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War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by…

War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated…

by Smedley D. Butler

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A classic exposé of war profiteering written by the most decorated Marine of his time, Major General Smedley Butler. The author, through a highly qualified argument supported by facts, thoroughly discounts the moral and ideological justification for war and concentrates on the geopolitical factors that actually motivate the cause for war. He was one of the first Americans to really bring the economic implications of war to the forefront of the public conscience. In War is a Racket Butler “names names” and lays out in wonderfully blunt detail how the American “military machine” was used to the benefit of wealthy American industrialists. He noted how proponents of war typically call on God as a supporter of the cause and how they embellish the mission as one of liberation and the spreading of freedom, but that these people tend to shy away from discussing the economic details of military ventures.
In short, this book, though small, is an inspirational foundation for all anti-war arguments in our current times, a firsthand account of a story that tragically keeps repeating itself. ( )
  N_Lombardi_Jr | Aug 15, 2013 |
The only book on antiwar that matters. ( )
  Kurt.Rocourt | Jun 20, 2013 |

If I wrote a book saying that I think all people, in their hearts, are basically good.... (yawn)... who would care? When Anne Frank wrote the very same thing while she was living in a secret compartment of her neighbor's home, hiding from jackboots who would work her to death in a concentration camp... well, Goddamn, that's quite a statement! ...one that leaves everybody is quite appropriately blown away.

This book isn't quite on Anne Frank's level, but it has a lot of added importance because of who wrote it.

At the time of publication, Smedley Butler, despite having the decidedly non-badass name of "Smedley", was a real-life tough guy, and America's most highly decorated Marine Corps General. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to scribble off some banal, testosterone-laden memoir about about what a rockstar warfighter he was. (he was!*) Posers love shit like that, to maintain their faux roughneck image, but General Butler was the real deal, so he had no need for embarrassing self-promotion.



Instead, he wrote something far more interesting and valuable: an insider's synthesis of how military force was actually used over his career. Far from the popular conception of being a force for common defense, Butler identifies a long litany of examples where the military merely acted as muscle to enable American industry in exploitive enterprises abroad. In the book's most cited passage, he states eloquantly:
"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."
That's more potent than any angry peacenick shaking his ineffectual fist at "the Man".

Turning to the business of war itself, Butler took note of the corrupt military-industrial establishment, and how it propegates unneccessary conflict. After a career spent planning and fighting military engagements, Butler came to recognize the enormous dividends these conflicts pay out to a very few, powerful Heads of Industry. Through commissions on the sale of privately-issued war bonds, and grossly overcharging the Department of Defense for privately-manufactured munitions, men like J.P. Morgan literally made tens of millions of dollars by sending their fellow countrymen to die of sepsis, dyssentary and chemical burns in the trenches of Europe.
(... did he say "sending"??)
Yes, with appalling frequency, Robber barons wield political influence to create conflict and avoid peaceful resolution to disagreement. The propaganda ramp-up to World War I was a coordinated PR blitz linking war with patriotism, and turning severely on dissenters. Does anybody know of a specific vital American interest the Great War was fought to protect? Did any thinking person in 1917 believe the Germans would really pose a threat to American sovereignty if they won the war in Europe?

The consistent result of such tactics has been expanding wealth for our essentially stateless, agnostic businessmen; and bloodshed and morbidity for everybody else (i.e. the naive commoners manipulated into believing they were fighting for God and Country). This is a tell-all book on a level way beyond "Mommy Dearest". Butler isn't biting the hand that fed him, he's cutting it off! In most circumstances, this would be interpreted as ingratitude, but it is clear that Butler is acting out of principle, calling the nation's attention to a malignant force within the gates. Far from being ungrateful, he is driven by fidelity to his Officer's Oath to defend and protect the United States Constitution from all enemies, foreign OR DOMESTIC. If ever there were domestic enemies in our midst, it is the monied men who emperil the nation in needless wars, robbing its public coffers, and destroying its citizens' inalienable rights to life and liberty. (I'm thinking PATRIOT ACT here)

From the calm, dissecting tone of the narration, I kind of get the idea that the contents of this book weighed heavily on the good General for a long time before he wrote them down. There is nothing naive in these pages. Nobody reading this is likely to break out spontaneously, singing ♫ Come on people now, ♥ ♥
♥ Smile on your Brother, ♫
Everybody get together, ♫
♫ Try to love one another right now. ♥ ♫
Clearly the good General belived that just wars exist, and that good men are obligated to fight them. The thrust of this book is that the modern American (now global) configuration of highly-centralized private capital, easily-purchased political influence, and an insufficiently informed/politically inactive populace predisposes the nation to unjust wars. The events of the past eighty years, and especially the past ten years, seem to unfailingly confirm all of Gen.Butler's worst suspicions. In truth, War is a Racket may not tell you anything you hadn't guessed already, but the way it is told, and the voice that is telling it make it a worthwhile experience to read.

