Sheldon Richman on Smedley Butler and the Racket That's War

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U.S. Navy

From 1898 to 1931, Smedley Darlington Butler was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. By the time he retired he had achieved what was then the corps's highest rank, major general, and by the time he died in 1940, at 58, he had more decorations, including two medals of honor, than any other Marine. During his years in the corps he was sent to the Philippines (at the time of the uprising against the American occupation), China, France (during World War I), Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. In light of this record Butler presumably shocked a good many people when in 1935 — as a  second world war was looming — he wrote that most of his service was spent "as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers."  That same year he published a short book with the now-famous title War Is a Racket, for which he is best known today. It's a cliche of course to say, "The more things change, the more they stay the same," but on reading Butler today, writes Sheldon Richman, who can resist thinking it? As we watch Barack Obama unilaterally and illegally reinsert the U.S. military into the Iraqi disaster it helped cause and sink deeper into the violence in Syria, we might all join in the declaration with which Butler closes his book:

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