Sunday, January 5, 2014

Johnny Get Your Gun!

"War is a Racket,” by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, 1935

We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the most bloody World War I, a holocaust in which 16 million died and 20 million were wounded, ranking as the second-most gruesome capitalist conflict in history.  It was second only to the 60 million total deaths in World War II – a war Butler could smell on the horizon when he wrote this book. 

Butler’s ideas were formed after his participation in the disaster of World War I, and in U.S. imperialist forays into Haiti, China, Cuba, the Phillapines and Nicaragua – ironically many of them countries the U.S. later continued to invade or attempt to control.  He himself was the son of a Quaker lawyer and politician.  There will be much coverage of this anniversary, much of it trying to rehabilitate this war in the eyes of history.  This has already started in Britain where Wilson’s ‘war to end all wars’ is now being portrayed as necessary by bourgeois commentators.  Much as Vietnam has been buried by either a layer of youthful forgetfulness or of nobility, World War I is the next candidate for prettification.

As a dialectical response to the bourgeois butchery of World War I, the working classes responded with the success of the Bolshevik revolution, and the near success of the German and Hungarian revolutions.  World War II ushered in the Chinese, Korean and later the Vietnamese revolutions.  In both, capitalist classes in various countries vied for colonial and/or imperial control of various colonies and economies, and while some succeeded generally, they lost control of large chunks of the world for a time. 

Unlike the creepy heroes of official U.S. militarism like Patton and McArthur, who shot down unemployed soldier bonus marchers in 1932, Butler sided with the soldiers who had been stiffed of their war bonuses by the government.  This booklet also describes an extraordinary 1935 plot by the American Legion, (ex-WWI soldiers and officers), the American Liberty League, and various Wall Street capitalists and military figures to seize control of the U.S. government, and remove Roosevelt.  Many were sympathizers of Mussolini or Hitler.  Butler was asked to participate in this plot, and instead blew the whistle on it in testimony before the U.S. Congress.  This plot has been hushed up in official U.S. histories.

Butler was one of the first - and perhaps only - active U.S. generals who decided to oppose aggressive wars on principle.  He was an isolationist, but his isolationism made him actually take seriously the name of the Department of “Defense.”  He proposed rules not allowing planes, ships or men from being deployed outside of the near boundaries of the U.S. mainland.  In these essays he defines why the military should only be used in defense of an invasion.  He also carefully delineates why an invasion of the U.S. mainland would have been logistically impossible – and probably still is.  Unlike pacifists or liberals who oppose wars because they are ‘violent’ or because they will not succeed, Butler carefully shows the profits made by U.S. firms during World War I were key. 

Butler indicates that, had the U.S. not joined Britain and France and guaranteed victory, the debts of those countries to U.S. war material manufacturers might not have been paid back.  Hence the U.S. had to join Britain and France in order to insure their profits.  Butler itemizes the war profits for various industries that made between 25%-300% more profits during that war than in the prior period of peace.  As Butler understands, war is good for business – because of the vast volume of product needed, much of it destroyed; because of the waste, excessive markups and lax government supervision.  All of this was re-confirmed during the Iraq Wars, yet no hue and cry over ‘war profiteers’ ever arose on a mass scale during those wars, unlike the discussion after World War I.  This is an example of how our political discourse has degraded since then. 

Butler said:
“I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism.”

Can you imagine a general now saying those same words?  It is only a measure of how the distance between society and the generalissimos of the U.S. military has increased.  While many retired generals opposed the Iraq War because of its adventurist nature, none that I know of has ever drawn a consistent connection between the economic system and the war system as did Butler. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
January 5, 2014

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