War is a Racket
By General Smedley D. Butler
That war is a racket has been told us by many, but rarely by one of
this stature. Though he died in 1940, the highly decorated General Butler
(two Congressional Medals of Honor) deserves to be heralded for his
timeless message, which rings true today more than ever. His riveting 1935
War is a Racket merits inclusion as required reading for every high
school student, and for every member of our armed forces today. Below is a
six-page summary of the best of this powerful exposé.
Excerpt from a speech delivered by General Smedley Butler, USMC
War is just a racket. 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.
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.
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 safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped
make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys. I
helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the
benefits of Wall Street. 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.
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.
WAR IS A RACKET
WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily
the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one in which
the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict.
At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United
States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in
their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their
tax returns no one knows.
Out of war nations acquire additional territory. If they are victorious,
they just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by
the few - the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The
general public shoulders the bill.
Take our own case. Until 1898, our national debt was a little more than
$1 billion. Then we became "internationally minded." We forgot George
Washington's warning about "entangling alliances." We went to war. We
acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a
direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt
had jumped to over $25 billion. [Please note these are 1935 US
dollars. To adjust for inflation, multiply all figures X 10]
It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American
who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few
this racket brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always
transferred to the people - who do not profit.
WHO MAKES THE PROFITS?
The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the
United States some $52 billion. Figure it out. That means $400 [that is
in 1935 dollars = over $4,000 in today's dollars] to every American
man, woman, and child.
The normal yearly profits of a business concern in the United States
are six to twelve percent. But war-time profits - ah! that is another
matter - sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per
cent - the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has
the money. Let's get it.
Of course, it isn't put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into
speeches about patriotism, love of country, and "we must all put our
shoulders to the wheel," but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket - and
are safely pocketed. Let's just take a few examples:
Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people - didn't one of them
testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war?
Well, the average pre-war earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910
to 1914 were $6 million a year. Now let's look at their average yearly
profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. $58 million a year profit we
find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal
times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.
Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside
the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials.
Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6 million. Then came the
war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to
munitions making. Did their profits jump - or did they let Uncle Sam in
for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49 million a year!
Or, let's take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the
five-year period prior to the war were $105 million a year. Not bad. Then
along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for
the period 1914-1918 was $240 million. Not bad.
A little copper, perhaps. Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings
during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10 million. During the war years
1914-1918 profits leaped to $34 million per year. Or Utah Copper. Average
of $5 million per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average
of $21 million yearly profits for the war period.
Let's group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly
average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137 million. Then
along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed
to $408 million. A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per
Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren't the only ones. There are still
others. Let's take leather.
For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central
Leather Company were approximately $1.2 million a year. Well, in 1916
Central Leather returned a profit of $15 million, a small increase of
1,100 per cent. That's all. The General Chemical Company averaged a profit
for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came
the war, and the profits jumped to $12 million, a leap of 1,400 per cent.
Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The 65th Congress, reporting on
corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122
meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel
plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent
were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per
cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago
packers doubled and tripled their earnings.
And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone
had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather
than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to
stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How
the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because
those little secrets never become public - even before a Senate
But here's how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators
chiseled their way into war profits.
Take the shoe people. They sold Uncle Sam 35 million pairs of hobnailed
service shoes. There were 4 million soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a
soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. When
the war was over Uncle Sam had a matter of 25 million pairs left over.
Bought - and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed. There was still lots
of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of
thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn't any
American cavalry overseas!
They sold your Uncle Sam 20 million mosquito nets for the use of the
soldiers overseas. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to
France! There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting, even if there
were no mosquitoes in France.
Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just
profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1
billion - count them if you live long enough - was spent by Uncle Sam in
building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or
motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in
France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30,
100, or perhaps 300 per cent.
The shipbuilders felt they should come in on some of it, too. They built a
lot of ships that made a lot of profit. More than $3 billion worth. Some
of the ships were all right. But $635 million worth of them were made of
wood and wouldn't float! The seams opened up - and they sank. We paid for
them, though. And somebody pocketed the profits.
