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War is a Racket


“Why don’t these damned oil companies fly their own flags on their personal property-maybe a flag with a gas pump on it.”

Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (1937)

On August 26, 2003, wrote of a “grim milestone” being reached in post-war (sic) Iraq: “A soldier’s death on Tuesday means more troops have died in Iraq since President (sic) Bush declared major combat over on May 1 than during the first phase of the war.”

That same day, I received an advance review copy from Feral House of “War is a Racket” by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler. I’ll have more to say on that confluence in a moment. For now, let us ruminate upon the “grim milestone” above.

More soldiers have died since Bush staged his aircraft carrier photo op than died during the so-called war itself. What this demonstrates is that the anti-war protestors were right. Iraqis did not welcome Americans with open arms. The war did provoke more anti-Western terror. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were never the issue and might not even exist. The U.S. military is stuck in the proverbial quagmire. Bush-friendly corporations are getting richer on taxpayer-funded contracts. War is a racket for sure.

But, as Marine Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler wrote in the 1930s, war has been a racket for a long, long time (go back and check the date on his opening quote). Writing mostly about World War I in “War is a Racket,” Butler explains that war is “possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, sure the most vicious” racket of all. “It is the only [racket] in which profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives,” he declares.

Butler’s blunt analysis is aimed directly at corporate power. Summing up his career, he says: “I spent 33 years…being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism…I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”

What we might wish to remember, however, is that anti-war protest has also been around a long, long time. During the First World War, noted Socialist Eugene V. Debs, after visiting three fellow Socialists in a prison in June 1918, spoke out across the street from the jail for two hours. He was arrested and found guilty under the Espionage Act. Before sentencing, Debs famously told the judge: “Your honor, years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

During the “good war,” a time of absolute unity we’re told, there were 43,000 conscientious objectors and a total of 350,000 cases of draft evasion.

Protest against the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam began not during the Kennedy administration but rather in 1945 when merchant marines refused to transport French soldiers back into Southeast Asia to resume their colonial repression.

Consider this: In America, there are far more anti-war veterans than war veterans. (Perhaps we need a co-opting of Veteran’s Day.)

So, Bush’s war followed a long tradition of military racketeering and, as before, millions of anti-war activists were right on many counts. WE were right on many counts. Fine…but there’s no time to gloat or consult the scorecard. WE must be certain to:

Do our part to keep this spirit of dissent alive every single day…in all we do

Not accept Dubya and the Republicans as the only villains…both corporate parties are guilty

The 2004 election provides us with a high-profile opportunity to send a message that the lesser of two evils (if such a creature even exists in the American two-party (sic) system) is not enough. As Eugene Debs said: “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”

MICKEY Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet and an editor at Wide Angle. He can be reached at:

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.  

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