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Smedley Darlington Butler: a Profile in Courage

August 13, 2014

Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) a United States Marine Corps major-general obtained the Corps highest rank authorized at that time. At the time of his death he was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. He also won two Congressional Medals of Honor.

Butler is well-known for having later become an outspoken critic of U.S. wars and their consequences. He also exposed the Business Plot, a purported plan to overthrow the U.S. government and assassinate Franklin Roosevelt. After retirement from the military he ran for Senate as a Republican but was defeated. In 1932 he supported the military bonus marchers at their encampment in Washington DC and was there when Gen. Douglas MacArthur led the attack on them killing several veterans. He later became a spokesman for the “American League Against Fascism.”

Smedley Butler wrote a book called “War is a Racket.” In an interview he said:

“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.”

According to Wikipedia, in his penultimate chapter of “War is a Racket,” Butler argues that three steps are necessary to disrupt the war racket:

“1. Making war unprofitable. Butler suggests that the owners of capital should be “conscripted” before other citizens are:

“It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labour before the nation’s manhood can be conscripted. … Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our ship-builders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get”

2. Acts of war to be decided by those who fight it. He also suggests a limited referendum to determine if the war is to be fought. Eligible to vote would be those who risk death on the front lines.

3. Limitation of militaries to self-defense. For the United States, Butler recommends that the navy be limited, by law, to within 200 miles of the coastline, and the army restricted to the territorial limits of the country, ensuring that war, if fought, can never be one of aggression.”

Alas, todays war profiteers have learned how to earn enormous profits even in peacetime and therefore the wars we do have tend to be localized in extent and useful primarily for getting rid of unneeded inventory.

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