Did you find this interesting? You might also be interested in how things changed in our defense establishment during the Cold War, in Alex Abella's Soldiers of Reason!

Good Luck!

* SIXTEEN medals for combat heroism, including not one but TWO Congressional Medals of Honor (a distinction only nineteen people have ever achieved!) ( )
1 vote BirdBrian | Apr 4, 2013 |
A short condemnation of war by a man who spent his life fighting wars. Smedley demonstrates the high public cost and resultant high business profits of war, giving many examples of US companies which greatly increased their profits during WW1. He also describes the waste and corruption inherent in military spending.

Smedley makes the amusing (from a detached perspective) observation that in WW1 the US cleverly replaced recruitment bonuses with medals. Giving soldiers medals for service was much cheaper than giving money, which was the norm in the US Civil War. He also points out that between taxes and bonds many enlisted soldiers effectively received no salary.

Far less amusingly, Smedley describes how in 1916, a delegation from the allies visited President Wilson and bluntly told the president that the allies would lose the war, and thus no be able to repay the six billion dollars they owed to the USA. This was the galvanising motion for US involvement.

War = $ is the message of this book. ( )
  Traveller1 | Mar 30, 2013 |
The pieces that make up this book were first published about 70 years ago. Butler was a highly decorated Marine Brigadier General who was involved in many military expeditions in the early 20th century to countries like Haiti, China and Cuba. After retiring, he exposed a corporate/fascist plot to seize the White House right after Franklin Roosevelt became President. After that, he began to speak out about the real motives behind America's military actions--profit.

Just before World War I, the profit margin of the average American corporation was in the single digits (6%, 8%, perhaps 10% profit yearly). Then why, when the war came, did that same profit margin skyrocket to hundreds, or even thousands of percent? The author also mentions several cases of companies who sold the US Government totally useless items. One company sold Uncle Sam 12 dozen 48-inch wrenches. The problem is that there was only one nut large enough for those wrenches; it holds the turbines at Niagara Falls. The wrenches were put on freight cars and sent all around America to try and find a use for them. When the war ended, the wrench maker was about to make some nuts to fit the wrenches. The parallels with today are too numerous to mention.

The next time war is declared, and conscription is on the horizon, Butler proposes a limited national plebiscite on whether or not America should go to war. But the voting should be limited only to those of conscription age, those who will do the actual fighting and dying. Also, one month before anyone is conscripted, all of American business and industry who profits from war should be conscripted, from weapons makers to international banks to uniform makers. All employees of those companies, from the CEO down to the assembly line worker, should have their salary cut to equal the base pay of the soldier who is fighting, and dying, to improve their bottom line. Let's see how long the war fever lasts. Also, go to a VA hospital to see the real aftermath of war.

This isn't so much an antiwar book as it is an isolationist book. The separate pieces were published in a time when many Americans felt that getting involved in another European war that had nothing to do with America, was a terrible idea. The author certainly pulls no punches. This book is very highly recommended, especially for those who think that war is a clean videogame where no one really gets hurt. It gets two strong thumbs up. ( )
  plappen | Feb 11, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smedley D. Butlerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Parfrey, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0922915865, Paperback)

General Smedley Butler’s frank book shows how American war efforts were animated by big-business interests. This extraordinary argument against war by an unexpected proponent is relevant now more than ever.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Originally printed in 1935, War Is a Racket is General Smedley Butler's frank speech describing his role as a soldier as nothing more than serving as a puppet for big-business interests. In addition to photos from the notorious 1932 anti-war book The Horror of It by Frederick A. Barber, this book includes two never-before-published anti-interventionist essays by General Butler. The introduction discusses why General Butler went against the corporate war machine and how he exposed a fascist coup d'etat plot against President Franklin Roosevelt. Widely appreciated and referenced by left- and right-wingers alike, this is an extraordinary argument against war - more relevant now than ever."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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