|Why don't those
damned oil companies fly their own flags on their personal
property -- maybe a flag with a gas pump on it -- Brigadier
General Smedley D. Butler, 1937
Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler and
This photograph hangs on the Butler family's wall today. (Photo courtesy
WAR IS A RACKET
The antiwar classic by
America's most decorated general, two other anti-interventionist tracts,
and photographs from The Horror of It
Smedley D. Butler
Introduction by Adam Parfrey
Smedley Butler addresses Bonus Marchers in
Washington, D.C., urging them to remain in camp until they receive their
"adjusted compensation certificates."
AP photo wire, July 24, 1932. (Courtesy of Jeff Roth)
HOW A MILITARY HERO BLEW THE WHISTLE ON CORPORATE MALFEASANCE
by ADAM PARFREY
In early to
mid-20th century Latin America, the citizens of country after
country heard the rhetoric of [President Woodrow] Wilson but came up
hard against the practices of American mining, agriculture and
construction giants; and children though they may have been in the
eyes of both the paternalistic Wilson and the far more sinister
corporate magnates, those people understood the game that was being
played out within their borders.
-- Caleb Carr,
The New York Observer, in an (4/14/03) article spanking the
interventionism of President Bush's neo- Conservative cabinet.
government thanked the efforts of World War I soldiers with a "war
bonus" of approximately $1,000 to be paid late as 1945. But as Great
Depression and the Dust Bowl misery touched the continental states,
unemployed veterans desired to have their bonus paid sooner. In May 1932
out-of-work vets arrived in Washington D.C. to impress their bonus pleas
to Congress. A pro-bonus bill sponsored by Wright Patman was threatened
veto by President Hoover and overturned House passage by a Republican
Senate. As tens of thousands of Hooverville-occupying vets demonstrated
their discontent in a "death march," Generals George Patton and Douglas
MacArthur moved in on the veterans with a fresher contingent of the U.S.
Army. Two died, including an infant, and hundreds of veterans were
injured, in MacArthur's successful attempt to "gain control" of D.C.
Marchers' primary upper-ranked supporter? Smedley D. Butler, the
Brigadier General who was twice awarded the Medal of Honor and once the
so-called "Brevet medal," when the Medal of Honor was not given
officers. Known for his fair play to soldiers regardless of rank,
Butler's support of the "Bonus Marchers" helped boost the desperate
foot-soldiers' movement. The Brigadier General's disparaging of the mass
media and "big business" was particularly popular in the Depression. But
those same big business interests, buoyed by the ability of Italian
Fascist "Corporatism" to turn back labor demands in the restructuring of
its economy, took special note of Butler's support from a half-million
veterans, which would have made an intimidating force against FDR and
his hated New Deal, and his elimination of the gold standard. But as far
as Smedley Butler was concerned, "I believe in making Wall Street pay
for it [the bonuses] -- taking Wall Street by the throat and shaking it
As a Marine
officer, Butler oversaw American forays into China, Nicaragua, Cuba and
Haiti, and this is where he picked up his frequently expressed opinion
that he was no more than a bully boy for American corporations. Butler's
skepticism about the U.S. government may have been partly the result of
his Quaker background. During the Prohibition, Butler was made Police
Chief of the mob-plagued city of Philadelphia in 1924 and 1925 where in
a non-war interlude he effectively moved against open saloons, bars and
speakeasies. Mass magazines, like the early diet and fitness periodical,
Strength (March 1924 issue), featured Butler's military-type run
against the Philly "gangsters."
Butler's Iron Grip
Strength, Ditto Unswerving Purpose -- That is Why Philadelphia's
Crooks and Bootleggers Flee From the Mailed Fist of "Old Hell's
Devil Butler." You've read much, perhaps, of the great heroes of
fiction. Perhaps they were not all great heroes. Some of them may
have been just ordinary leading characters, knights errant,
adventurers, soldiers of fortune. Probably you've admired them,
thrilled to their deeds, longed to emulate them, and possibly got
just a wee bit tired of them all with their calm, piercing and
various other kinds of eyes, their tremendous energy and all
that sort of thing.
How would you
like to meet one of them? A lot of Philadelphians have just had that
opportunity, and a great many of them didn't care for it one bit. Of
course, you know we are referring to Brigadier General Smedley D.
Butler of the United States Marine Corps, who has just recently been
appointed Director of the Department of Public Safety in the Quaker
- T. Von
Ziekursch, Strength magazine, March 1924
In a 1931
speech, Butler recounted a story about Italian Prime Minister Benito
Mussolini, how he had run over a child with his car, and said, as he
moved on, "It was only one life. What is one life in the affairs of the
State." This remark caused a great commotion among U.S. authorities
after Mussolini strongly denied the episode, and Butler was quickly
placed under arrest and ordered court-martialed by President Hoover.
