Major General Smedley Butler

Major General Smedley Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940)

Excerpt from “The True Flag – Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire”, 2017 by Stephen Kinzer

Butler had spent decades leading invasions of other countries. He commanded troops in Cuba and the Philippines, fought the Boxers in China, helped overthrow the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras, directed occupations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, secured the Panamanian regime that gave Americans the right to build their canal, and won a Medal of Honor—the first of two—for valor in suppressing Mexican resistance at Veracruz. By the 1920s he was a living legend, a personification of “the large policy.” The Marine Corps decided to use his popularity as a recruiting tool and sent him on a speaking tour. It did not unfold as planned. Butler strayed far from his script. He not only failed to defend the policies for which he had fought, he denounced them. Marine commanders called him back to Washington and, by mutual agreement, he resigned from active duty. Freed from constraint, he began barnstorming the country on his own. In passionate speeches and articles, he said that serving as a marine commander had made him “a high-class muscle man for big business” and “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 best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.


Butler later wrote a book “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 (read more).”

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