Smedley Butler Was Right

Most likely you've never heard of Smedley Butler, but one hundred years ago he was a household name. A Marine Corps officer, he served in battles throughout the Caribbean, Central America, the Philippines and China, achieved the rank of major general, and was awarded the Medal of Honor twice. He interrupted his service to the Marines in the early 1920s to take over a corrupt Philadelphia Police Department at the request of that city's mayor, and employed tactics on Philly gangsters he had developed two decades earlier to defeat bandits in the Banana Wars.

Nearly three decades before outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned in his 1961 farewell speech about the dangers of the military-industrial complex ("In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist"), Butler published a 45 page manifesto regarding the relationship between our elected representatives and Wall Street, and how the U.S. military is used to achieve the desired global goals of big business.

The manifesto is entitled War Is A Racket, and outlines how World War One provided the opportunity for 21,000 citizens of this country to make themselves new millionaires and billionaires through war profiteering. He names some of the corporations (several still in existence today) and documents their pre-war profits versus the astronomical sums of money made at the expense of the American taxpayers during the war. Here is the opening line of General Butler's publication:

"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. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."

He goes on to describe the involvement of the United States in WWI as not some noble, altruistic endeavor to preserve democracy, but rather a profit-motivated secret scheme based on money owed by European countries to the United States:

"Looking back, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had 'kept us out of war' and on the implied promise that he would 'keep us out of war.' Yet, five months later he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.

In that five-month interval the people had not been asked whether they had changed their minds. The 4,000,000 young men who put on uniforms and marched or sailed away were not asked whether they wanted to go forth to suffer and die.

Then what caused our government to change its mind so suddenly?


An allied commission, it may be recalled, came over shortly before the war declaration and called on the President. The President summoned a group of advisers. The head of the commission spoke. Stripped of its diplomatic language, this is what he told the President and his group:

'There is no use kidding ourselves any longer. The cause of the allies is lost. We now owe you (American bankers, American munitions makers, American manufacturers, American speculators, American exporters) five or six billion dollars. If we lose, and without the help of the United States we must lose, we, England, France and Italy, cannot pay back this money...and Germany won't. So..."

The U.S. entered the war April 1917 and stayed until its conclusion November11, 1918. 116,516 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines died and another 204,002 were wounded. And corporations made money hand over fist.

Butler summed up War Is A Racket with a paragraph that is as blunt as it its true, and which could have come straight from 21st century America if you substitute dates and places:

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. 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. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might 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."

Imagine a flag officer with the spine to write something like that in today's politically correct world. No way, especially if he wants that six-figure defense contractor corporate job handed to him when he retires. Most, if not all, major defense contractors in this country have retired generals and admirals on their boards of directors.

Was Butler a visionary? No. He was simply a man of integrity who was fed up with the vast moneymaking relationship between politicians, corporate America and the military. He had the guts to call them on it and, of course, was immediately labeled a nut job, anti-American and an overall nuisance. Much of what he spoke of was the terrible effect war had on American youth through untimely deaths and the hideous wounds suffered which caused lifetimes of physical, emotional, and psychological pain.

Wars are profit-motivated. That's why we were in Afghanistan for twenty years and almost that long in Iraq. I served in Afghanistan and can tell you straight up that we had no business being there beyond the initial invasion to drive out al-Qaeda. That country is five hundred years behind the rest of the planet, and you cannot dispense democracy out the end of a gun barrel. It was a waste of time, tax-payer money and resources, but go to any website and read the multitude of articles regarding the billions made by corporations such as Halliburton and Dyncorp every year since 9/11 and it is easy to grasp the content of War Is A Racket.

According to Forbes, in 2009 53% of Dyncorp's annual revenue of $3.1 billion was generated by the wars. Business Insider reported that in the decade 2003-13 Kellog, Brown & Root made $39.5 billion in Iraq alone, much of it with contracts given without having to compete in a bidding process (KBR was part of Halliburton, of which Vice-President Cheney was chairman and CEO from 1995-2000). In all, $138 billion had been doled out to companies, and that was just up to 2013! According to the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, the level of corruption by defense contractors at that time may have been as high as $60 billion!!! According to a January 2020 Sludge review of financial disclosures, 51 members of Congress and their spouses own between $2.3 and $5.8 million worth of stocks in companies that are among the top 30 defense contractors in the world. That includes Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, United Technologies, General Dynamics, BAE Systems and others.

In 2004 a New York Times reporter was sniffing around our compound in Kabul for a story regarding millions of dollars that reportedly could not be accounted for by Dyncorp. Dyncorp was the corporation that had hired us on behalf of the State Department to advise the Ministry of Interior on police matters. Nobody knew much about the money, it wasn't something that would involve us personally. We had heard rumors, but nothing beyond that. I do remember a retired military employee who worked on construction projects being discreetly transferred to Turkey after $80,000 was discovered missing from an account for which he was responsible. Not terminated from employment, mind you, just transferred.

It has been eighty-seven years since War Is A Racket was published and nothing has changed. Politicians who have never served one day in the military beat the war drums, corporations in conjunction with military leaders lobby for American taxpayer money to finance their projects, and soaring profits are made under the banner of patriotism.


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