Better Late Than Never

Smedley Butler turned against what would later evolve into the military-industrial complex after helping create it.

General Smedley Butler (Right) with Major General John A. Lejeune in camp at Frederick, Maryland in 1922. (Bettmann / Getty Images)

Smedley Butler Helped Build American Empire. Then He Turned Against It.

I remember reading Smedley Butler’s 1935 War is a Racket. It’s partly a speech the retired general was making around the US and part peace manifesto. I recall reporting my findings to my mentor and college professor William A. Dorman. He made some positive remarks about the little seventy-five-page book, then said something like, “Why is it after people do so much damage that they finally get religion.”

General Butler successfully led the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in Honduras, Central America, Veracruz, Haiti, and World War I. Throughout his military exploits, he earned two Medal of Honors and was up to his time in the military was the most decorated soldier in the American military. After that, he retired from the military and believed that the wars he had helped lead were all conflicts designed not to defend America but to profit US banks and corporations.

The link at the top is from an excellent book review from Jacobin of Jonathan M. Katz’s new book Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. It’s currently out in hardcover, but I’ll be snagging a paperback when it comes out!