Pre-World War II worship of Italian Fascism in America can be seen in
the July 1934 issue of Fortune magazine, which celebrated the
Italian corporatist state. Due to hostile public reaction, the
court-martial against Butler was dropped entirely. The Brigadier General
soon after announced his retirement in the Liberty magazine
article, "To Hell with the Admirals! Why I Retired at Fifty."
When he no longer
wished to be known as a "racketeer for capitalism," Butler became a
widely-quoted spokesman for constitutional American principles over
imperialist American practice. Lowell Thomas, the famous journalist
widely known for making a British Liaison to the Arab revolt of World
War I "Lawrence of Arabia," took on "The Adventures of Smedley D.
Butler" in the 1933 book, Old Gimlet Eye, complete with endpaper
illustrations of Smedley putting down revolting, barefoot sword-wielding
Haitians with pistol and rifle.
The subtitle of
this edition is not entirely accurate, as Smedley Butler was not an
"antiwar" activist so much as an isolationist. And he died on June
21, 1940, months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within the pages
of War Is a Racket, Butler said that the U.S. "should build an
ironclad defense a rat couldn't crawl through."
On the other hand,
Butler also invoked against capitalist greed: "I helped make Mexico,
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 benefits of Wall Street. The record of
racketeering is long. 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."
Strangely enough, Reader's Digest saw fit to condense War Is A
Racket as a book supplement.
Lowell Thomas says
in his introduction to the Reader's Digest version of War Is A
opponents concede that in his stand on public questions, General
Butler has been motivated by the same fiery integrity and loyal
patriotism which has distinguished his service in countless Marine
But the view
that opponents forever saw integrity in Butler's "public questions"
overlooked the New York Times and Time Magazine's public
lancing when Butler revealed a "Wall Street Plot to Seize the
Government" -- investigated, confirmed (and partially suppressed) by the
McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee -- that American Legion
leaders and well- known men of Wall Street, one a major attorney for
J.P. Morgan & Co., had planned the first American fascist dictatorship.
Magazine (at the time controlled by J.P. Morgan & Co.), said, under
a first-page headline on December 3, 1934, "PLOT WITHOUT PLOTTERS":
Such as the
nightmarish page of future United States history pictured last week
in Manhattan by General Butler himself to the special House
Committee investigating Un-American Activities. No military
officer of the United States since the late tempestuous George
Custer has succeeded in publicly floundering in so much hot water as
Smedley Darlington Butler...
Butler's sensational tongue had not been heard in the nation's
press for more than a week when he cornered a reporter for the
Philadelphia Record and the New York Post, poured into his ears
the lurid tale that he had been offered leadership of a Fascist
Putsch scheduled for next year....
stars for having such sure-fire publicity dropped in their laps,
Representatives McCormack and Dickstein began calling witnesses to
expose the "plot." But there did not seem to be any plotters...
just off a boat from Europe, had nothing to say but partner Lamont
did: "Perfect moonshine! Too utterably ridiculous to comment
As George Seldes
put it in his 1947 book, 1000 Americans, "Any reader comparing
the testimony and the Committee report on this event ... must conclude
that the Time report consists of distortion and propaganda."
In his long
out-of-print 1973 tome, The Plot to Seize the White House, Jules
Archer shows how the New York Times denigrated Butler's
whistle-blowing, and vastly underplayed the reality of the Congressional
inquiry. Its November 21, 1934 headline said, hostile quote marks
Bares 'Fascist Plot'
To Seize Government by Force
Salesman, as Representative of Wall St. Group, Asked Him to Lead
Army of 500,000 in March on Capital -- Those Named Make Angry
Denials -- Dickstein Gets Charge
The complex saga
behind the coup attempt, and the devious manner in which Butler was
solicited to join the attempt to intimidate President Roosevelt into
functional inactivity, was strikingly described by Archer in The Plot
to Seize the White House (Hawthorn Books, 1973) and a bit less
provocatively by a History Channel documentary titled The Plot to
Overthrow FDR (available on videotape from International Historic
revealing details of the McCormack-Dickstein Committee report were
suppressed in its original release. Though the report confirmed
Smedley Butler's revelation of outrageous corporate plots, it failed to
detail the names of prominent corporate entities, whose mention would
have embarrassed the politicians they supported and the "patriotic"
groups they helped form. Only after George Seldes released his obscure
book, 1000 Americans, did their suppressed names come to light in
two revealing appendices, reproduced below.
