“War is a racket.  It always has been…A racket is best described 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 very many.”

A quote from a radical peacenik?  Not hardly.  They are the words of Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler.  In his twilight years General Butler unburdened his soul; named names and exposed for whom the system works.

“I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914,” Butler wrote. “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 brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.  In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”   Butler acknowledged that he’d spent most of his 33 years in the Marines as “a high class muscle man for Big Business, Wall Street and the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

Thus did Butler expose a largely unknown truth—how the military serves the interests of property in the corporate form.

Perhaps more familiar to us is the age-old practice of war profiteering, here explained in the book, “Labor’s Untold Story.”

"...Only twenty-four at the (Civil) war's beginning, (J. Pierpont) Morgan perceived from the first that wars were for the shrewd to profit from and poor to die in…”  For $17,000 Morgan bought a store of government-owned rifles condemned as defective, and sold them back to the government for $110,000.

“A Congressional committee investigating his little deal said of him…‘Worse than traitors are the men who, pretending loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the nation.’”
“Worse than traitors are the men who, pretending loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the nation.”  A good epitaph for Dick Cheney’s tombstone, don’t you think?

Forget for a moment the indictable war profiteers like J.P. Morgan and consider just one instance of how legal war wealth, generated under the rule of law, enables the few inside the racket to benefit economically and politically at the expense of the many.  Take for instance, the du Pont Corporation, which made ten times its usual rate of profit selling gunpowder for WWI.

With that legal wealth, the du Pont family was able to buy nearly a quarter of all General Motors Corporation stock by the mid-20’s.   What a shrewd investment this turned out to be during GM’s successful campaign to destroy America’s mass transit systems.  And of course who better than a du Pont to run President Eisenhower’s Bureau of Public Roads and to develop the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways along with Defense Secretary (and former GM President), Charles Wilson?

Five months before The Great War drew to its bloody close, Eugene Debs gave his famous Canton, Ohio Speech, for which he received a Federal prison sentence.  He said in part:

“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder.  In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords…concluded to enlarge their domains…they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war.   The barons of the Middle Ages…declared all wars, and their miserable serfs fought all the battles.  The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to…cut one another's throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.

You can just hear Debs thunder as he continued:

“They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.

…the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace.”

“If war is right let it be declared by the people. You who have your lives to lose, you certainly above all others have the right to decide the momentous issue of war or peace.”

My friends, what will it take before we have that kind of real democracy—when “we the people” actually govern?   When human rights are valued more than property rights?  When the vast decency, wisdom and compassion of the American people finally guide our foreign and domestic policies?

The longer I live, the more I’m convinced people like Howard Zinn understand what it will take when he wrote:  “Civil disobedience is not our problem.  Our problem is civil obedience.  Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience ... Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty.   Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves…(and) the grand thieves are running the country.  That's our problem,” Zinn says.

How Many Of These War Millionaires Shouldered A Rifle?
Interview Quotes from Smedley D. Butler Major General, USMC

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, one of the most colorful officers in the Marine Corps, was one of the two Marines who received two Medals of Honor for separate acts of outstanding heroism. General Butler was born in 1881 and raised as a Quaker.  He was still in his teens when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant for the war with Spain and served in the Philippines, China, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, France, and, after a stint as Director of Public Safety in Philadelphia, in China again.  General Butler died at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia on 21 June 1940. At the time of his death the most decorated marine in U.S. history.

General Butler: When our forefathers planned this government, they saw no necessity for foreign wars, for wars that didn't concern us.  As a matter of fact, after we got our independence our army and navy were eliminated.

The Constitution states that the Congress has the power to provide for the common defense, and has the power to raise and support armies, but it also states that such forces can't be funded for more than two years.  We had a militia, that is each state had a militia, but this was the only armed force at the time and was not to be used beyond the territorial limits of the United States.

If you look into history, you will find that during the War of 1812 a certain regiment of militia marched northward toward Canada, but they refused to cross the border and went home. The militia was for home defense only. That's what our armed forces should be.  Home defenders, ready and able to defend our homes, to defend us against attack, and that's all.

