War Is a Racket: By General Smedley Butler, 80 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Sep 16, 2010

In a 1933 speech, Brigadier General Smedley Butler said, “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this 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, a gangster for capitalism... I helped make Mexico, 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 benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”  This speech, and especially this part of the speech, has made Gen. Butler a fairly famous – or at least often quoted – guy in anti-war circles. Gen. Butler is less famous but equally significant, historically speaking, because in 1934 several Wall Street bankers, including J.P. Morgan, tried to hire Butler to lead a military coup to take over the US, paving the way for American fascism.  War Is a Racket covers both of these topics.



            The preface of the book is a lengthy essay by Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey regarding the plot for the military coup.  If you’ve never heard about this, Parfrey’s essay is a decent introduction.  If you’re really curious about it, George Seldes does a much better job of explaining the coup, and you can read about it in The George Seldes Reader, which is a highly recommended book in its own right.  Still, Parfrey’s essay does tackle this fascist plot from the perspective of someone who’s living in a country where the president was chosen by a legal coup, and, if you’re wanting to draw parallels between 1934 and 2003, Parfrey sets you up to do so.



            Following the preface, the original text of Butlers 1935 bestseller, War Is a Racket, is reprinted.  The original book was fairly short (the reprint is just over twenty pages long), and it’s written in the style you might expect from a general: he’s emotional and he wants to inspire action in the people listening.  He also has a no-bullshit way of writing.  He presents the numbers, presents his information, demands you do something about it, and gets on with his life.  For these reasons, War Is a Racket reads more like an impassioned speech than like political text.  It’s not unlike reading some of Emma Goldman’s old speeches. 



            This reprint also includes two more essays by Butler.  The first, “Common Sense Neutrality,” is an argument for the US to stay out of World War II.  Butler’s basic argument is that, if we hadn’t gotten involved with World War I, then World War II wouldn’t be on the horizon in 1935.  War established an atmosphere that allowed Hitler to rise to power.  Further, according to Butler, what goes on in Europe is Europe’s business.  It has no effect on the US, other than the effect it has on lost revunues for US big business.  As a soldier, Butler has compassion for the poor bastards who actually have to fight a war, and he doesn’t believe for a second that those poor bastards are fighting for any higher purpose than profit.  Butler also knows what it takes to invade a country (especially since he’d successfully planned and executed several of these invasions), and he outlines exactly what it would take, in money, munitions, and manpower, for another country to invade the US.  Looking at his numbers and assuming he’s correct, it seems that a full-scale US invasion is damn near impossible at this point.  This makes for a compelling argument for isolationism (that is, having a military solely to protect the borders of the US).  The original book and this essay give a very interesting perspective on the nature of war, the real purposes behind it, and the way insecurities are nurtured in order to allow more wars for big business.  And, through Butlers speech-writer’s style, it makes for quick, enjoyable reading.



            The final offering of this reprint is an essay called “An Amendment for Peace,” in which Butler outlines his plans for isolationism.  It’s an interesting historical document, but a bit dated now.  And, finally, the book wraps up with a dozen pages of pictures of dead soldiers littering battlefields and living people who are being killed by the horrors of war.  The pictures are grotesque and disturbing, but they represent war more accurately than, say, CNN. –Sean (Feral House, PO Box 39910, LA, CA 90039)

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