War is a Racket - Redux

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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:

  1. War is a racket
  2. Who makes the profits?
  3. Who pays the bills?
  4. How to smash this racket!
  5. 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.



Flying Junior Added Nov 7, 2017 - 2:43am
This is an historical truth.  It is somewhat prescient in light of the fact that it preceded the Third Reich.
Eisenhower gave his stern warning more than a quarter of a century later.
For those  mostly familiar with recent history, Operation Iraqi Freedom is an obvious example of abusing governmental power in the interest of enormous financial gain.
Maybe that's why Trump would like to start his own war.  There is money to be made.
Sadly, although war is a good way of diverting the treasure of a nation, it does not always stimulate the economy.
Thomas Sutrina Added Nov 7, 2017 - 8:44am
Rome was built the same way.  And even Islamic empires also came about for these reasons.   He is seeing the surface of the effect of changing the economics and politics of an area.   The winning society does not happen by accident.  They do something better then all those they conquer.  Rome invented concrete so what came with those solders was a new way to build things.  The Normans in their long boats made betters ships and thus the ships of the Europe improved.  They also brought to England the idea that turned into the Magna Carta and the Parliament and USA.  The protestant revolution happened because of the printing press.  The Normans reached into those regions also.  
What I agree with is that the price paid for getting the new capacity is not done fairly.  The conquered are not given a choice and the price they pay is determined by the seller so is often outrageous.  His solution seems to be destroy the good done by introducing new ideas by his solution.  
Alexander the Great teaches us something.  That you need to incorporate the conquered into the conqueror's society.  That is also one of the major features of Christianities spread.  The melting in of those older societies into this upstart feature.  It is added to the whole not replaces the whole.  
Autumn Cote Added Nov 7, 2017 - 8:52am
Please note, the second best way to draw more attention to your work is to comment on the work of others (I know you've commented recently, but one sentence comments don't count). I know this to be true because if you do, I'll do everything in my power to draw more attention to your articles (there is a lot I can do and would like to do on your behalf).  Below are a few articles whose authors are deserving of more comment activity:
George N Romey Added Nov 7, 2017 - 8:56am
War is good for business particularly as in the case of the US you arm both sides. Hitler would have never been able to build a war machine without the help of US factories.
Butler also advocated no military intervention 500 miles beyond on borders, unless we were attacked. Of course that’s gone by the wayside. I guess like Rome one day we will pay the price.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 7, 2017 - 12:57pm
Good article (more people should 'like' it even though it is a redux piece) !
Sutrina: The only thing the conquerer is superior in is conquering. Your Islamic expansion example makes that very clear. They basically destroyed and ransacked superior cultures. There are many other examples. War makes everything worse. The whole point of a sensible military is to prevent the community from war.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 7, 2017 - 5:31pm
@Benjamin "The only thing the conquerer is superior in is conquering. Your Islamic expansion example makes that very clear. They basically destroyed and ransacked superior cultures."
Is above factual? Did the Moors in Spain not tolerate the culture and religion of those concurred, more so than the sacking carried out by Christians? 
Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 7, 2017 - 7:53pm
Green: the Moors in Spain were less tolerant than is usually said. There was, for instance, the Grenada massacre of 1066 when Muslims slaughtered almost all Jews of the city. The Christians of Spain who were conquered were not much more intolerant (if at all).
[note: Spanish inquisition etc came after the Moors]
The Moors became more tolerant over time, but I don't see how they were superior to those who they conquered.
Leroy Added Nov 7, 2017 - 8:43pm
Good article, Michael.  I have to admire people who don't mince words and call it what it is.
Katharine Otto Added Nov 7, 2017 - 9:37pm
Wow.  I especially like this article because an insider like General Butler presented the facts to back up my beliefs.  There is a decided pattern to American imperialism, which has followed the pattern of previous empires.  
