Monday, May 26, 2008

War is a racket

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 34 years. Butler served during the Boxer Rebellion and saw action in Honduras, Nicaragua, Veracruz, commanded a base in France during the First World War, and led the Marine Expeditionary Force in China during the late Twenties.

On his death in 1940, Major General Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He was one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor (since Butler's death, no one has received more than one Medal of Honor) and one of only three to be awarded both a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor, and the only person ever to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.

After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1931, Smedley Butler went on a national speaking tour. His standard speech was so well received that he prepared a longer version to be published as a small book in 1935. It also appeared as a condensed book in Reader's Digest. Here's the opening page of that book:

The text of War Is A Racket can be found here among several other places online.

Major General Butler was no misfit or wild-eyed radical, and his name is still honored by the U.S. Marine Corps to this day. The Marine Corps base in Okinawa is named after him. We can only speculate what his view of the Second World War might have been, because he died before America became involved. We know Butler was no admirer of Hitler or Mussolini, and he was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt. We can very easily guess what Major General Butler would make of the world now.

On a day like today, when Americans like to repeat comforting phrases about soldiers and the sacrifices they made, it's worth remembering that this man -- who clearly knew the business of war as well as any man of his time but held no illusions about what he had done and what it all meant -- turned around and said in no uncertain terms: to hell with War.


  1. I've known about ol' Butler for some time. You didn't mention his revealing of the Business Plot, the effort of some wealthy industrialists to overthrow the U.S. government. Smedley Butler was an unquestioningly, unflinchingly honorable man, and his name needs to be mentioned more.

    Also, his Wikipedia entry notes that his nicknames were Old Gimlet Eye, The Fighting Quaker, and Old Duckboard.


  2. I left out the Business Plot because it deserves attention on its own and I didn't want to detract from the immediate topic at hand. It's definitely worth closer scrutiny.

    Wasn't "Old Duckboard" also the name of one of the great Hobo Kings?


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