War is a racket

A few days ago, I excerpted some of former president Eisenhower’s criticisms of the cost of war. What follows is an excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler of the United States Marine Corps, that goes even further.

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 very many.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. 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 suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

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 (where have I heard that name before?). 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.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could 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.

It is interesting that high-ranking military persons like Eisenhower and Butler are saying these things. If civilians said them, they would be accused of being ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘not supporting the troop’s, those tired tropes that are always at hand for warmongers to bring out in their attempts to silence critics.

I wonder how many current day members of the military are aware of Butlers’ and Eisenhower’s views? Or at least I hope they listen to Edwin Starr’s classic song War


  1. says

    Butler also expanded that speech into a book, also called War is a Racket , in which he mentioned the consortium of wealthy men offered him the place of figurehead in the fascist coup they were planning.

  2. ianeymeaney says

    When I was in, I knew I was a lackey for Exxon. I had no illusions about what I was doing and why. Of course, I was a Nuke and we are trained to think for ourselves. Conventionals bought into the freedumb and mockracy swill.

  3. lorn says

    He is correct, war is a racket.

    But let’s not get too self-righteous and narrow about this observation. It would be easy to miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

    Damn near everything is a racket. People want to sell things. It can be an idea, a product, an ideology and the people selling whatever it is always make a profit. The payoff can come as money, power, authority, superior moral standing, celebrity, or … whatever … but there is always a payoff. If there wasn’t nobody would do it.

    Libertarians get that part right. Admitting to the payoff, at the very least, avoids most of the hypocrisy. What they get wrong is they ignore the damage done by agency and sidestep responsibility by claiming equivalence in knowledge, power and situation. That everyone is ‘playing the game’ and ‘all the participants are willing’ and equivalent. Which ignores the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, even tiny advantages tilt the field, and the easily observable effect that those with advantages tend to gain more advantages. They are also very selective in what is allowed. With the right of property owners to screw over entire populations, all perfectly legal of course, being declared a universal good. Whereas a tough using his talents to mug the property owner, arguably a much smaller insult to the public good, is condemned.

    The fact is that people with money and power will use police forces, and the military to gain an advantage if the public allows them to. The mafia does the same with trash collection in New Jersey. Pharmaceutical companies play the same game but with far less overt violence. Money, threats, intimidation, propaganda, and control over information are used by nations, corporations, and individuals to get what we want. The difference is one of degree and not kind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *