Posts Tagged ‘War Bonds’

Major General Smedley Butler’s ‘War Is A Racket’

January 3, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces on the immense profiteering by governments and corporations promoting war. One of the most savage critics of such profiteering was the American officer, Major General Smedley Butler. Michelle Thomasson sent me this comment and links to his speech, ‘War Is A Racket’ to my post on the meme on capitalism and war, as well as the amount so far made by the defence contractors and other participating corporations in the war in Afghanistan.

In 2014 when I was researching for Campaign Against Arms Trade I posted Smedley Butler’s 1935 speech (it was also printed as a book). If any readers of your blog have time his ‘War is a Racket’ speech or ‘turning blood into gold’ is worth listening to. A recording of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EI3lckqaSk0 or here: http://ia600507.us.archive.org/3/items/nonfiction018_librivox/snf018_warisaracket_butler_jh.mp3

and printed versions: https://archive.org/details/WarIsARacket or here: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4377.htm

On recent spending on war racketeering by the USA (including the sojourn into Afghanistan) this is sobering reading, in 13 years they paid out $1.6 trillion to military contractors (shown on the second page of the Congressional Research file, December 8th 2014) Ref: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

Smedley Butler’s ‘War Is A Racket’ is one of the most famous and celebrated polemics against war. Butler was writing in 1936, and concerned by the growing preparations and clamour for war amongst the European nations. Like very many other soldiers, he was horrified by the mass death and suffering experienced by the squaddies, and disgusted by the vast profits made by the arms and equipment manufacturers. He denounced the way a minuscule few had made money out of the sufferings of millions. In the speech he gives examples of the many firms and industries that made vast profits manufacturing and selling to the American government equipment, munitions and clothing for the conflict. This included surplus and seriously defective items that could never be used, such as shoes, ships that kept sinking, and wrenches that were suitable only for loosening the bolts on the pumping stations at Niagara.

He also describes the way the bankers manipulating the financial system to profit from war bonds. The public was persuaded to purchase them, there was then a crisis so the same public sold them back to the banks at a loss, and then there was flip in the stock exchange, which meant that their value soared again.

Butler also describes the immense suffering of the soldiers themselves. It’s interesting that decades before Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder became a household word, linked to the continued mental suffering of Vietnam vets, he described the shattered mental state of discharged veterans. These were men so traumatised that they were kept under heavy guard in prison-like conditions at the mental hospital. Butler contrasts the way the forces of society, propaganda and psychology were used to persuade them to enlist with the way they were summarily discharged after the war with no thought to training or remoulding their psychologies so that they could fit back into civilian life after being trained to kill.

He also describes the way the American soldier was deprived the profits of war. During the Civil War, Americans were given a bonus if they joined up. And up until the war with Spain, American squaddies also received prize money for ships captured. That was all scrapped, as it made war too expensive. Instead, they were given medal to encourage them to fight. As for the wages they received, these were half the monthly pay of the average factory steel worker. Then there were deductions, to support the families their families so they wouldn’t be a burden on the community while their sons and husbands were away fighting. Other deductions were for the squaddies’ own equipment. The result of all these was that on payday, some soldiers received absolutely nothing at all.

Butler was also not impressed with the various disarmament talks. He considered that their purpose was for countries to get the maximum number of permitted weapons for themselves, and the least number for their opponents. The American government had also declared that it was looking into ways to avoid war. Smedley Butler described how this was undermined by a commission by the corporations and generals, which was set up deliberately to counteract it.

In conclusion, Smedley Butler argued that war would only be ended through a series of reforms intended to take the profits out of it, limit the capability of the American armed forces so that they could not fight an offensive war, and put the decision whether America should go to war or not in the hands of the very people, who would have to fight it. He therefore argued that one month before mobilisation, the capitalists, generals, politicians and workers in the manufacturing and other industries that would profit from the war should also be conscripted, and their pay limited to the $30 a month given to the squaddies. The US armed forces should be limited by law to protecting US territory. The army should be legally prevented from serving abroad, and the range of the American navy and air force limited to a few hundred miles off the American Pacific coast. He also states that before the decision to go to war is taken, their should be a limited plebiscite of men of recruitment age only. Only they should have the power to decide whether to wage war, as they would be the people who have to fight it. Not politicians or businessmen, who were too old to serve, or unfit, and who would profit from it.

Smedley Butler was an isolationist, who states firmly at the end of the speech that he doesn’t care what system other countries live under – democracy, monarchy, Fascism, whatever. He only cares about protecting democracy in America. He believed that America would not have entered the war, if it had not been approached for aid by Britain and France. The declaration that Americans were fighting for democracy was a lie. They were fighting only for corporate profits. As the brief biography for the audiobook version of his speech states, Butler served as a Republican politician. Nevertheless, his isolationism still persists amongst some Conservative American critics of the Neo-Cons, who similarly saw Bush’s desire to extend the American Empire as against the basic principles of American Conservatism. These critics included serving senior army officers, who were spectacularly unimpressed by the fact that the Neo-Cons had not actually fought in any war, and had no understanding of the political situation in the Middle East.

As the vast profits being made by the arms manufacturers in this latest phase of militarism show, war is a racket, and Smedley Butler’s speech still has immense political relevance and moral force.

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