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5.0 out of 5 stars Decorated Marine General Cannot Be Ignored, August 17, 2003
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This review is from: War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier (Paperback)
EDITED from 17 Aug 03 to add book links.

This book is a real gem, a classic, that should be in any library desiring to focus on national security. It is a very readable collection of short essays, ending with a concise collection of photographs that show the horror of war--on one page in particular, a pile of artillery shells labeled "Cause" and below is a photo of a massive pile of bodies, labeled "Effect."

Of particular interest to anyone concerned about the current national security situation, both its expensive mis-adventures abroad and its intrusive violation of many Constitutional rights at home, is the author's history, not only as a the most decorated Marine at the time, with campaign experience all over the world, but as a spokesperson, in retirement, for placing constitutional American principles over imperialist American practice.

The following quotations from the book are intended to summarize it:

"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil intersts 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." [p. 10]

"War is a racket. ...It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives." [p. 23]

"The general public shoulders the bill [for war]. 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." [p. 24]

General Butler is especially trenchant when he looks at post-war casualties. He writes with great emotion about the thousands of tramautized soldiers, many of who lose their minds and are penned like animals until they die, and he notes that in his time, returning veterans are three times more likely to die prematurely than those who stayed home.

This decorated Marine, who understands and documents in detail the exorbitant profits that a select few insiders (hence the term "racket") make from war, proposes three specific anti-war measures:

1) Take the profit out of war. Nationalize and mobilize the industrial sector, and pay every manager no more than each soldier earns.

2) Vote for war or no war on the basis of a limited plebisite in which only those being asked to bear arms and die for their country are permitted to vote.

3) Limit US military forces, by Constitutional amendment, to home defense purposes only.

There is a great deal of wisdom and practical experience in this small book--Smedley Butler is to war profiteering what S.L.A. Marshall is to "the soldier's load." While a globalized world and the complex integration of both national and non-national interests do seem to require a global national security strategy and a means of exerting global influence, I am convinced that he is correct about the fundamentals: we must take the profit out of war, and restore the voice of the people in the matter of making war.

The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Why We Fight
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth'
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
The Lessons of History
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
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Showing 1-10 of 51 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 10, 2007 8:00:46 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 10, 2007 8:01:44 AM PDT
Less well known is that General Butler wrote the following: "Also I feel sure there is no use talking any more about this war business. The people of America are fools. If they want to have their children shot in order to keep Franklin Roosevelt on a pedestal, they will just have to do it." This was in a letter to the head of an Independent Republican Women's group, and was written in 1940, *during* the Nazi blitzkrieg.

General Butler would have let the democracies perish. General Butler would have stood by and waited for Hitler to build an atom bomb. General Butler would have let the Nazis do whatever they liked to gays and Gypsies and Jews.

General Butler was a brave soldier, but after his retirement he lost either his moral sense or his mind. Probably the most charitable thing we can say about him is that he lost his mind.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 10, 2007 6:33:08 PM PDT
Sorry to hear that you believe that. It is a sadness that most generals discover their First Amendment rights and voice after they retire. We should never have gone into Iraq and we would not have if the generals had rallied around General Shinseki and told Congress that Wolfowitz was wrong on everything, as he was.

As a result of your comment, I am adding some book links to my review, hoping to help you back away from your own current insanity. I suppose you think the Palestinians are sub-human, and therefore the Israeli genocide of them, and the idiot creation of the walled laberynth, is "sane."

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2007 8:29:54 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 11, 2007 10:49:23 AM PDT

I pointed out that the man you were praising gave his all to keep us from stopping Hitlerism. I included the man's words and their historical context. You ignored all of this.

Then, after continuing to defend a man who was effectively furthering the cause of a racist maniac, you accused *me* of racism without providing any evidence. This lack of evidence is not surprising, of course, because there is no evidence that I am a racist, and the reason for this is that I am not a racist.

Then you accused Israel of genocide, which is just absurd. Israel has risked the lives of its own soldiers *countless times* to prevent Palestinian casualties, even though the stated goal of many radical (and quite popular) Palestinian groups is the extermination of the Jews. Risking your own soldiers to prevent harm to people who want to wipe you out is not typical of a nation that aims at genocide. And your claim is particularly offensive, given that the Jews, as you might have heard, were victims of a genocide that was quite real, *and* given that the Jews have recently been threatened with extermination *again* by the president of Iran, a man whom the surrender-monkey crowd has been demanding that we negotiate with, even though the Europeans have been negotiating with him for a couple of years with absolutely nothing to show for it. If the treatment of the Palestinians even remotely resembled genocide, surely they would be fleeing not only Israel but the occupied territories. There are plenty of Arab nations around for them to flee to, and yet they are not fleeing. Your use of "genocide" is, to put it mildly, Orwellian.

