Saturday, August 20, 2011

Maj. General Smedley Butler,
      U. S. Marine Corps
War Hero, Antiwar Activist (1881-1940)
       Speaks out in his own words

"I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to Major General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of the racket all the time. Now I am sure of it."

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, also known as "The Fighting Quaker." At the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in US history, and the only person to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two separate military actions. He was also an unrelenting voice against the business of war.

Raised by prominent Quaker parents, Smedley Butler defied his pacifist lineage by joining the Marines just before his 17th birthday. He served in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Haiti (earning his Medals of Honor in the latter two places). He served and distinguished himself in World War I, although he was not stationed on the front lines for combat. Butler was known for his leadership and commitment to the welfare of the men under his command. He rose quickly through the ranks to become one of the youngest major generals at age 48.

Butler was very vocal against what he saw as a rise in admiration for Fascism and Mussolini. He told an unfavorable story about Mussolini for which he was court-martialed. Rather than recant and apologize, Butler retired from the military in 1931. By then, he had also begun questioning US involvement in foreign conflicts. Butler saw the US as being imperialistic, that war (in particular WWI) was really a profitable business for the few at the expense of thousands of lives, and that he himself was a cog in the war machine. In a booklet titled War is a Racket, Butler wrote, “In the World War a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War….How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle?....The general public shoulders the bill. And what is this bill?....Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds….For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out. "War is a Racket grew out of a series of speeches Butler gave to whatever group wanted to hear his views. Veterans, groups with Communist leanings" it did not matter to him. This often drew criticism against Butler, but he was steadfast in his beliefs about war, US imperialism, and a growing Pro-Fascist movement. He spoke frankly and honestly about his experiences and opinions, and was very popular with the American public.

In 1934, Butler went before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to expose a conspiracy against the government. He had been recruited by a group of wealthy Pro-Fascists who had hoped to use him in a coup against President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He went along, gathering intelligence about the plot, and took it to Congress. Butler’s assertions were not aggressively pursued, and the matter largely dismissed. However, an internal report to Congress from HUAC confirmed the veracity of the plot, though no more action was taken. For more on this, go to .

Smedley Butler died in 1940, but his presence is still very much alive. The Boston, MA chapter of Veterans For Peace is named the Smedley D. Butler Brigade, and he is featured in the documentary "The Corporation." A free copy of War is a Racket is available at .