Is War a Racket? An Honored Marine General Said “Yes!”


Have you heard of Smedley Butler? Perhaps not lately. He was a U.S. Marine who received the Congressional Medal of Honor TWICE. Also the Corps’ highly respected Brevet Medal and the Army and Navy Distinguished Service Medal. He retired as a Major General in 1939.

smedley butler
Honored Marine Smedley Butler

But before he retired, in 1935, he wrote a book. Was it called Courage in Battle? No. Was it called We Defend the World? No. Was it called America, Love It or Leave It? No. It was called War is a Racket.

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Based on his career as a military officer, Butler discussed—first in a speech then later in book form—how business profiteered from war. In the book, he summarized his view this way:

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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. 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.

Butler suggested three actions to quell the war racket. First, take the profit motive out of war:

It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labour before the nation’s manhood can be conscripted. … 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 our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Second, decide to go to war only by a limited referendum, with the only eligible voters being those who would fight on the front lines.

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U.S. military seems mired in the Middle East.

Third, limit the military to only actions of self-defense, with the Navy staying within 200 miles of the U.S. coastline, the army held within the country’s territorial limits.

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By 1940, he was dead at age 58, via an illness similar to cancer.

By 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower, another war hero and a Republican president, was warning America of the military-industrial complex’s potential to take over Washington. By 1964, we saw it spreading with our invasion of Vietnam, followed in our new century with the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Which brings us to this week, and the Obama administration beginning to ingrain us again in Iraq. This from today’s Associated Press:

Obama met with his national security team Monday evening to discuss options for stopping the militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Officials said the president has made no final decisions on how aggressively the U.S. might get involved in Iraq, though the White House continued to emphasize that any military engagement remained contingent on the government in Baghdad making political reforms.


Still, there were unmistakable signs of Americans returning to a country from which the U.S. military fully withdrew more than two years ago. Obama notified Congress that up to 275 troops would be sent to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad. The soldiers — 170 of which have already arrived in Iraq — were armed for combat, though Obama has insisted he does not intend for U.S. forces to be engaged in direct fighting.


“We are hard-wired into their system,” the fledgling democracy that America helped institute, said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. “We can’t walk away from it.”

This, of course, is an exercise in military frustration and continued corporate profit. Frustration because a foreign nation that’s a couple of hundred years old (America) is trying to end a 14-centuries-old religious rivalry. National Public Radio summarized that yesterday in a report, which you can read and listen to here.

Meanwhile, the multinational corporations will benefit by continuing to support America’s efforts in nationalism and endless war, and also in rebuilding destroyed areas in the aftermath. And don’t forget how both the U.S. and Russia profit from weapons sales.

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You can find a listing of corporations profiting from the military here. A good place to begin as you get organized, get educated, and get active in changing your government’s racket that Washington doesn’t want to change.