Undershirts for soldiers cost 14¢ [cents] to make and uncle Sam paid 30¢
to 40¢ each for them - a nice little profit for the undershirt
manufacturer. And the stocking manufacturer and the uniform manufacturers
and the cap manufacturers and the steel helmet manufacturers - all got
Why, when the war was over some 4 million sets of equipment - knapsacks
and the things that go to fill them - crammed warehouses on this side. Now
they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents.
But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them - and they
will do it all over again the next time.
It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers
that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52 billion. Of this sum, $39 billion was
expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16 billion in
profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that
way. This $16 billion profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy
sum. And it went to a very few.
WHO PAYS THE BILLS?
Who provides the profits - these nice little profits of 20, 100, 300,
1,500 and 1,800 per cent? We all pay them - in taxation. We paid the
bankers their profits when we bought Liberty Bonds at $100.00 and sold
them back at $84 or $86 to the bankers. These bankers collected $100 plus.
It was a simple manipulation. The bankers control the security marts. It
was easy for them to depress the price of these bonds. Then all of us -
the people - got frightened and sold the bonds at $84 or $86. The bankers
bought them. Then these same bankers stimulated a boom and government
bonds went to par - and above. Then the bankers again collected their
But the soldier pays the biggest part of the bill.
If you don't believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the
battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran's hospitals in the United
States. On a tour of the country, in the midst of which I am at the time
of this writing, I have visited eighteen government hospitals for
veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men - men who were
the pick of the nation 18 years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the
government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living
dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as
among those who stayed at home.
Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and
factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded;
they were made over; they were made to "about face"; to regard murder as
the order of the day. They were put through mass psychology and entirely
changed. We used them for a couple of years, and trained them to think
nothing at all of killing or of being killed.
Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another "about
face!" This time they had to do their own readjustment. We didn't need
them any more. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually
destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final "about face"
In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are
in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all
around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been
mentally destroyed. These boys don't even look like human beings. Oh,
the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally,
they are gone.
In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription.
They were made to feel ashamed if they didn't join the army. So vicious
was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few
exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill
the Germans. God is on our side. It is His will that the Germans be
killed. And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill
the allies...to please the same God.
Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die.
This was the "war to end all wars." This was the "war to make the world
safe for democracy." No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that
their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these
American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their
own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were
going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States
patents. They were just told it was to be a "glorious adventure."
HOW TO SMASH THIS RACKET!
WELL, it's a racket, all right. A few profit - and the many pay. But
there is a way to stop it. You can't end it by disarmament conferences.
You can't eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but
impractical groups can't wipe it out by resolutions.
To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket:
1. We must take the profit out of war.
2. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide
whether or not there should be war.
3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.
TO HELL WITH WAR!
I am not a fool as to believe that war is a thing of the past. I know
the people do not want war, but there is no use in saying we cannot be
pushed into another war. Looking back, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected
president in 1916 on a platform that he had "kept us out of war." Yet,
five months later he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.
In that five-month interval the people had not been asked whether they had
changed their minds. The 4 million young men who put on uniforms and
marched or sailed away were not asked whether they wanted to go forth to
suffer and die. Then what caused our government to change its mind so
An allied commission, it may be recalled, came over shortly before the
war declaration and called on the President. The President summoned a
group of advisers. The head of the commission spoke. Stripped of its
diplomatic language, this is what he told the President and his group:
"There is no use kidding ourselves any longer. The cause of the allies is
lost. We now owe you (American bankers, American munitions makers,
American manufacturers, American speculators, American exporters) five or
six billion dollars. If we lose (and without the help of the US we must
lose) we, England, France and Italy, cannot pay back this money...and
Germany won't. So..."
Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations were concerned,
and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, or had
radio been available to broadcast the proceedings, America never would
have entered the World War. But this conference, like all war discussions,
was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off to war they
were told it was a "war to make the world safe for democracy" and a "war
to end all wars." And very little, if anything, has been accomplished to
assure us that the World War was really the war to end all wars.
There is only one way to disarm with any semblance of practicability. That
is for all nations to get together and scrap every ship, every gun, every
rifle, every tank, every war plane.
So...I say, TO HELL WITH WAR!
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