Thursday, April 15, 2010

OPINION: Major General Butler Finally Comes In From The Cold

The Pencil Warrior
By Dave Wheelock

It seems that for every voice raised in our country these days warning of the futility and folly of war, a hundred others echo through the media of culture, extolling not only war’s virtues but especially its necessity and utter inevitability. On the moral front of war, the debate is at an impasse.
Enter Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, U.S. Marine Corps, aka “The Fighting Quaker” and “Old Gimlet Eye,” who became one of a handful of soldiers to be awarded this country’s highest honor for bravery in combat, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for two separate actions. Born in a Philadelphia suburb in 1881, Butler was one of those who lied about his 16 years to enlist in the Marines during the Spanish American War. He went on to serve in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean, and France. At the time of his death in 1940, Butler’s 34-year military career had made him the most decorated U.S. Marine in history. Yet maddeningly for some, Major General Smedley Butler, USMC became Smedley Butler, Citizen, the fiercest and most credible whistleblower the industrial-military complex has ever hated.
Four years after retiring from the Marines in 1931, Butler’s book War is a Racket appeared. A short work deep in content, it can be found in its entirety through a simple internet search. Butler’s thesis was as straightforward as the chapter titles: 1) War is a Racket; 2) Who Makes the Profits? 3) Who Pays the Bills? 4) How to smash this racket! and 5) To Hell with War!
Some choice excerpts: "War is a racket. It always has been. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the 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."
As for who makes the profits: “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 . . . 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.”
The names have changed - to Halliburton/KBR, Veritas, SAIC, Lockheed Martin, Fluor, General Electric, Honeywell, etc. - but the game remains the same. Besides the trillions of dollars in contracts legally earned by “defense” related companies, most of these high-flying profiteers are among the top 100 corporations listed as alleged or admitted cheats on the Project on Government Oversight’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (see, usually for multiple episodes.
As he crisscrossed the nation speaking to large audiences, Butler reminded them of who paid the bills: the taxpayer, certainly, but also the young men and civilians who were killed, maimed, and driven insane to protect and expand the profits of others back home.
General Butler had seen it all, and Citizen Butler recommended removing war’s chief incentive, profit. He advocated universal wage limits in threatening times - for bankers, munitions manufacturers, generals, everyone to that of the average soldier, at that time thirty dollars a month. He also suggested a limited plebiscite on the decision to go to war, a vote in which only those who would fight would be allowed to vote. Lastly, Butler called for a return to truly defensive deployments for American forces (today the U.S maintains more than 700 military outposts in over 150 otherwise sovereign nations).
If Smedley Butler’s recommendations seem quaint or hopelessly idealistic, perhaps it’s because we have become so familiar with, so conditioned by the drumbeat of war. Perhaps it’s because we live in a time when the most crucial of our constant wars (so we are told) is placed in the charge of a man widely acknowledged to have lied about the death of a famous athlete under his command for propaganda purposes and covered up prisoner abuse for which, in the words of one perpetrator, “written authorizations were required . . . indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command.”
Military enablers of U.S. business interests constantly stress the honor of their profession. I wonder when we will be seeing the honest testimony of men like General Stanley McChrystal.

Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, holds a history degree from the University of New Mexico. Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail. Reach him at

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