Veterans of Foreign Wars

By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!

In the 1930s, General Butler traveled across the U.S. on a speaking tour organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). In 1937 this organization had some 300,000 members. It was therefore a very different animal from the American Legion which had been organized and was largely controlled by Wall Street bankers and corporate leaders to counter communism and to squash the fledgling labour movement.

Butler, and his trusted friend and ally, VFW leader James Van Zandt, visited 20 towns in 21 days (

Jules Archer in The Plot to Seize the White House (1973) notes that Butler told reporters:

"All we soldiers are asking is that the nation give us the same break that is being given the manufacturers, the bankers, the industrialists. . . . Jimmie [Van Zandt] and I are going around the country trying to educate the soldiers out of the sucker class." p. 129

Nowadays, the VFW and its "Ladies Auxiliary" claim "2.6 million members in approximately 9,000 Posts worldwide." They call themselves "the nation's strongest voice for veterans and the catalyst for change in improving veterans benefits." However, the VFW no longer critiques the underlying causes of war. It has lost all of its radical spirit from the 1930s when Smedley Butler and James Van Zandt traveled across the country denouncing the use of U.S. troops to protect corporate interests abroad. In fact, the official website of the VFW <> does not contain even a single passing reference to Butler or Van Zandt.


Gary Gilson, executive director of the Minnesota News Council, said:

"I once spoke to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, a crowd of about 1,000. They represented the quintessence of patriotism, dedicated warriors who had defended our nation, many who resented the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era…. I started by asking how many had ever heard of Smedley Butler. Three hands went up. Good, I thought; they're in for a surprise.
Smedley Butler, in his book "War is a Racket," wrote that he wouldn't have minded that the average American soldier in World War I earned less than 30 cents a day, minus 10 cents for family allotment, minus four cents for ammunition; no, Butler wouldn't have minded, if the average munitions manufacturer had been limited to less than 30 cents a day in profit.
The roof of the Prom Center seemed almost to blow off, so thunderous was the howl of recognition by these veterans that, patriots all, they had been badly used by politicians and corporations. I had never witnessed such a thorough release."

Source: "Media Reveille," 2002.


Here's an odd little footnote to history of the VFW: An organization formed at Princeton lead to a whole movement of university groups that was created to satirize and belittle the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

Veterans of Future Wars
By Richard D. Challener

Veterans of Future Wars, sprang full-blown from a tea party at Princeton University's Terrace Club in March 1936. The Founding Father was Lewis Jefferson Gorin, Jr. '36, of Louisville, a politics major then writing a senior thesis, appropriately enough, on Niccolo Machiavelli.

Gorin and the other tea drinkers were disturbed by an act of Congress that had advanced by ten years -- from 1946 to 1936 -- the date at which the veterans of World War I would receive their long-sought and controversial soldiers' bonuses. This legislation, the consequence of intensive lobbying by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, struck the Princetonians as an intolerable raid upon the United States Treasury for the benefit of an organized minority.

The Veterans of Future Wars was created to satirize the bonus hunters [i.e. the Bonus Army]. Their first manifesto in the Princetonian argued that sooner or later there would be another war and that it would only be an act of justice for Congress to grant a $1000 cash bonus to all men between the ages of 18 and 36. A national salute was adopted, a modified version of the then famous Fascist greeting: an arm held straight out in the direction of Washington, the palm turned up receptively.

The wire services got interested, and all across the country newspapers ran articles on the Future Veterans. Overnight, local chapters mushroomed on college campuses; by June 1936 there were more than 500 chapters and a paid-up membership of over 50,000 students.

The Future Veterans were discussed -- and denounced -- in Congress, and they were vigorously criticized and condemned by the organized veterans movement. The Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, James Van Zandt, called them ``insolent puppies'' who ought to be spanked. ``They'll never be veterans of a future war,'' he predicted, ``for they are too yellow to go to war.'' The Princetonians replied that since the Veterans of Future Wars was a genuinely patriotic organization, Van Zandt clearly must be a ``Red.''

Activity at other colleges took various forms, but most of what happened at Princeton headquarters was intended simply to laugh the bonus movement to death.

Future Veteran activity had peaked by the close of the academic year. After the summer vacation the treasury was bare, the joke was stale, and national attention was focused on the Roosevelt-Landon campaign. Operations were suspended in the fall, and in April 1937, with the treasury showing a deficit of forty-four cents, the Veterans of Future Wars closed their books forever.

Source: Educational Technologies Center, Princeton University.