest fighting man in America." Butler was known as "the fighting Quaker." Butler was only one of four Americans ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He tried returning one of them because he did not feel it was earned, but was instead ordered to wear it. Rank-and-file American soldiers loved him. Butler helped run the Marines for a generation, carried a pack and was in the trenches with his troops. Butler was known for his honesty and appreciation for the common man. In Butler's case, it was genuine.
Born in 1881, his father and grandfather were U.S. Congressmen, and Butler was born into the upper class of Pennsylvania. His family was Quaker, and traced back its Pennsylvania lineage to the days of William Penn. Although he could have pursued the life of an aristocrat, Butler evidenced a martial spirit from a young age, and in 1898 enlisted in the Marines, swept up into the "Remember the Maine" fervor that began the Spanish-American war. He saw action in Cuba, and his career continued to the Boxer "Rebellion" in China in 1900, where he was twice wounded with bullets. His father was influential in the military establishment, as he chaired the House Naval Affairs Committee and served in Congress for thirty-two years. Butler then saw action in Nicaragua and Haiti, with a spying interlude in Mexico. Some of his most celebrated feats were nonviolent, such as when he disarmed one revolutionary leader and unhorsed another, while he was unarmed.
Butler was a curious mixture; a Quaker pacifistic background combined with the steely-eyed visage of a crusading knight. The élan and esprit de corps of the Marines was his surrogate religion for many years. Partly due to his father's stature, and partly due to his battlefield heroism, Butler rose through the ranks rapidly. Butler was outspoken, unrefined, and had a distaste for the "intellectual" aspect of the military hierarchy. He became a brigadier general before he was forty, and became a major general about ten years younger than was typical. He got into hot water regularly with the "brass." He made many enemies, yet he was an unparalleled leader of the rank-and-file soldier, and regularly broke regulations in order to get the job done.
He was "loaned out" from the Marines to Philadelphia in the mid-1920s as he ran the police and tried enforcing Prohibition. Although Butler drank heavily, as most Marines did, when he took up the Prohibition cause he never drank again. He had his fair store of racist sentiments, which were muted for the times, and he was no pacifist, but he honestly lived by his beliefs.
Near the end of his career, he began questioning the issue of foreign wars. He began calling war a racket, and became adamant about the imperialist aspect of the U.S.' foreign interventions. He was not a pacifist, and came from a long line of republicans. When he had an opinion, however, he made it known. In 1935, after he retired, he published a slim book titled War is a Racket. Butler campaigned on that theme for the rest of his life.
Butler believed that all U.S. foreign interventions were self-serving acts, which lined the pockets of the rich at the expense of the nations it victimized, sending young boys to do the dirty work, wearing American uniforms. People such as Franklin Roosevelt sidled up to the trough, to "invest" in Haiti after it had been secured for American interests. Roosevelt drafted the Haitian constitution that overturned more than a century of Haitian strategy of not allowing foreign land ownership to gain a foothold in Haiti, which would begin undermining its sovereignty. FDR was an integral part of the neocolonial strategy of pillaging Haiti. Butler provided the muscle to pull it off.
Butler's opinions did not come from reading radical literature, but from his experiences. His correspondence early in his career complained loud and long when commercial interests and Machiavellian plotting by his superiors would force him to go back on his word with those he negotiated with, as in Nicaragua, which he helped plunder, another situation that continues to this day. Back then, brute force was yielding to a neocolonial strategy of the Taft administration known as Dollar Diplomacy, where the U.S. sought to control its subject nations through economic manipulation rather than marching in the armed forces, as with Teddy Roosevelt's Big Stick Diplomacy. Butler carried out part of its early implementation. The famous Butler quote, where he admitted to being an unwitting gangster for Capitalism is vintage Butler.
Although Butler ran for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania as a Republican, when he began his anti-imperialist campaign, he did not care to whom he spoke. He ended up speaking at Communist rallies and at other organizations, which would have given him problems if he had done it during the Joe McCarthy witch-hunt days. He did not care about ideology. He believed in telling the truth as he saw it. Whether his audience was made of communists, veterans groups or the U.S. Congress, his line was the same, with the honest, outspoken style that made him an American icon, and made him many powerful enemies.
In 1931, Butler talked informally after a speech, and discussed how European conquerors became drunk with power and became "mad dogs." He related an apparently true story told him by Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. Vanderbilt spent time with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and they were driving in an armored car through the Italian countryside, with Mussolini driving. During their drive, Mussolini hit and killed a child. Mussolini did not even stop the car, telling Vanderbilt as he grabbed his knee, "Never look back, Mr. Vanderbilt, never look back in life." Mussolini passed off his hit and run incident with the observation that one life was insignificant when compared to the affairs of state.
Butler's comments caused an international outcry, and Butler was arrested and court-martialed by Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, and ordered to publicly recant. He never apologized to Mussolini, and instead retired. Today, Butler looks like a prophet. The incident was the first time that Mussolini's image was tarnished in America. Back in 1931, Fascism was the up-and-coming form of government.