Americans, © 1947 by George Seldes. Appendix 20:
THE FIRST FASCIST
PLOT TO SEIZE THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
Editorial Note: General Smedley Butler testified before a Congressional
Committee that several Wall Street bankers, one of them connected with
J.P. Morgan and Co., several founders of the American Liberty League,
and several heads of the American Legion plotted to seize the government
of the United States shortly after President Roosevelt established the
New Deal. The press, with a few exceptions, suppressed the news. Worse
yet, the McCormack-Dickstein Committee suppressed the facts involving
the big business interests, although it confirmed the plot which
newspapers and magazines had either refused to mention or had tried to
kill by ridicule. In the following quotations the suppressed parts are
Testimony regarding his interview with Gerald G. MacGuire, of the
brokerage firm of Grayson M.P. Murphy:
said that he was the chairman of the distinguished-guest committee
of the American Legion, on Louis Johnson's staff; that Louis Johnson
had, at MacGuire's suggestion, put my name down to be incited as a
distinguished guest of the Chicago convention; that Johnson had then
taken this list, presented by MacGuire of distinguished guests, to
the White House for approval; that Louis Howe, one of the
secretaries to the President, had crossed my name off and said that
I was not to be invited -- that the President would not have it.
I thought I
smelled a rat, right away -- that they were trying to get me mad --
to get my goat. I said nothing.
is on our side, though. He wants to see the soldiers cared for.
responsible, too, for making the Legion a strikebreaking outfit?"
"No, no. He
does not control anything in the Legion now."
"You know very well that it is nothing but a strikebreaking outfit
used by capital for that purpose and that is the reason we have all
those big clubhouses and that is the reason I pulled out from it.
They have been using these dumb soldiers to break strikes."
"Murphy hasn't anything to do with that. He is a very fine fellow."
I said, "I do
not doubt that, but there is some reason for his putting $125,000
Well, that was
the end of that conversation.
I said, "Is
there anything stirring about it yet?"
says: "you watch; in two or three weeks you will see it come out in
the papers. There will be big fellows in it"... and in about two
weeks the American Liberty League appeared, which just about what he
described it to be. We might have an assistant President, somebody
to take the blame; and if things do not work out, he can drop him.
''That is what he was building up Hugh Johnson for. Hugh Johnson
talked too damn much and got him into a hole, and he is going to
fire him in the next three or four weeks."
I said, "How
do you know all this?"
"Oh," he said,
"we are in with him all the time. We know what is going to happen."
testimony of his interview with Robert Sterling Clark:
laughed and said, "That speech cost a lot of money." Clark told me
that it had cost him a lot of money. Now either from what he said
then or from what MacGuire had said, I got the impression that the
speech had been written by John W. Davis -- one or the other of them
told me that -- but he thought it was a big joke that these fellows
were claiming the authority of that speech...
He said, "When
I was in Paris, my headquarters were Morgan & Hodges (Harjes). We
had a meeting over there. I might as well tell you that our group is
for you, for the head of this organization. Morgan & Hodges (Harjes)
are against you. The Morgan interests say that you cannot be
trusted, that you are too radical, you cannot be trusted. They are
for Douglas MacArthur as the head of it. Douglas MacArthur's term
expires in November, and if he is not reappointed it is to be
presumed that he will be disappointed and sore and they are for
getting him to head it."
I said, "I do
not think that you will get the soldiers to follow him, Jerry ... He
is in bad odor, because he put on a uniform with medals to march
down the street in Washington, I know the soldiers."
we will get Hanford MacNider. They want either MacArthur or MacNider
... They do not want you. But our group tell us you are the only
fellow in America who can get the soldiers together. They say, 'Yes,
but he will get them together and go the wrong way.' That is what
they say if you take charge of them."
I said, "MacNider
won't do either. He will not get the soldiers to follow him, because
he has been opposed to the bonus."
we will have him change."
And it is
interesting to note that three weeks later after this conversation
MacNider changed and turned around for the bonus. It is interesting
to note that.
"There is going to be a big quarrel over the reappointment of
MacArthur" and he said, "You watch the President reappoint him. He
is going to go right and if he does not reappoint him, he is going
to go left."
I have been
watching with a great deal of interest this quarrel over his
reappointment to see how it comes out. He said, "You know as well
as I do that MacArthur is Stotesbury's son-in-law in Philadelphia --
Morgan's representative in Philadelphia. You just see how it
goes and if I am not telling you the truth."
I noticed that
MacNider turned around for the bonus, and that there is a row over
the reappointment of MacArthur. So he left me saying, "I am going
down to Miami. ..."