General Butler: Well, I served in the Marine Corps for thirty-three years, and of course my military philosophy evolved.  As a seventeen year old second lieutenant in the Boxer rebellion, and then as a field grade officer in Central America and Haiti, I conducted myself with a certain flair.

Later, as a brigadier general commanding troops in China again, I had a different, and I think more successful, way of dealing with the differences of opinion that normally occur in the course of human events.  We had some interests in China at the time, and some Americans were just hoopin' and hollerin' for military action.  I, however, felt that they all had personal axes to grind.  They were just trouble makers and not problem solvers.  If you took them seriously and tried to listen to everything that they said, you'd be hopelessly mixed up.

I felt that the local people should settle, among themselves, their own form of government and their own ruler.  Our job was to make sure they didn't molest our people, that's all.

As long as I was commander, we weren't going to do what we did in the Banana Wars.  We weren't going to cause a lot of violence and take over their banks and run things the way we did in Central America.  I felt that the millions of dollars in American capital in China was nothing compared to the taxes Americans would have to pay for the battleships and Marines to protect them.  At the time, we were known as 'the Marines who wouldn't fight,' which was fine with me. My views haven't changed.

General Butler: I always sided with the underdog against the rich and powerful with their damnable wars, and I'd do it again.

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.

General Butler: If you take care of the troops, they'll take care of you.

Some military people are just careerists, and you can't expect civilians who never served to understand soldiers. In 1917, when I commanded the training base at Quantico, I opposed elevating the Corps Commandant to lieutenant general so long as the soldiers were getting no extra reward for doing the heavy work in the trenches.

When I was sent to France, we had a situation where we were building up to a million men but our camp was knee-deep in eternal mud and supply requisitions weren't working.  So one afternoon I marched down to the docks with seven thousand men, confiscated fifty thousand sections of duckboards (wooden slats to be used in trenches), plus some shovels and kettles that we needed, and we carried them back to camp. Since I too carried a duckboard up the hill, I became known as General Duckboard.

Years later, in 1932, when President Hoover and the Congress had denied these brave men their bonus, and twenty thousand of them gathered in Washington, I urged them to stick it out.  I got up on this rickety stand they had built and said: "You hear folks call you fellows tramps, but they didn't call you that in '17 and '18.  I never saw such fine soldiers. I never saw such discipline . . . You have as much right to lobby here as the United States Steel Corporation."  If I were around today I'd be up on that stand again, believe me.

General Butler: 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 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 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 the war a few people make huge fortunes.  New millionaires and billionaires are created in a war.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle?  How many of them dug a trench?  How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war, nations acquire additional territory.  They just take it. This newly acquired territory is exploited by the few, the self-same few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

 And what is this bill?  This bill renders a horrible accounting.  Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies.  Shattered minds.  Broken hearts and homes.  Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries.  Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.  Truly, war is a racket.

General Butler: The Government declares war. To say helplessly: As individuals we have nothing to do with it, can't prevent it. But WHO ARE WE?  Well, "WE" right now are the mothers and fathers of every able-bodied boy of military age in the United States. "WE" are also you young men of voting age and over, that they'll use for cannon fodder. And "WE" can prevent it.  Now--you MOTHERS, particularly.

The only way you can resist all this war hysteria and beating tom-toms is by hanging onto the love you bear your boys. When you listen to some well-worded, well-delivered speech, just remember that it's nothing but Sound.  It's your boy that matters.  And no amount of sound can make up to you for the loss of your boy.

General Butler: Well, it's a racket all right.  A few profit, and the many pay.  But there is a way to stop it. You can't end it by disarmament conferences, peace parlays in Geneva or well-meaning resolutions.  It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.

First, before the government can recruit or conscript young people for military service, they must conscript politicians and industry and labor.  Pay them $1500 a month, the same that the soldiers get. They aren't running any risk of being killed or having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered, so why shouldn't they?

Smedley D. Butler, Major General

United States Marine Corps

Double recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor

For further information visit the Smedley Butler Society at

See aslo: 1934 Coup On America