14 May 2009


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 15 May 2009

“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.”

Those are the words of a Marine. In 1935 Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940) wrote a book titled “War Is A Racket.” The author, the man known as “Old Gimlet Eye,” retired as a Major General from the U. S. Marine Corps after a distinguished three decade plus career. At the time of his death he was the most decorated Marine in the Corps’ history. Among his chest full of medals he wore several notable ones for heroism: the Marine Corps Brevet Medal—at the time the highest award in the Marine Corps for officers; and the Medal of Honor—two awards. The book and its message may not have garnered all that much attention had the writer not had just a little bit of credibility. Yes, Butler knew just a little bit about war.

By no stretch of the imagination can Butler's book be classified as a tome. His anti-interventionist views and explanation of the workings of the military-industrial complex are succinctly laid out in five short chapters that do not quite cover 25 pages. His writing is direct and blunt—brutally honest. The Chapters are as follows:

Chapter 1: War Is A Racket!
Chapter 2: Who Makes The Profits?
Chapter 3: Who Pays The Bills?
Chapter 4: How To Smash This Racket!
Chapter 5: To Hell With War!

In addition to his book, Butler penned a couple of other related works—“Common Sense Neutrality” and “Amendment for Peace.” Both tie into his anti-war thinking.

The last paragraph of his “Common Sense Neutrality” reads:

“Think it over, my dear fellow Americans. Can’t we be satisfied with defending our own homes, our own women, our own children? Right here in America? There are only two reasons why you should ever be asked to give your youngsters. One is defense of our homes. The other is defense of our Bill of Rights and particularly the right to worship God as we see fit. Every other reason advanced for the murder of young men is a racket, pure and simple.”

Strong words from a battle-hardened man.

Considering the current world situation, Butler’s “Amendment for Peace” to the Constitution of the United States is especially interesting. He proposed that sea-going vessels of the armed forces not be permitted to sail more than 500 miles beyond the coastlines of the United States for any reason other than one of mercy (humanitarian). And, that aircraft of the armed forces not be permitted to fly beyond 750 miles of our coastlines. In short, he postured that our military should be defenders of our homeland. Not off fighting wars that do not concern us.

Butler’s book raises numerous questions. For starters, his ideas seem so simple yet are they practical in a complex world that, in many ways, is much smaller and interconnected than in his day? What would he think of America’s foreign policy today? How would he feel about our military being strategically positioned ashore and afloat—globally; to protect our interests and promote democracy? What would he think about our engagement in Iraq? In Afghanistan?

Would his proposals for constraining the military’s areas of operation in “Amendment for Peace” be practical today? How did we get where we are today? Clearly commitment to democracy (globally) and policy has driven the boundary-less presence of our military.

No need to detail the content of each chapter or craft a synopsis of his other two pieces here. If you have the fundamentals of capitalism figured out (and it’s not all that complicated) then you can pretty much figure out who stuffs their pockets with wads and wads and wads of cash and who pays the price—the ultimate price that is. Nor do I want to spoil the read for anyone who may wish to pick up a copy of the book (it can be found on the Internet for around $10.00).

For sure, this book is well worth the few bucks and brief amount of time required to read. Frankly, the amount of money and time invested will prove to be disproportionately small to the amount of thought that stems from Butler’s perspective. Arguably, the book should be required reading for any professional military man or woman—officer or enlisted.

I am embarrassed to admit that not once during my nearly 27 year career in the U. S. Marine Corps did a senior officer ever, not once mind you, recommend Butler’s book. I do not recall it ever being on the Commandant’s professional reading list. And a recent check of the Commandant’s list as well as that of the Chief of Naval Operations did not include Butler’s book. I find that odd. For admittedly, Butler’s ideas may be completely contrary to U. S. policy and the military culture but there is always room for differing opinion—for balance and intellectual development; especially if proffered by a warrior. Or so one would think.

U. S. presidents wage war. During my lifetime, starting with Eisenhower, each has had their hand in some sort of skirmish—either starting it, sustaining it, or finishing it. Barak Obama, a harsh critic of Iraq, is no different. He is reigniting and building his nice little war in Afghanistan. Regardless of his motives and objectives—and successes and failures—two certainties will fall in line with Butler’s writing: A relative few will profit and handsomely. Many will pay the price.

1 comment:

Kevin said...


Where's the dose of humor in this posting?

It is a good read nonetheless