I'm currently reading The House of Morgan:  An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance, by Ron Chernow.  Chernow is sympathetic to banking interests and Wall Street.  During Butler's time, the bankers believed they were serving the public good by loaning money to governments and dictators.  Lamont, a principal in the House of Morgan, supported pre WWII Japan and Mussolini, believing their intentions were good.
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:10pm
@ Flying Junior - Among my goals with this post was to demonstrate that nothing is new under the Sun.
wsucram15 Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:11pm
Mike I was going to read Lawrence O'Donnels book on 1968 next..but I think I might read this first..then that.
I love an honest truth telling autobiography. I just read the first 5 pages..good stuff.
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:11pm
@ Thomas S. - I cannot disagree with you, no matter what, the mechanisms more or less remain the same.
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:12pm
@ Autumn - Hey Sugar! I'm enough of a WB veteran to know that you HATE non-commentators, hopefully I'm making up for that tonight! : )
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:13pm
@ George - That's actually the subject of another post i have percolating!
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:16pm
@ Benjamin G. - Thank you! Actually, if I get one read, I'm happy; if I get one like, I'm happier; when I get a good compliment and/or a good discussion with someone, I'm ecstatic, lol!
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:19pm
@ Leroy - Thanks, dude! That's really all that should matter, huh! BTW, I appreciate the support you've shown me, you're a cool fucking dude for sure! : )
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:20pm
@ Katherine - Glad you liked it, and most important, gave you another perspective to view from! Once again, nothing new under the Sun, lol!
Jeffry Gilbert Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:42pm
I have few heros. Butler is one of them
Michael B. Added Nov 7, 2017 - 10:49pm
Jeffry! Coming from you, that carries a lot of weight!
Neil Lock Added Nov 8, 2017 - 7:52am
This article may be a redux, but telling the truth again never hurts.
George N Romey Added Nov 8, 2017 - 7:58am
There’s evidence American business was supporting Hitler up until 1943. After the war there were hearing into the matter and as usual those CEOs got a case of Sergeant Schultz,
Dino Manalis Added Nov 8, 2017 - 8:27am
We need peace through strength to avoid wars as much as possible!
Michael B. Added Nov 8, 2017 - 9:52pm
@ Neil L. - Thank you sir!
Michael B. Added Nov 8, 2017 - 10:18pm
@ George R. - Indeed, even back then, German and U.S. companies were intertwined to a large degree, however, even back then, there was something resembling ITAR; for example, when the Hindenburg dirigible was being designed, they counted on using helium, but the U.S., then as now, is the largest supplier of that gas, refused to supply it for various reasons; the rest is history.
Bill Kamps Added Nov 9, 2017 - 7:42am
War is a racket and also unpredictable once started.  The results are rarely the intended results. 
There are a complex set reasons why wars are started, and those that stand to profit from war are certainly advocates of the war.  However, profit is not the only reason for war. Perceived political advantage is usually the reason for war, while the profit makers are lobbying in favor of the conflict.
It is doubtful that when war is discussed in the White House the conversation is, "we need to make some money for Raytheon,  Halliburton, Lockheed, Boeing, so lets start a war somewhere".   Today, even providing a general boost to the economy is probably not openly discussed, since these days that boost is small compared to the late 1930s.  
More likely, even among those who personally stand to profit from the war, other reasons are given to justify it. 
George N Romey Added Nov 9, 2017 - 10:33am
I agree Bill yes they do find all kinds of "patriotic" reasons for war.  But you can bet they all are sitting around a table tallying up how much money they are going to make in their head.
John Minehan Added Nov 9, 2017 - 9:36pm
MajGen (Ret.) Butler was also raised a Quaker. 
John Minehan Added Nov 9, 2017 - 9:43pm
Interesting nod to MajGen Butler in a 1970s PI series called City of Angels.
Michael B. Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:10pm
@ Jeanne (belated) - Cool!
Michael B. Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:12pm
@ Bill K. - Bill, astute observation, as usual. Most wars are armed robberies on a large and, in the case of WW2, a colossal scale.
Michael B. Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:15pm
@ John M. - John, you continually impress me with your knowledge of things! Who knows, I may have saluted you, lol. I have no doubt the return salute would have been a model of military courtesy.