THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
September 11, 2001
The Wisdom Fund

'War Is A Racket'

Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933 by General Smedley Darlington Butler, USMC. General Butler was the recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor -- the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces. He is one of only 19 recipients of two Medals of Honor, and one of only three to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor, and the only person to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.

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 masses. . . .

Smedley Butler portrayed by Graham Frye

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. . . .



Mr. McNamara and Mr. Korb testified before the Senate Budget Committee--David E. Rosenbaum, "Spending Can Be Cut in Half, Former Defense Officials Say," New York Times, December 13, 1989

Leon T. Hadar, "The Green Peril: Creating The Islamic Fundamentalist Threat," Cato Institute, 1992

[At about the same time the Du Ponts were serving the Nazi cause in Germany, they were involved in a Fascist plot to overthrow the United States government.

"Along with friends of the Morgan Bank and General Motors," in early 1934, writes Higham, "certain Du Pont backers financed a coup d'etat that would overthrow the President with the aid of a $3 million-funded army of terrorists . . ." The object was to force Roosevelt "to take orders from businessmen as part of a fascist government or face the alternative of imprisonment and execution . . ."

Higham reports that "Du Pont men allegedly held an urgent series of meetings with the Morgans," to choose who would lead this "bizarre conspiracy." "They finally settled on one of the most popular soldiers in America, General Smedly Butler of Pennsylvania." Butler was approached by "fascist attorney" Gerald MacGuire (an official of the American Legion), who attempted to recruit Butler into the role of an American Hitler.--R. William Davis, "The Elkhorn Manifesto," July 4, 1996]

[The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing.--Ralph Peters, "Constant Conflict," Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly, Summer 1997, pp. 4-14]

[If one were to look closely at the past 58 years, one would be hard pressed to find a single U.S. military or C.I.A. intervention that has brought us one iota of safety, or, for that matter, that has actually been done for national defense purposes. As Butler illustrated in 1933, and it is even truer now than then, the U.S. engages in interventions meant to protect the interests of the powerful and wealthy of our nation and our allies, and rarely, if ever, in order to actually protect its citizens.--Chris White, "Is War Still a Racket?" CounterPunch, January 9, 2003]

Charlie Liteky, "An Open Letter to the U.S. Military: Congressional Medal of Honor recipient addresses U.S. forces in Iraq," Veterans Against the Iraq War, May 7, 2003

[Between 1850 and 1870, British exports tripled, from just over eighty million pounds to more than 240 million pounds a year. The process was fairly straightforward. The British imported raw materials from every comer of the globe. They then used those raw materials, transformed them into finished products in factories, and exported those goods throughout the world. Trade and industry were inextricably linked. The United Kingdom needed raw materials to produce finished goods, and it needed markets to absorb those goods abroad. In order to profit from exports, it had to control the trade, and to do that, it had to control the seas. In that sense, the British navy was simply an adjunct to the British merchant marine.--Zachary Karabell, "Parting the Desert," Knopf (May 20, 2003)]

Chalmers Johnson, "America's Empire of Bases," Nation Institute, January 15, 2004

[To measure actual spending by the United States on defense, take the federal budget number for the Pentagon and double it.--David R. Francis, "Hidden defense costs add up to double trouble," Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2004]

John S.D. Eisenhower, "War Turned Eisenhower Into a Pacifist," International Herald Tribune, June 6, 2004

MAP: "Intervention and Exploitation: US and UK Government International Actions Since 1945"

VIDEO: An unflinching look at the anatomy of the American war machine, weaving unforgettable personal stories with commentary by a "who's who" of military and beltway insiders. The film surveys the scorched landscape of a half-century's military adventures, asking how and telling why a nation of, by, and for the people has become the savings-and-loan of a system whose survival depends on a state of constant war.--Eugene Jarecki, "Why We Fight," Sony Pictures Classics (2005)

[A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world.--Howard Zinn, "Lessons of Iraq War start with U.S. history," The Progressive, March 14, 2006]

[". . . no nation had ever become great without control of foreign markets and access to the natural resources of foreign countries."--Stephen Kinzer, "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq," Times Books, April 4, 2006, p. 33]

