Smedley Butler was instrumental in the repression and colonization on the part of the USA of large areas of the world. He was one of the inventors of waterboarding and advocate of its use in prosecuting the freedom fighters in the Philippines. He was part of robbing Haiti blind and setting the first Black republic in the world into the disaster the 20th century was for it. His heroism in the service of US imperialism was such that to this day he remains one of the most decorated combat officers ever, a recipient of two Medals of Honor, a complete hero of imperialism.
He was also a Hero of the People.
This might sound odd, given what we just explained about him. Yet that is only half the truth. Smedley Butler is the highest ranked defector from the US imperialist machine in its history – someone who in the cusp of their career, having reached the highest rank possible in the Marine Corps, having the gratitude and support of the ruling classes, threw it all away in the service of humanity. His treason to all that he had built his life around is a remarkable example of the ability for people to transform, to abandon their anti-people and imperialist fortunes to join the ranks of the vast majority of humanity.
Lets quote from a speech by him based on his book “War is a Racket“, part confession of guilt, part self-criticism, part denunciation of imperialism in the harshest terms possible:
War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of 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 masses.
I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.
There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.
It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. 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.
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 (where have I heard that name before?). 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.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could 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.
For those of us that live in the USA – by birth or by circumstance – and fight for proletarian revolution and against empire, Smedley Butler needs to be a symbol to reclaim from relative obscurity. When we see family members and friends being recruited into the military, or we see veterans, or active, reserve, or National Guards soldiers who begin to see the racket, it is important to bring Butler up to them. This man quite literally is the very definition of a Soldier’s Soldier: the very embodiment of the mythologies of Loyalty, Service, Honor, Personal Courage, etc, that the military proclaims to instill and uphold. And he was able to break through the smokes screen and join the camp of the people.
We need more Smedley Butlers, and we need them to not just become propagandists and confessors, but active builders of the revolutionary movement. Without the people’s army, the people have nothing – and we will need soldiers of the caliber of Smedley Butler if we are to win. There is no dishonor in realizing one works for racket, that all has been a lie. The only dishonor lies in knowing this and doing nothing about it.