Filmmakers Notebook




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Filmmakers notebook #67

War Is A Racket by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (The Antiwar Classic by America’s most decorated soldier), 1935, 2003, the Butler Family ( [interview notes: David Leitch]. The 60 minute interview ))audio(( is streaming via Pittsburgh Indy Media 
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Who was Gen. Smedley Butler?
Butler himself answers (p. 10): “I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism…I helped make Mexico…safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for 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 see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” 

An isolationist and by logical extension anti-imperialist, Butler advocated strong defense for national homeland protection. Military forces should not be sent outside of national boundaries.

CHAPTER: Why is war 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 many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.” 

Example: 21,000 new millionaires as a result of World War I. Those who profit so handsomely do not fight, die, or suffer. 

CHAPTER: Who Makes the Profit?

War-time profits are far greater than peace-time profits.

Publicly financed profits dressed up and covered over by patriotic rhetoric evoke love of country and the illusion of unified effort and sacrifice.

Record profits from WW I For example: Dupont profit from 1910-1914: 6 million per year

1914-1918 58 million per year

Such profits by big business are the rule and not the exception for the WW I time period.

Bank profits in the same period are unknown because they were partnerships and didn’t have to report to stockholders. No public disclosure.

Many unnecessary and unutilized things are made and sold to the government oat great profit: saddles, mosquito nets, airplanes, wooden ships that sank.

The Nye Senate committee investigated war profits. Made sensational disclosures but barely scratched the surface.

CHAPTER: Who Pays the Bills? Taxes pay for the profits. Liberty bonds sold to public in $100 denominations. Value is driven down by banker manipulation to between $84 and $86. People sell to bankers at that price. By manipulation the bankers drive the price back up to $100 and sell at a handsome profit. 

Soldiers pay the biggest part of the bill in lost lives, limbs, minds and futures. Civilians are turned into soldiers using mass psychology, induced to think only of being killed, and killing. At the end of the war, they are discharged and told to make their own readjustment. 

Before WWI a prize system existed. Soldiers and sailors fought for money. They were given up to $1200 to enlist and shared in the bounty or spoils of war, like pirates. But this system was replaced by a system of rewarding soldiers with medals. Napoleon hit on the idea earlier, “All men are enamored of decorations…they positively hunger for them.” 

The soldier had now lost the power to bargain for his labour, but was still conscripted or drafted into service.

World War I propaganda was most effective at using shame to force men into army and to demonize the Germans. Both sides claimed to have God on their side. 


Soldiers Pay: 

$30 per month, one half of which goes to support family to prevent family becoming a charge upon its community. 

$6 to pay accident insurance.

$9 per month remains to the soldier. 

Soldier also pays for his ammunition, clothing and food as a result of being required to by Liberty Bonds and $100 each. Soldiers bought $2 billion in bonds.

Chapter Four: How To Smash This Racket

Take the profit out of War. Conscript capital, industry and labor and put them on a soldier’s pay of $30 per month. This should be done before any young men can be drafted into military service. Everyone’s pay would be fixed at $30 per month during the war.

In addition, a limited plebiscite would be held to determine if the soldiers wanted to go to war. Only those eligible for military service would vote.

Chapter Five: To Hell With War! 

Why the US entered WWI

President Wilson’s campaign platform was built on the slogan, “he kept us out of War.” Five months after the election, he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.

England, France and Italy told the US in secret meetings that without US help, they would be defeated and would not be able to pay their debts. Germany would not honour those debts if victorious. If these meetings had been public and not secret, America would not have gone to war. World of 1934 less democratic than before the war started, 17 years previously.

Disarmament and arms limitations conferences are meaningless failures. Military leadership do not want to disarm, it would put them out of business. War profiteers work behind the scenes to prevent disarmament and insure profits. Participants negotiate for their own advantage and the detriment of their foes.

Smedley Butler predicted the arrival of high-tech warfare. Science will determine, he wrote, the victors in the wars of the future. 

