From The Horse’s Mouth: War Is A Racket

image001Smedley Darlington Butler was a retired United States Marine Corps major general when he wrote his scathing pamphlet, War Is A Racket, back in 1935[1] – and when I say it comes straight from the horse’s mouth, that’s because he knew exactly what he was talking about: after a 34-year career in the U.S. Marines, he was at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. His rank of major general was also the highest rank authorized at the time.

Smedley Butler began his career in 1898, lying about his age (he was born on July 30, 1881) to receive a commission as a Marine second lieutenant. This was the height of the Spanish-American War, and the United States were beginning their forays into foreign interventions, proceeding to “liberate” Cuba and the Philippines from Spanish oppression… In the following decades, the Marine Corps was deployed in many of these foreign interventions, and Butler saw further action in the Philippines, followed by China, then Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (Banana Wars), in-between also seeing action in France during World War I.[2]

By the end of his career, Butler had received 16 medals, five for heroism.

By the end of his career, General Smedley Butler had received 16 medals, five for heroism.

After his retirement from the Marine Corps, Butler became an outspoken critic of war profiteering and U.S. military interventions. The following passage from a 1935 issue of the socialist magazine Common Sense vividly summarizes his views on the subject:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and 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 benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

To put things in context

War is a Racket was only one of numerous books and articles published during the 1920s and 1930s, arguing that bankers and arms manufacturers had tricked the United States into entering World War I.

These allegations eventually gathered enough support to lead to the instigation of the Nye Committee, officially know as the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry.

Chaired by Republican Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota, the committee investigated the financial and banking interests involved in the United States’ involvement in World War I. It conducted 93 hearings and questioned more than 200 witnesses from its inception in September 1934 until its final hearings in February 1936.

The findings of the Nye Committee led many Americans to  the conclusion that the US had entered Word War I for reasons of profit, not policy.

Senator Gerald Nye – The findings of the “Nye Committee” led many Americans to the conclusion that the United States had entered Word War I for reasons of profit, not policy.

According to Wikipedia, while documenting the huge profits that arms factories had made during the war, “the committee found that bankers had pressured Wilson to intervene in the war in order to protect their loans abroad. Also, the arms industry was at fault for price fixing and held excessive influence on American foreign policy leading up to and during World War I.”

The United States Senate website indicates that the investigation came to an abrupt end early in 1936:

“The Senate cut off committee funding after Chairman Nye blundered into an attack on the late Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. Nye suggested that Wilson had withheld essential information from Congress as it considered a declaration of war. Democratic leaders, including Appropriations Committee Chairman Carter Glass of Virginia, unleashed a furious response against Nye for ‘dirtdaubing the sepulcher of Woodrow Wilson’. Standing before cheering colleagues in a packed Senate Chamber, Glass slammed his fist onto his desk until blood dripped from his knuckles.

Although the Nye Committee failed to achieve its goal of nationalizing the arms industry, it inspired three congressional neutrality acts in the mid-1930s that signaled profound American opposition to overseas involvement.”[3]


[1] Feral House has recently published a reprint of “War Is A Racket”. It is also available for download on the Internet Archive website ( and others.

[2] You can find a complete biography of General Smedley Butler on Wikipedia (

[3] US Senate, Senate Stories, 1921-1940, September 4, 1934 – “Merchants of Death”:

About Henri Thibodeau

Freelance writer and translator based in Quebec, Canada.
This entry was posted in Wars, Rumors of Wars & Civil Unrest and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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