From “War Is a Racket” by Smedley Butler, for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is generally difficult for me in the abstract. I abhor the very idea of “celebrating” the “sacrifices” of people who might better said not to have sacrificed their lives but rather to have been murdered, murdered by the people who profit from the abstractions that are bandied about to mobilize money and man-and-woman-power in order to steal, kill, and destroy. It is not that I bear ill will to the soldiers themselves; rather, I mourn the fact that they are caught up in the spiral of violence and even have come to believe there is glory in it. The only true glory is in serving the Prince of Peace, and I’m pretty sure when he said “love your enemies” he didn’t mean kill them.

This year Memorial Day is especially difficult because only a few days ago we buried a friend who had just returned from Iraq in a flag-draped casket. My own brother is over there right now, and I hope and pray he doesn’t come back to us the same way.

War is not glorious, and warriors are not the highest class of men (contrary to the speech the general gave at Joe’s memorial service). The highest calling is being a part of the emergence of the New Creation, anticipating the day when finally the work is complete in God’s mysterious ways and the veil is lifted to reveal Christ fully to us again, just as the Eleven saw him ascend to heaven (Acts 1) – the time when the trumpet sounds, the Lord descends with a shout, and we rise up in the air to meet him and escort him, as befits a royal Prince, down to earth to survey his domain. [It should be noted at this point that much of what I’m describing actually has very little to do with what passes as popular Christian belief among certain segments of the population today – the Biblical imagery is clearly about the creation itself being redeemed and transformed, not about a certain class of privileged people “escaping” it.]

This is from the first chapter of Smedley Butler’s work War Is a Racket. Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC (Ret.), is the most highly decorated soldier in US history, one of only 19 people to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. After retiring from the Corps he came to see his “service” as truly only being in the service of making the rich richer at the expense of the thousands for whose deaths and suffering he felt responsibility. He embarked on a speaking tour of the country, and the speech he gave was expanded and published as War Is a Racket in 1935.

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 international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the 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 very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [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.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

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.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

[Butler goes on to describe the state of the world in 1935, describing the ongoing processes of militarization that would eventually erupt into World War II]

Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war — a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit — fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

War Is a Racket full text


6 Responses

  1. You’re gorgeous, Jason. Thanks.

  2. You’re not gorgeous Jason, but thanks anyway (hehehehehe). Nice post.

  3. Good take. Memorial day is always awkward, especially in the face of war so obviously unjust (which, depending on ones’ perspective, could easily be all wars). And I’m grateful Smedley Butler was a required piece in my US history class.

  4. You have several good points. And so did (and does) Butler.

    However… (you knew it was coming)…
    I think you’re looking at this strictly from an anti-war perspective. I think you forgot to think like a family member of a soldier… and you are just that. Yes, you mentioned that your brother is deployed currently, but let me remind you that we are not currently under a draft, nor have we been in many years. Each of our soldiers now have chosen to join – including my brother and yours. Some, yes, joined because the government and military have become pros at making joining look glamorous and offer perks that make it difficult for some to turn away from (i.e., money for college, bonuses,etc…) and perhaps that’s why your brother joined. Regardless, they made a choice to do what they felt was necessary. They signed the papers.

    I think what got me was that you mentioned “warriors are not the highest class of men (contrary to the speech the general gave at Joe’s memorial service).” Many of our soldiers serving are also His faithful servants – fulfilling the shoes in both roles (the warrior and the peacemaker). If it were your brother inside that flag-draped casket and his General that was speaking to his honor as a “high class” of men, would you disapprove? Can you honestly say that you would make the same remark as above to the face of your friend Joe, or his mourning mother?

    No war is glorious. Lives are lost. It is not what He had intended. But it occurs, often, and is unlikely to cease anytime soon – there are too many people on this Earth unwilling to open their minds to change. You have said to me many times that God has a plan for everyone. What’s to say that this isn’t the plan He had for Joe? Or your brother or mine?

    I’m curious what you have to say. You know me, always up for good conversation. 🙂

  5. Many of our soldiers serving are also His faithful servants – fulfilling the shoes in both roles (the warrior and the peacemaker)

    Is this possible?

  6. […] Yes, and what does it profit the nation? (Source: From “War Is a Racket” by Smedley Butler, for Memorial Day) […]

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