War is a Racket

The business of wars and weapons sales is booming, with the United States leading the pack as the world’s foremost “merchant of death,” as Michael Klare notes in this article on the global arms trade for TomDispatch.com.

But why should we be surprised?  War has always been a racket.  And if you don’t believe me that forever war is forever profitable – for some, I recommend that you read War Is A Racket (1935), a classic polemic written by U.S. Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler.  Twice awarded the Medal of Honor, Major General Butler turned against military adventurism in the 1930s as he saw how his efforts and those of his men were exploited by elites to expand corporate wealth and power, even as they exempted themselves from the hardships and dangers of combat.

Plaque in Philly in Honor of Smedley Butler.  Photo by author.
Plaque in Philly in Honor of Smedley Butler. Photo by author.

As Butler put it in War Is A Racket:

“How many of the war millionaires shouldered a rifle [during World War I]?  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?”

Not many.  Butler knew who really paid war’s high bills:

“Yes, the soldier pays the greater part of the bill.  His family pays too.  They pay it in the same heart-break that he does.  As he suffers, they suffer.  At nights, as he lay in the trenches and watched shrapnel burst about him, they lay home in their beds and tossed sleeplessly … And even now the families of the wounded men and of the mentally broken and those who never were able to readjust themselves are still suffering and still paying.”

And Butler knew how best to put an end to the racket of war.  He was blunt – and right:

“We must take the profit out of war.”

“We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.”

“We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.”

Tragically, since the end of World War II Butler’s sage advice has been completely ignored.  War is more profitable now than ever.  We permit our youth to have no say in whether there should be a war.  (Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration of war since 1941.)  And today as a country we equate “home defense” with the world’s strongest military, configured for global reach, global power, boasting of “full-spectrum dominance.”

Unless we heed Butler’s advice, debilitating wars will continue.  They will continue because perpetual war is simply too profitable.  In the racket of war, the chief racketeers are easy to identify.  As Butler knew, just follow the money.

W. J. Astore

59 thoughts on “War is a Racket

  1. Reblogged this on Bracing Views and commented:

    I was watching the Bill Maher Show this past weekend on HBO. Generally considered a liberal and a free-thinker, Maher argued that U.S. military forces had to stay in Afghanistan to prevent a resurgence of terrorism. He and his guests seem to have forgotten U.S. military testimony that roughly 20 terrorist groups are currently present in Afghanistan; indeed, that the presence of American troops has attracted more terrorist activity, even as the Taliban has increased its control and the drug trade has vastly expanded. How is long-term failure over 17 years an argument for an even longer “enduring presence” by U.S. troops? How long should those troops stay — forever?

    General Smedley Butler knew the score. Five years ago, I wrote this post citing his confession about how war is a racket, driven by the profit motive, exploited by the powerful, even as the grunts and the native people of foreign lands pay the price.

    As Butler said, if we want to end war, we must get the profit motive out of it. Also, as he implied here, if the rich and privileged want to control foreign lands, it’s they who should be thrusting the bayonet into the enemy (and risking having it thrust in to them).

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  2. I so, so agree with all of this.

    But what is happening?

    When there are so many totally logical arguments against the pursuit of war, why do we get more and more of it?

    Because of profit, yes. But the profit goes to the few: why can we not get the huge majority to reject war as civilised man’s response to a problem?

    Somewhere, there is a simple route to ending war, by popular vote. Can not a few intelligent people find it? As Margaret Mead so famously said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

    This site, and many others like it show that thoughtful and committed citizens abound. Why are we not changing the world?

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