BOOK REVIEW: War is a Racket
Written by
Lyn Jensen
March 2011
Written by
Lyn Jensen
March 2011

WAR IS FOR PROFIT: And That's All it's Good For

BOOK REVIEW: War is a Racket written by Smedley D. Butler, Major General, United States Marine Corps (ret.), 75th Anniversary ed. (Originally published 1935) Foreword by Cindy Sheehan, book design and audio recording by Joshua Smith.

by Lyn Jensen

Does a forty-page booklet have the power to change the world? If ever millions of readers apply the lessons to be learned from Smedley D. Butler's War is a Racket, perhaps that will be true. For whether a reader be militarist or pacificist, to read Butler's argument is to challenge mainstream contemporary America's fundamental cultural beliefs about war.

Controversial peace activist Cindy Sheehan sums up Butler's thesis with, "I thought war CAUSED profit--but with my research and through confirmation by this important treatise by one of the most highly decorated "warriors" of all time--I realized war IS FOR profit." She arranged for the printing of a seventy-fifth anniversary edition of Butler's work in 2010 and has already sold out her print run.

At the core of Butler's argument is that, if war didn't make the rich richer, there would be no reason to wage war. The men (or corporatists, to update Butler's language) who send American troops into harm's way have only one concern--and that's how much money they'll make off those troops being in harm's way. Platitudes about democracy, patriotism, freedom, and liberty only enter the picture because of the necessity for good public relations spin.

Although Butler's book was written in the aftermath of World War One and his data on the material costs of war come from that conflict, his accounts of the human costs remain universal. "Boys with a normal viewpoint were ... made to regard murder as the order of the day," he argues. "We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing of killing or being killed."

"Then suddenly we discharged them and told them to make another about-face. This time they had to do their own readjusting," he continues, and although he's speaking of World War One veterans, the story has remained familiar in the aftermath of World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and the current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Butler offers several ideas on how to smash the war racket but one in particular has enjoyed support from military reformers across the political spectrum for decades: restrict the size and scope of the armed forces to that which is necessary to defend the United States, and close all overseas bases. Even many contemporary conservatives are beginning to see this logic given their desire for limited government spending.

"[What] business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies," Butler asks. "Our problem is how to preserve our own democracy." Substitute Middle Eastern countries for the European ones Butler names, and little has changed since Butler served in the Marine Corps.

Another of Butler's suggestions calls for all nations to get together and "scrap every ship, every gun, every rifle, every tank, every war plane." The United Nations was a first step, but this goal remains elusive and deserves to be more closely pursued.

These are solutions for diplomats and politicians, but there's a simple step any individual can take to combat the war racket. Supporters of the peace movement who missed Sheehan's publication are encouraged to seek out earlier editions of War is a Racket, which remain widely available online and from used bookstores.

Any individual may continue what Ms. Sheehan has started and get Butler's book into the hands of politicians, schools, veterans, and peace activists. Every progressive organization should make thousands of copies of this book available to members without delay. That's how the right puts their toxic propaganda on the best seller lists, and it's up to the left to provide some balance.

Someone--perhaps some prominent peace activist such as Tom Hayden or Daniel Ellsberg--could go a step further and provide an updated version of Butler's data. Butler correctly argues how generations to come must (still) pay the cost of World War One. A book is needed that shows how Butler's thesis remains valid through all the wars and conflicts America has fought since, both in material and human costs.

How one of America's most decorated veterans came to write such a book is a story in its own right. Butler (1881-1940) was a Quaker who just the same served in the United States Marine Corps for thirty-four years. He served in France during World War One and participated in military actions in the Phillipines, China, and Latin America. He then went on to spend his final years writing and lecturing about how war is always a racket.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

No comments yet