Stimson court-martialed Butler because he and other high-ranking American officials openly admired Fascism's "great experiment" in Italy. By 1934, the American ambassador to Italy, Breckenridge Long, President Roosevelt, and famous State Department negotiator Norman Davis were gushing over what was happening in Italy, with Roosevelt calling Mussolini an "admirable Italian gentleman" and the State department praising the sham 1934 Italian election where the Fascists took 99% of the vote, stating that the election "demonstrate(d) incontestably the popularity of the Fascist regime."
The July 1934 issue of Fortune magazine praised Fascism and its quick achievements, accomplishing in mere years what Christendom could not achieve in millennia. The article further stated, "The good journalist must recognize in Fascism certain ancient virtues of the race, whether or not they happen to be momentarily fashionable in his own country. Among these are Discipline, Duty, Courage, Glory, Sacrifice."
A 1937 State Department report stated that "Fascism is becoming the soul of Italy." The Fascist experiment was praised because it "brought order out of chaos, discipline out of license, and solvency out of bankruptcy." The report stated that in order to "accomplish so much in a short time severe measures have been necessary." The State Department in 1937 saw Fascism as compatible with the United States' interests. Just as after World War II, the United States would embrace anybody as long as they were anticommunist. While the Fascists were merely raping their own people and making the country safe for American investment, the U.S. government minimized the suffering of that nation's people, and eagerly participated. With Japan, Germany and Italy, it was only when they began stepping on imperial toes that it became a matter of war.
When Butler retired amid the Mussolini furor, he became an even bigger national hero than before. Although many politicians and industrialists were avid fans of Fascism, not everybody in America was. The veterans groups lionized Butler, and he was a big hit on the talk circuit, giving speeches to veterans groups almost daily. Butler was a paragon to the veterans groups and a populist hero, which made what happened in 1933 seem strange. A Wall Street bond salesman and former commander of the Connecticut American Legion approached Butler. Gerald MacGuire had a proposal. MacGuire said he was acting as a front man for wealthy industrialists and bankers, and J.P. Morgan, du Pont and other names came up in the conversations. The proposal was this: Butler would get elected as the American Legion's national commander. With that office, Butler would have the loyalty of 500,000 veterans. With that private "army" (du Pont would arm them through their controlling interest in Remington Arms Company) and up to $300 million of funding made available by the bankers and industrialists, they would take over the White House.
MacGuire said that the same people with the money also controlled the press, and would concoct a rationale that Roosevelt was ill and needed a strongman to help run the country. The public would easily swallow it, and Butler would be installed in a new cabinet position as Roosevelt's right hand, in a position dubbed the "Secretary of General Affairs." MacGuire had been studying the Italian and German Fascist "miracles," and the plan was closely modeled after Hitler's Brown Shirt coup. They would ease Roosevelt out of office, and Butler would be America´s new Hitler.
They picked the wrong man. Although Butler had been openly critical of Mussolini, they thought that Butler could be controlled. MacGuire mentioned other candidates they would approach if Butler turned them down, such as Douglas MacArthur. MacGuire even told Butler that his superiors doubted that Butler would obediently play the game right, but nobody else in America could gain the ready allegiance of millions of veterans. Butler did not say anything publicly and played along, trying to find out more, such as who was behind it. Butler enlisted Philadelphia Record reporter Paul French to dig deeper into the situation. Butler introduced French to MacGuire, and French gained MacGuire's confidence. MacGuire told French the same story that Butler heard. They tried getting MacGuire to give them more names, but he was too smart for that. Butler met one rich conspirator who said that he would spend half his fortune to save the other half.
When he got all the information he could, Butler went straight to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1934, telling them all he knew. As with many other official "investigations," the HUAC was decidedly timid in pursuing those allegations. They refused to subpoena the names Butler had given them except for MacGuire, who predictably denied everything. The other names given by Butler to the HUAC were former-presidential contenders John Davis and Al Smith (who was a Morgan attorney), and Grayson Murphy, who was a co-founder of the American Legion, a board member of organizations such as Morgan Bank, Goodyear and Bethlehem Steel, and MacGuire's boss. The committee, which went to great lengths to ferret out commies, lost their zeal when confronted with those rich and powerful names, and largely swept the affair under the carpet. However, Butler went public. Nevertheless, without official corroboration, no other investigations were launched, nor did anybody in government appear too concerned. The establishment and media went out of its way to either ignore or slam Butler, with Time magazine openly ridiculing him. The rich conspirator that Butler met threatened to sue Butler for libel, but Butler's stance on Mussolini showed how easily intimidated he was. The conspirator never sued, and Butler never backed down.
While the HUAC's public posture was a quiet folding of its tents, it issued an internal report to Congress which journalist John Spivak obtained. The HUAC internal report told a starkly different story. The report to Congress stated that its investigation confirmed that Butler's story was true in every particular they could verify, and that MacGuire had perjured himself when he denied it. The truth was there, even documented in a report to Congress, but it got swept under the rug, as with most American scandals that involve the rich and powerful. Case closed!
Source: Excerpt from Wade Frazier's "The Art of War" (For the whole article click the link.)