Major-General Smedley Butler (1881-1940)

By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!

Major-General Smedley Darlington Butler, a 33-year veteran of the Marine Corps who was twice decorated with the Medal of Honor, blew the whistle on the fascist plot to oust FDR. He also confessed to having been 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.”

In his book War is a Racket, 1935, Butler opens with these lines:

"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.... [and] the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described 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.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it.... I must face it and speak out."

In “Time of Peace,” Common Sense, Nov. 1935, Butler said:

"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 a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to.

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.

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 in 1909-1912. 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....

I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket.... I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents....

Our exploits against the American Indian, 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 shows we have never fought a defensive war."

Butler made these conclusions in his book War is a Racket:

"* We must take the profit out of war.
* We must permit the youth..., who would bear arms, to decide whether or not there should be war.
* We must limit our military to defense purposes....

Secretly each nation is studying and perfecting newer and ghastlier means of annihilating its foes wholesale.... Ships will continue to be built, for shipbuilders must make their profits. And guns still will be manufactured... powder and rifles will be made, for the munitions makers must make their huge profits.... Victory or defeat will be determined by the skill and ingenuity of our scientists.

If we put them to work making poison gas and more and more fiendish mechanical and explosive instruments of destruction, they will have no time for the constructive job of building greater prosperity for all peoples. By putting them to this useful job, we can all make more money out of peace than we can out of war – even the munitions makers.

So...I say, TO HELL WITH WAR!"

Source: Press for Conversion! magazine, Issue # 53, "Facing the Corporate Roots of American Fascism," March 2004. Published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.

Order a Copy: Order a hard copy of this 54-page issue of Press for Conversion! on the fascist plot to overthrow President F.D.Roosevelt and the corporate leaders who planned and financed this failed coup.


Some Additional Sources:

About Butler
Three excerpts from Hans Schmidt, Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, University Press of Kentucky (1987):

(1) Some of Butler's radical, post-retirement activities
(2) The "Mussolini Affair" (when they arrested and tried to courtmarshall Butler for criticising the Italian dictator)
(3) On the coup plot to oust FDR

John Spivak, excerpts from A Man in His Time, "The Plot To Seize Washington."

Jules Archer, excerpts The Plot to Seize the White House, 1973

Wade Frazier, excerpt from "The Art of War"

Geoff Price, excerpt from "This War is About So Much More"

Dale Wharton, "Chronology of Smedley Darlington Butler's Life"

Ed Rippy, War is Still a Racket


By Butler
Smedley Butler, War is a Racket

Smedley D. Butler, "America's Armed Forces, 'In Time of Peace'"

Smedley Butler, excerpt from a speech, 1933

Book review discussion of War is A Racket on "Chautauqua Books," a public access TV show.

Photos of Butler
(Google image search)

Butler: Still in the News
(Google news search)