Science diverted from improving the lot of mankind. Butler things science can be more profitably applied to peaceful pursuits than war.

Common Sense Neutrality: 1939 [Smedley Butler’s stand]

US not at all responsible for the start of WW II. The US should stay out. There is a long history of European wars. The US was not consulted, why participate. 

In WWI the US sold munitions to Allies, then had to bail them out to protect its investments. Wilson informed of the crisis: Germany would win if the US doesn’t get in on the fight. If Germany beats England, England (etc.) won’t be able to pay its debts to the US. Germany will become hegemonic, watching America sucked down by Britain. 

Gen. Smedley Butler’s 1934 public advice: Do not sell to either side in Europe. Even if the Germans win, the US is protected on both coasts by a huge expanse of ocean, the best navy in the world and an impregnable homeland defense. So stay neutral. Selling arms is the end of neutrality and the inevitably rising profits from sales will deeply involve the US in the success of our customers.

Smedley’s advice to parents: Don’t listen to the false propaganda of those in power.

Smedley worried that the US would “bail out Europe every 25 years.” He tells parents not to listen to the false propaganda of those in power. A government declaration of war does not mean parents are helpless. Parents and mothers in particular should not be ashamed to protect their sons from this war in Europe. Go the to Veterans hospitals if you want to see what might happen to your son.

There are only two reasons to go to war, Butler said: 1) the defense of our homes; 2) defense of Bill of Rights: Every other reason for the murder of young men is a racket, pure and simple.”

An Amendment For Peace

Butler proposed an Amendment to the Constitution:

1) Complete prohibition against removing land forces from Continental limits of US and Panama Canal Zone.

2) Navy vessels must stay within 500 miles of the US coastline, except on missions of mercy. 3) Military aircraft must stay within 750 miles of coastline.

If the US homeland is attacked, all would rise to defend it regardless of race, color or creed. The US should let all territories and dependencies go. This means Puerto Rico, Virginia Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Wake and Midway Islands.

Hawaiian Island and Alaska would be defended by economic sanctions. Armed forces should be withdrawn.

Laws to take profit out of war or supporting neutrality, or creating a referendum on war or implementing total disarmament can easily be removed from the statute books. All these measures can be evaded. Even participants in a limited plebiscite could be persuaded by propaganda to vote against their own interests.

Smedley Butler’s answers was a Constitutional Amendment For Peace. This would take a long time to repeal, giving the nation time to come to its senses. 

The Corporate Fascist Putsch 

In 1931, General MacArthur routed and dispersed the WWI veterans who came to Washington and set up crude encampments called Hoovervilles [in honour of President Herbert Hoover]. These vets were asking for the bonuses promised for their services in WWI. 

Also in 1931, Smedley Butler was imprisoned for telling a story about Benito Mussolini that the fascist dictator denied. Butler was to be court-martialed but strong public reaction to his trial caused the charge to be dropped entirely.

The fascism of both Mussolini and Hitler was much admired in pre-WW II America – especially by the elite leadership in business, industry and the government. 

The Fascists were very effective at suppressing labour and socialist demands for better wages and relief from the devastation brought on by the breakdown of capitalism.

Certain Wall Street banking houses such as J.P. Morgan and National City Bank, along with the Duponts, approached Smedley Butler in 1934 and asked him to lead the American Liberty League. This was a fascist offshoot of the American Legion. The proposal was to raise and arm a 500,000-man force of veterans to march on Washington in order to overthrow the government or at least force Roosevelt to back down on his New Deal program. 

Smedley Butler exposed this plot in Congressional testimony before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee.

(David Leitch’s notes for a Chautauqua Books cable access TV book show, Channel Five public access (Adelphia), Mayville, NY. The bookshow is hosted by Roy Harvey of Snowshoefilms. Karen Harvey (Snowshoefilms) and Chris Leitch, camera. Director, Chuck Kelsey. The program aired Jan. 2004. Audio file, (filmmakers’ notebook #67)

War Is A Racket was first published in 1935. Published 2003 by the Butler Family,



updated Jan 2004