Been reading too much Chomsky? Or maybe Robert Faurisson? Considering your fondness for General Butler and his "classic," and considering the way you refuse to criticize his claims that Hitler's actions were "not our problem," and considering that your inclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into this discussion was such a bizarre *non sequitur*, and considering that you tossed in a reference to Paul Wolfowitz just for kicks, I'm beginning to wonder.

I'm afraid that your list of books doesn't impress me much. I've read my share of revisionist history and lefty polemics, and none of those that you include looks interesting enough to pique my interest. I did think it was interesting, if strange, that you included Gaddis and the Durants, given that those authors are sane. And though I'm encouraged to see that you occasionally stumble upon sanity, I still can't figure why you recommend the Durants' "Lessons of History." Not that it's bad. I read it when I was about seventeen and remember it as a sweet and entertaining little book. But I don't see its relevance here. Even more perplexing is why you would include Gaddis. His career, primarily as a historian of the Cold War, is most noteworthy for his dismantling of the crude Marxist analysis of foreign policy which argues that the U.S. military is merely an extension of U.S. business interests, and yet it is precisely this kind of bunkum that you seem to find so compelling.

Were you just struggling to include a couple of titles not written by leftist maniacs?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2007 9:03:35 PM PDT
Your five minutes are up.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 12, 2007 2:33:01 AM PDT
Your talent for logical argumentation is truly unprecedented.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2007 12:25:13 PM PST
Mr Waxwing - Where I have a problem with your original post is you're suggestion that General Butler either lost his moral compass or his mind. Just because he opposed intervention in Europe during Hitler's rise? Many fine Americans did. While I whole-heartedly and passionately disagree with the General's views on this subject, I don't think it's necessary to demean the man as you have done just because he was wrong on this issue. And as you've pointed out, it was 1940 when he wrote this. Although Poland had fallen the year prior, Germany's real Blitzkreig started in May 1940 when they took France. General Butler died in June of cancer so I'm guessing the letter you referenced was written earlier in the year? Hitler's "Final Solution" had not been decided on until 1941. Who knows what the General's opinion on the war would have been had he not died. But even assuming General Butler would have still opposed America's entry into WWII, it is possible to disagree with him without dragging him down into the dirt. He became anti-war, not anti-American. If a two-time Medal of Honor winner doesn't have the right to oppose war AND to be wrong without being labeled immoral or insane, who does?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2007 10:06:42 AM PST
Dear Mr. Townsend:

My best guess about General Butler is that he meant well but that his analysis of foreign policy should not be considered sane. I will concede, though only by way of clarification, that he had not "lost his mind" in a *clinical* sense. In the everyday sense of the statement, "The old general's lost his mind," though, the old general had lost his mind. It was indeed crazy of him to accept a theory of U.S. foreign policy that was so sweeping, so paranoid, and so, well, wrong. There are historical instances when war has been a "racket," but Butler tries to explain much too much of U.S. foreign policy as a conspiracy of business interests. And it is precisely this paranoid theory of foreign policy that led to his deeply wrongheaded position on Hitler and the war in Europe.

My larger point was that overly simplistic theories like General Butler's have become all too popular as of late--and that those who use General Butler's bravery to give credence to their own grand conspiracy theories should make note of the position General Butler's theory led him to take on what some people consider the most important foreign policy question of the last century.

Your point about Poland and France is a fair one given that General Butler had little time to reflect on the blitzkrieg, which was ongoing when he wrote his letter (as I pointed out in my original post). But we still have to deal with the fact that even the misguided and sadly ineffectual Neville Chamberlain had his doubts removed about Hitler's intentions after the fall of Poland. To have a position on Hitler that was less flexible and less attuned to the facts on the ground than Chamberlain's position--well, that just does not speak well for the general's foreign policy thinking. Again, this should not make us conclude that General Butler was a wicked person. What his story should tell us is that even people who are most likely well-intentioned can be led tragically astray by paranoid theories.

Your point on the Final Solution is less substantive. Yes, Hitler's exterminationist policy was not fully mapped out until 1941, but it is misleading to claim that we knew nothing of his position on Jews until then. "Mein Kampf," which mentions "the annihilation of the Jews" as Hitler's "foremost task" when he takes power, was published in 1925. Many prominent Jews started to flee Germany in 1933, when the first of many discriminatory laws were passed against Jews. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were passed. Kristallnacht took place on November 9, 1938. Of course we would not know the full extent of the evils of Nazism until after the war, but the general direction of Nazi intentions was quite clear well before the war began.

