In March 12 IssueBy John Thompson, Columnist
I wanted to do a little something different this week, and it's been something I've thought about doing for quite a while.
What would it take for you to believe that war is a racket? That often it is conducted, not for the reasons given, but for the reasons of profit? Instinctively you might say "of course," but when it got down to the critiquing individual war actions it's not so easy. We've wrapped up a lot of emotional investment into the idea's of truth, justice, the American way, honor, defense, making the world safe for Democracy and on and on.
Wouldn't it take someone really in the know to tell you before you'd really listen? Or would you even then, if what they said did not conform to your preconceived notions?
Let me introduce you to someone:
Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 - June 21, 1940), nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker" and "Old Gimlet Eye", was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. By the end of his career he had received 16 medals, five of which were for heroism. He is one of 19 people to twice receive the Medal of Honor, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only person to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.
Besides the book we're getting ready to talk about, Butler is also known as the person contacted by a group of the country's richest industrialists and bankers to oversee a plot to overthrow President FDR so they could implement a fascist dictatorship. Hard to believe, huh? Look it up. One of the alleged co-conspirators was none other than George Bush's granddaddy, Prescott Bush.
In 1935 Butler published a book which is more like a long pamphlet, "War is a Racket," in which he lays out his understanding of war. And he understood war, let me tell you. But he can tell you better than I can; here is an excerpt from a 1933 speech:
"War is just a racket. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.
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.
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 safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. 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 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."
How's that for laying it on the line? What I'd like to do for the remainder of the column is to just give you excerpts from the aforementioned book. When you've read them, think about our wars we are currently in that have depleted our treasures and now we have to not only pay with the lives and psychological wellbeing of our sons and daughters, but we're asked to sacrifice our rights; our civil rights, our rights to collective bargaining, right to a living wage, right to be secure in our homes, property, words and ideas. We have given up much America, and we are continuing to give up more on a daily basis. With no further adieu:
"In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? 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?
Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few - the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill. And what is this bill?
This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.
For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it.
… "Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit - fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well. Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn't they? It pays high dividends.
But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children? What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits? Yes, and what does it profit the nation?
Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn't own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became "internationally minded." We forgot, or shunted aside, George Washington's warning about "entangling alliances." We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000."
Interesting, huh? Reminds you of right now!
Space is short; here are a few more excerpts about the profit makers. Who are the profit makers today?
"Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people - didn't one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? How did they do in the war? Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn't much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let's look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent. Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910 - 1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump - or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914 - 1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!
Or, let's take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914 - 1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad."