Published on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Memoirs of a 'Racketeer for Capitalism'
by Ralph Nader
Perusing through a history book as a college student, I came across a jolting declaration in a footnote by one of the most highly decorated soldier of the twentieth century. He said: "I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism."
Those words and more were spoken and written by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler. At the time I wondered why more was not made in the historical accounts of the early decades of the 20th century.
Well, maybe because General Butler's was too much of an eyewitness account. And he named names. Here is more of what he said:
"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interest 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 Center American republics for the benefit 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 interest in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."
The famous journalist, Lowell Thomas, saw fit to introduce General Butler's book "War is a Racket" for a Reader's Digest condensation. The General was no pacifist when it came to defending the U.S.A. He just didn't like bullies and corporate greed sending American soldiers abroad to slaughter or be slaughtered.
"War is a racket," Butler wrote, adding "It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
"A racket," he continues, "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 very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."
Butler's language was concrete, gripping and emanated from his personal warring experience, as follows. "How many of these war millionaires shoulder a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dugout? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?"
More from Butler. "The general public shoulders the bill. This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones, Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations."
Butler devoted a chapter to naming the corporate profiteers. He wrote about the propaganda to make young men "feel ashamed if they didn't join the Army" and how war propaganda was vicious enough that "even God was bright into it."
The decorated marine general recommended a unique way to "smash this racket." Draft the Big Boys first! "Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our ship-builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the banners and the speculators, be conscripted -- to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get." That will take the "profit out of war," he wrote, and render the remaining wars for the defense of country only, when presumably most everyone would be willing to sacrifice together.
General Butler passed away shortly before Pearl Harbor. This year, with the cooperation of the Butler family, "War is a Racket" has been reissued in paperback by the publisher, Feral House (P.O.Box 39910, Los Angeles, CA 90039, FeralHouse.com), together with photographs of lasting impression from the 1932 camera records of "war's gruesome glories" in the book "The Horror of It." For $9.95 per copy, it gives today's reader more than just a sense of deja vu. Times have changed and so has the technology of war. But the chicken hawks in Washington, led by Bush and Cheney, are disregarding the advice of many battle-tested officers, retired Generals and Admirals, diplomats and intelligence officials. Instead, they are enlarging their Imperial designs, with the oil and other corporate moguls alongside, that Smedley Butler was highlighting decades ago.
In 1937, Butler asked "Why don't those damned oil companies fly their own flags on their personal property -- maybe a flag with a gas pump on it." Today's reply might say, why should they when they can continue to use the American flag.