General Smedley Butler, a real American hero

General Smedley Butler painting by Je' Czaja
General Smedley Butler
painting by Je’ Czaja

General Smedley Butler (1881-1940) spoke his mind without fear or favor. He thundered like a prophet, in plain old American English, and like all prophets, this often got him in trouble.

He received two Medals of Honor for outstanding heroism and was known and loved as an officer who truly cared for the well-being of the soldiers. He was due to be court-martialed for refusing to retract a negative story about Mussolini (fascists were very popular in the USA at one time) and he resigned from military service.

“I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force–the Marine Corps. 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 part of a racket all the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service.”

He wrote a book called War is a Racket in which he characteristically pulled no punches.

“War is a racket. 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.”

When the Bonus Army of WWI veterans marched on Washington, Butler joined them and encouraged them to persevere. He was so popular that when a group of big businessmen plotted a fascist coup against FDR, they tried to get Butler to lead an army of veterans to actually pull it off. He listened to the plotters and then testified against them at the McCormack-Dickstein Committee hearings, a little known but important event in American history.

His cure for the racket of war was straight-forward:

“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 labor before the nation’s manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation — it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the 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.”

A real American hero-General Smedley Butler. 🙂


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