“All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people – not those who fight and pay and die – only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.”
Smedley D. Butler was a decorated Major General who participated in military action around the world, including France in World War I. proffiting
General Butler twice received the Medal of Honor; just two out of 16 total medals he received throughout his service.
Along with being on of the most colored generals in U.S. history, he was also went on to become one of the fiercest critics of war and wartime policy.
Now hailed as an “anti-war classic,” General Butler’s sole book War is a Racket is a timeless condemnation of war, a concise summary of its devastating effects, and an indictment of those who dole out death and destruction for their own interests.
Of course, Smedley wasn’t always an opponent of war. He candidly describes the experience of being a member of the military during a war effort and the mindset that develops:
“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.”
Obviously, it is difficult to take a detached look at U.S. foreign policy when you are in the middle of the action, and when you are the instrument being used to carry it out.
After his illustrious career was over, Smedley develops feelings toward war quite contrary to what he had been told by his higher-ups, and indeed quite contrary to the message often spelled out to the people about the purpose of war.
“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”
What exactly is a racket?
“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the 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.”
During World War I, Smedley points out, “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.”
Smedley’s message is even more relevant today, having experienced the “rackets” that were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, two wars which were privatized on a mass scale; in other words, for the few, they were for-profit wars.
Contractors are offered piles of money to coordinate “reconstruction” efforts, among many other (often useless) activities, while the American taxpayer “shoulders the bill.”
“This bill renders 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.”
Other countries are seen as investment opportunities, chances for corporations to extract profit at forcefully-imposed low tax rates. Profit over people.
And, the obvious point: The U.S. wants to control (by force if necessary) the world’s greatest supplies of natural resources and strategically advantageous geopolitical regions.
But the picture painted for the public is quite different.
We are told that the fight is for freedom and democracy, to liberate a people, to topple a dictator, or some other noble mission.
Noam Chomsky once commented that we are supposed to believe that we would have invaded Iraq “if it was an island in the Indian Ocean and its main exports were pickles and lettuce.”
As we now know, this is not the case. The vehemently touted pretexts for the war have been destroyed (not that they were ever adequately defended), and we are left with another racket.
Another point from Smedley, which we are all well aware of: Those who benefit most from war rarely, if ever, take part in the action.
Most fanatical war-mongers (members of so-called ‘think-tanks,’ particularly within the neoconservative movement) have never been to war themselves. They have never seen the devastating results of their policy ideas firsthand, but they pursue them with zeal nonetheless.
“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 parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?”
Perhaps if they or their children had served, the story would be quite different.
But the insidious fact is that many of those who have profited greatly from recent wars, and those who have relentlessly pushed for pro-war policies, deferred when drafted during the Vietnam; and not because of a moral objection to the war itself, I might add.
One would think that military experience should be a requirement if you are to be making decisions which send others to experience the horrors of war. But, instead, we have chickenhawks, eager to send others into unnecessary and illegal wars, while having no desire to be anywhere near the battle themselves.
A racket, indeed.
“…what does it profit the masses? What does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit the men who are maimed? 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?
It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people – who do not profit.”
What is the solution?