Introduction to ‘War Is A Racket’

‘War Is A Racket’ was written in 1935 by Major Smedley Darlington Butler. A racket is defined by the Oxford English dictionary as ‘an illegal or dishonest scheme for obtaining money’. The word is most commonly used when describing a protection racket, as run by the Mafia.

Smedley Darlington Butler was born in Westchester, Pennsylvania in 1881 and educated at the Haverford School, also in Pennsylvania. He was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, the highest rank authorised at that time, and was at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. By the end of his career, Butler had received 16 medals, 5 for heroism. He’s one of only 19 men to twice receive the Medal of Honour, one of 3 to have been awarded both the Marine Corps Brevitt medal and the Medal of Honour, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevitt medal and 2 medals of Honour, all for separate actions. Butler is well known for having later become an outspoken critic of U.S. wars and their consequences, and in 1933 he became involved in a controversy known as ‘The Business Plot’, when he told a Congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow then U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with Butler selected to lead a march of veterans to become dictator, in a manner similar to other Fascist regimes at that time. The individuals involved all denied the existence of a plot, and the media of the time ridiculed the allegations. A final report by a special House of Representatives committee confirmed some of Butler’s testimony.

Aside from his book ‘War Is A Racket’, his most famous quote was the following: “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. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. 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. Looking back on it, I might 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.”

The book is a short read and highly recommended, as is the illustrated exposé ‘Addicted To War’ by Joel Andreas.

Perhaps the salient point with regard to our current climate of internet opinion is that Butler was the polar opposite of an easily-dismissed ‘conspiracy theorist’ living in his parents’ basement and offering unfounded opinions from the safety of a computer (if that precise profile does actually exist). Butler was there, both part of the military establishment and highly decorated by it.

You may feel there’s nothing that a good citizen can do to stop specific wars, not to mention helping to fund them through paying taxes. However, the propaganda war, a huge part of all this, is a 24/7 business designed to mould our opinions and choose who our friends and enemies are, and it can only be continued through our participation. If nothing else, the average citizen can recognise this, question the messages being fed to them every day, and take steps to form their own opinions and research salient topics as thoroughly as possible using the incredible information resources now available to everyone.

Here is my podcast reading of the full book, followed by Mark Twain’s ‘The War Prayer’ and my song ‘Lessons of War’