United States Marines usually aren't known to be anti-capitalist pacifists. Quite the opposite. They always have had, and always will have a well-deserved reputation for being brave and ferocious fighters, whether on offense or defense. Marines have always been considered elite troops. General John Lejeune, Commandant of the Marine Corps, perfectly summed them up in a rousing Marine Corps birthday message in 1921, and that message is read to Marines on November 10, the birthday of the USMC, to this day.
By all accounts, General Smedley Butler was the epitome of the courageous and professional Marine officer. Serving for over 30 years, from 1898 to 1931, Butler fought or participated in practically every U.S. military action involving Marines. Butler was one of the very, very few people who won the Medal of Honor twice, as well as numerous other decorations. When not fighting overseas, he took a break to help clean up the notoriously corrupt city of Philadelphia as Director of Public Safety. After being passed over for promotion to Commandant of the Marine Corps, partially because of his pugnacious and outspoken manner, he retired as a Major General.
Perhaps because he was fed up with it all, and growing concerned about the direction the country was heading toward, Butler began a public speaking tour and authored a small book, both titled "War is a Racket." Very few people would be more qualified to elucidate on the subject, and Butler did it with gusto. He said: "I believe in...taking Wall St. by the throat and shaking it up." He summed up his career like this:
"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."
The outline of his book was also very telling:
- War is a racket
- Who makes the profits?
- Who pays the bills?
- How to smash this racket!
- To hell with war!
Butler closed it out with this summary:
"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. 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."
He went on to recommend three ways of preventing wars, like making them unprofitable, forcing a referendum by the people who actually would fight and die in it, and strictly limiting it to self-defense. Not exactly the sentiments one would expect from a hardened Marine! In 1933, Butler's last significant public act was to publically announce an alleged plot against Roosevelt, the so-called Business Plot. Butler died in 1940, and the Marine Corps, or any other service, has not seen the likes of him ever since.
Note: I’ve posted this before, but being on the eve of both the birthday of the USMC and Veteran’s Day, I thought I’d lay it out one more time.