Testimony of Paul
Comly French of Philadelphia Record, in the Smedley Butler-Legion
At first he (MacGuire)
suggested that the General (Butler) organize this outfit himself and
ask a dollar a year dues from everybody. We discussed that, and then
he came around to the point of getting outside financial funds, and
he said it would not be any trouble to raise a million dollars.
He said he could go to John W. Davis (attorney for J.P. Morgan and
Co.) or Perkins of the National City Bank, and any number of persons
to get it.
that may or may not mean anything. That is, his reference to John W.
Davis and Perkins of the National City Bank. During my conversation
with him I did not of course commit to the General to anything. I
was just feeling him along. Later, we discussed the question of
arms and equipment, and he suggested that they could be obtained
from the Remington Arms Co., on credit through the DuPonts.
I do not
think at that time he mentioned the connection of DuPonts with the
American Liberty League, but he skirted all around it. That is, I do
not think he mentioned the Liberty League, but he skirted all around
the idea that that was the back door; one of the DuPonts is on the
board of directors of the American Liberty League and they own a
controlling interest in the Remington Arms Co. He said the General
would not have any trouble enlisting 500,000 men.
Americans, © 1947 by George Seldes. Appendix 21:
PLOT OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED
House of Representatives Report No. 153
Investigation of Nazi and Other Propaganda
February 15, 1935-Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on
the state of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. McCormack, from the committee appointed to investigate Nazi and
other propaganda, submitted the following REPORT
(Pursuant to House Resolution No. 198, 73rd Congress)
been isolated cases of activity by organizations which seemed to be
guided by fascist principle, which the committee investigated and
found that they had made no progress...
In the last
few weeks of the committee's official life it received evidence
showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a
fascist organization in this country. No evidence was presented and
this committee had none to show a connection between this effort and
any fascist activity of any European country.
There is no
question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might
have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers
deemed it expedient.
received evidence from Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler (retired), twice
decorated by the Congress of the United States. He testified before
the committee as to conversations with one Gerald C. MacGuire in
which the latter is alleged to have suggested the formation of a
fascist army under the leadership of General Butler (p. 8- 114 D.C.
denied these allegations under oath, but your committee was able to
verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the
exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the
organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence
of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York
City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various forms of
veterans' organizations of Fascist character (p. III D.C. 6 II).
The following is
an excerpt from one of MacGuire's letters:
I had a
very interesting talk last evening with a man who is quite well up
on affairs here and he seems to be of the opinion that the Croix de
Feu will be very patriotic during this crisis and will take the cuts
or be the moving spirit in the veterans to accept the cuts.
Therefore they will, in all probability, be in opposition to the
Socialists and functionaries. The general spirit among the
functionaries seems to be that the correct way to regain recovery is
to spend more money and increase wages, rather than to put more
people out of work and cut salaries.
de Feu is getting a great number of new recruits, and I recently
attended a meeting of this organization and was quite impressed with
the type of men belonging. These fellows are interested only in the
salvation of France, and I feel sure that the country could not be
in better hands because they are not politicians, they are a
cross-section of the best people of the country from all walks of
life, people who gave their "all" between 1914 and 1918 that France
might be saved, and I feel sure that if a crucial test ever comes to
the Republic that these men will be the bulwark upon which France
will be served.
be more uprisings, there may be more difficulties, but as is
evidenced right now when the emergency arises and part difficulties
are forgotten as far as France is concerned, and all become united
in the one desire and purpose to keep this country as it is, the
most democratic, and the country of the greatest freedom on the
European Continent (p. III D.C. 6 II).
committee asserts that any efforts based on lines as suggested in
the foregoing and leading off to the extreme right, are just as bad
as efforts which would lead to the extreme left.
forces for the purpose of establishing a dictatorship by means of
Fascism or a dictatorship through the instrumentality of the
proletariat, or a dictatorship predicated in part on racial and
religious hatreds, have no place in this country.
helped destroy a corporate Fascist Putsch in the mid-1930s, but how long
did that last? In the 1960s, all four primary liberal leaders were
assassinated. In the mid-'90s, a so- called Democrat President turned
back the Bill of Rights and Constitution with a multitude of crime
bills. And in the year 2000, Jim Crow laws were revived, and a
Presidential election was swayed by disallowing over 50,000 eligible
African-Americans to vote in the state of Florida. Corporations will not
be denied their sway and profit. Regardless of one's political
affiliation, War Is A Racket remains an astonishing reminder that
America once stood for constitutional principles and not power-enhanced
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