[VIDEO: SAIC personnel were instrumental in pressing the case that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq in the first place, and that war was the only way to get rid of them. Then, as war became inevitable, SAIC secured contracts for a broad range of operations in soon-to-be-occupied Iraq. When no weapons of mass destruction were found, SAIC personnel staffed the commission that was set up to investigate how American intelligence could have been so disastrously wrong.--Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow," Vanity Fair, March 2007]

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, "The Enormous Cost of War," Nation, August 17, 2007

Daniel Howden and Leonard Doyle, "Making a killing: how private armies became a $120bn global industry," Independent, September 21, 2007


"Seven Countries in Five Years"--Gen. Wesley Clark, Commonwealth Club, October 3, 2007

John Pilger, "The New World War -- The Silence Is A Lie," johnpilger.com, September 24, 2008

Thomas A. Schweich, "The Pentagon is muscling in everywhere," Washington Post, December 21, 2008

[Massive military spending in this country, climbing to nearly $1 trillion a year and consuming half of all discretionary spending, has a profound social cost. Bridges and levees collapse. Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including our own, is the price for victory.

Citizens in a state of permanent war are bombarded with the insidious militarized language of power, fear and strength that mask an increasingly brittle reality.--Chris Hedges, "The Disease of Permanent War," truthdig.com, May 18, 2009]

Howard Zinn, "America's Holy Wars," democracynow.org, November 11, 2009

[Traditional military threats against America have largely disappeared. There's no more Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, Maoist China is distant history and Washington is allied with virtually every industrialized state. As Colin Powell famously put it while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: "I'm running out of enemies. . . . I'm down to Kim Il-Sung and Castro."--Doug Bandow, "Bankrupt Empire," nationalinterest.org, April 19, 2010]

Lawrence Korb and Christopher Preble, "Cut Defense Spending," nationalinterest.org, June 16, 2010

David DeGraw, "The U.S. War Addiction: Funding Enemies to Maintain Trillion Dollar Racket," alternet.org, June 19, 2010

Doug Bandow, "Just What Is America Doing all Over the World?," campaignforliberty.com, July 15, 2010

[As a former army officer, a Catholic, and a social conservative from the Midwest, he has appealed to both conservatives and progressives unhappy with the militarized pursuit of power abroad and the encouragement of unlimited individual self-gratification at home.

He has argued that the all-volunteer army is the nexus between these twinned developments in U.S. society and global policy.--Andrew J. Bacevich, "Review of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich," antiwar.com, November 9, 2010]

[In contrast to the 1950s, military extravagance is depleting rather than adding to the nation's wealth. In the Eisenhower era, the United States, a creditor nation, produced at home the essentials defining the American way of life - everything from oil to cars to televisions. Today, we import far more than we export, with ever-increasing debt as one result. Furthermore, in the 1950s, we were mostly at peace; today we are mostly at war - and, as a result, more of the resources provided to the military go abroad and stay there.--Andrew J. Bacevich, "The Tyranny of Defense Inc," theatlantic.com, January/February 2011]

[On Jan. 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave the nation a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces.--NPR Staff, "Ike's Warning Of Military Expansion, 50 Years Later," npr.org, January 17, 2011]

Gareth Porter, "50 Years After Ike's Speech: From Military-Industrial Complex to Permanent War State," counterpunch.org, January 18, 2011

Andrew Bacevich, "A Cow Most Sacred: Why Military Spending is Untouchable," counterpunch.org, January 27, 2011

Richard F. Grimmett, "Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2010," Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011

[All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks.--Stephan Salisbury, "The cost of America's police state," salon.com, March 5, 2012]

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, "The Untold History of the United States," Gallery Books; First Edition (October 30, 2012)

Yuri Skidanov, "USA Wages War More Often than Just Annually," lewrockwell.com, January 20, 2014

VIDEO: William Lind, "Unwinnable Wars," c-span.org, June 17, 2014

Bruce Fein, "Why the Constitution disfavors war," washingtontimes.com, September 15, 2014 back button