Information icon.svg Voting in the 2023 RationalWiki Moderator Election is now closed. Results to come!

Smedley Butler

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Butler in 1927
It never changes
Icon war2.svg
A view to kill
War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of 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 masses.
—Smedley Butler. Arguably one of his most well-known quotes.

Smedley Darlington Butler (1881–1940) was a United States Marine Corps Major General, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death 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, Central America, and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars,Wikipedia and France in World War I. Butler later became better known an outspoken critic of U.S. wars and their consequences. He also blew the whistle on the infamous Business Plot,Wikipedia an alleged fascist conspiracy to overthrow the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration of the United States government.[1]

Butler became an icon of the anti-war movement with his speech (and later book) War is a Racket,[2][3] a scathing critique of the corporate interests that lay behind the imperialist wars he had fought.

War is a Racket[edit]

After retiring from military service, Butler became widely known for his outspoken lectures against war profiteering, U.S. military adventurism, and what he viewed as nascent fascism in the United States.

In December 1933, Butler toured the country with James E. Van Zandt to recruit members for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). He described their effort as "trying to educate the soldiers out of the sucker class." In his speeches, he denounced the Economy Act of 1933, called on veterans to organize politically to win their benefits, and condemned the FDR administration for its ties to big business. The VFW reprinted one of his speeches with the title "You Got to Get Mad" in its magazine Foreign Service. He said: "I believe in… taking Wall St. by the throat and shaking it up."[4] He believed the rival veterans' group the American Legion was controlled by banking interests. On December 8, 1933, he said: "I have never known one leader of the American Legion who had never sold them out — and I mean it."[5]

In addition to his speeches to pacifist groups, he served from 1935 to 1937 as a spokesman for the American League Against War and Fascism. In 1935, he wrote the exposé titled 'War Is a Racket', a trenchant condemnation of the profit motive behind warfare.[2] His views on the subject are summarized in the following passage from the November 1935 issue of the socialist magazine Common Sense:

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. I helped make Mexico and 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 benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Credulity Unlimited, The New York Times, November 1934.
  2. 2.0 2.1 War Is a Racket by Smedley Darlington Butler (1935) New York Round Table Press.
  3. War is a Racket by Smedley Butler – Still ringing true 80 years on, Ruairi Wood
  4. Ortiz Stephen R (2006). "The 'New Deal' for Veterans: The Economy Act, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Origins of the New Deal". Journal of Military History 70: 434–5. 
  5. New York Times: "Butler for Bonus out of Wall Street", December 10, 1933, accessed January 10, 2011