Book: "War is a racket"

"War is a racket" by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler is an antiwar classic by a highly decorated U.S. Marine Cops officer. There's still a USMC base in Japan named for this officer.

One quote of this remarkable officer sums his experience up, but isn't from his "War is a racket" text itself:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints.
The horrors of war, the unjustified profits of the war industry, the suffering at home, mutilated soldiers and especially his experience in many needless and corrupt small wars convinced BG Butler that war is a racket, evil. I read his book twice in the past years, and it's obviously applicable to our time as well as to the early and late 20th century.

He judged by his personal experience of his lifetime - the "Great War" and many small interventions against sovereign nations in Latin America.

He wrote "War is a racket" in 1935, in hindsight probably one of the worst times ever if you want to have lasting impact and fame for an anti-war work . The axis powers didn't allow peace for long any more (he warned only about Italy in his book) and showed that there are two kinds of war; those you can avoid and those you cannot avoid without submission.

This distinction is very important if we try to apply lessons learned from history for a better future.
Patriotism is a good thing if used to mobilize for unavoidable wars, and it's evil if it's exploited to reinforce support for needless wars.
Furthermore, the arguments of pacifists should not be dismissed completely, but considered for each and every war in detail - they apply to some wars and not so much to others.

Not only the understanding of patriotism should be influenced by past experiences - the whole approach to war needs to be checked. Are our societies really prepared to repel attempts to lure us into needless small or major wars in the future? Or will we fall prey to such attempts as the British did in 2003, when their head of government was able to participate in a war that the majority of the British didn't even want and that became a disaster?

The conditions are very different in the NATO countries. The USA will likely get an Iraq syndrome comparable to the Vietnam syndrome and shrink away from needless wars for some time. Let's hope that the lesson will be learned and last for more than a generation, as did the last one. The UK and other nations that participated in the Iraq conflict will probably have comparable movements.
France seems to have a steady willingness to execute small military actions in Africa, but never with really serious commitment - that's its policing policy in former colonies adopted after the Algerian War.
Germany otherwise is a completely different case. Two generations of Germans did their best to convince the world that German military actions are not desirable and there was absolutely no military action (of Western Germany) during the Cold War.

But we have a consistent policy of both large parties to drag the nation deeper and deeper into military actions and get the people more and more accustomed to it since the early 90's. It's basically a great power game, an open gambling for a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council by making yourself important and a permanent method of our secretaries of defence to gain prestige.

I hope the best, but the escalation path is obvious and we'll probably end up participating in the next stupid, needless war together with allies as only few people connect the horrors of the World Wars to small wars - and Germany had no small war on the ground for about a century.

Finally there's still the exploitation of war by businessmen who sell overpriced, inferior or even useless equipment to the forces for maximum profit. The huge budget expansions of the military in wartime and the wide-spread military incompetence in accounting promotes such behaviour.

It's always been very difficult to reduce such behaviour in wartime, but the next war's end should be a fine opportunity to begin with really punishing such war-related fraud and thereby fight one of the war's horrors as noted by Butler.

S Ortmann

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