Your post is informative and thoughtful, and I thank you for giving me the chance to clarify what I meant when I said that the general had lost his mind. I still have to insist, though, that the surest way of honoring General Butler is to honor his service and to treat his thinking after his retirement as, at best, a curiosity.

Sincere regards,


In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2007 1:44:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 25, 2007 7:34:51 AM PST
I beg to differ. General Butler had more time in both combat and in peacekeeping overseas than just about any other Marine Corps officer at the time. And despite whatever stereotypes you may have about "jarheads" and "grunts," Mariine Corps officers tends to be very smart, well-educated, observant, and as far from naive as you can get. They are so good, in fact, that despite the tiny size of the Marine Corps, Marine Corps officers have been elevated to both command of theaters over all services, and most recently, to the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I will not repeat here my many recommended books on the insanity of war and militarism, suffice to just mention "The Fifty Year Wound" and "Sorrows of Empire."

I will add that President and General Eisenhower was expressing the same concern when he warned America about the military=industrial complex (to which I would add the prison-drug=slave complex and the AMA-hospital-pharmaceutical complex, and most recently, the Wal-Mart "hide the true cost at all costs" complex.

I am gratified to see both intelligent and courteous dialog here, thank you for that.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2007 11:49:44 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 26, 2007 5:41:38 AM PST
Mr. Steele:

I did not question General Butler's intelligence, and its pertinence to the discussion is marginal at best. Robert McNamara was quite bright, as David Halberstam and others have pointed out at length, but his brightness did not do much to illuminate our military strategy in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. Bobby Fischer is extremely intelligent--a genius, in fact--but that has not prevented him from endorsing bizarre conspiracy theories about the United States and international Jewry. So intelligence is not really all that relevant here. What is relevant is that General Butler's analysis of foreign policy led him to such a wrongheaded conclusion about Hitler and WWII.

Mr. Townsend made two reasonable objections to my critique of General Butler, both of which I've attempted to respond to above, but Mr. Townsend also made it clear that he thinks General Butler's position on the war in Europe was wrong. Where do we still disagree? Mr. Townsend seems to see the problem with General Butler's foreign policy thinking as minor and/or incidental, as a mistake General Butler might well have remedied, while I see the general's wrongheadedness about Hitler as a fundamental error that follows directly from his theoretical premises. (For the record, I am relatively sure that General Butler would have changed his position on the war after Pearl Harbor, just as Lindbergh and most other isolationists did; what is at issue, though, is the wisdom of intervening in Europe before we were attacked by the Japanese.)

The general proposition that war itself is bad--is horrific, is insane--is a proposition that I of course agree with. What I doubt is that this takes us much further than "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came." The logic implicit in the statement is irrefutable, but also trivial. This is like saying that the best solution to the murder problem would be for people to stop killing each other. We should not confuse attempting to solve a problem with merely wishing the problem away. In a sense, going to war is always insane, but almost all sane people also believe that there are times when it is *less* insane to go to war than it is *not* to go to war. Mr. Townsend believes this to be true in the case of WWII, as do I.

Have there been cases when war was a racket? Sure. What is fatally flawed is the implication that the "real" reason for war is almost always some conspiracy of business interests. Such a theory does very little to explain the thinking of Americans who wanted to intervene earlier in WWII, or the thinking of Americans who supported more recent U.S. actions in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The theory does nothing to explain the thinking of people who currently support military intervention in Sudan. Of course reasonable people can disagree about our "real" motivations when discussing more controversial examples, but there are more than enough uncontroversial examples to invalidate General Butler's theory pretty definitively.


In reply to an earlier post on Nov 26, 2007 7:42:14 AM PST

With respect, the war on Iraq that has produced tens of thousands of dead, broken the dictatorial but functioning economy, incited the tribes, and created 75,000 amputees in the USA as well as horrific rates of suicide and now desertion, was started on a web of lies, and centered on the privatization of war. For all the money we spent on contractors (who get $500,000 a body per year and pay $50 a day at best on the ground), I could have given every one of the five billion poor a free cell phone for life, and implemented my idea of teaching the poor one cell call at a time, which creates stabilizing wealth everywhere.

I'm not going to respond further. War IS a racket, all the more so today when we have a war criminal leading a cretin by the nose, and a worthless Democratic leadership on the Hill.
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