Smedley Butler

During his 34 year career Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881 –1940), fought in the Philippines–American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Mexican Revolution, World War I, China, Haiti and Central America. At the time of his death, he was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history, winning the Medal of Honor twice, though he refused to accept it the second time. After retiring from the Marines he became an advocate for veterans and spoke out passionately against war and U.S. military interventions.

Butler’s Official Military Personnel File contains nearly 3,000 documents, which are available online and free to view at the National Archives. Medic has downloaded sixteen documents.

Butler’s superiors considered him brave and brilliant but unreliable for a combat command. In WWI he was put in charge of Camp Pontanezen, a troop depot at Brest, France. The overcrowded base was muddy, unsanitary and disorganized. Butler succeeded in vastly improving the conditions.

Following the war Butler headed the Marine barracks at Quantico, Virginia, transforming the training camp into a permanent post. He won national attention by leading thousands of men on long field marches to Gettysburg and other Civil War battle sites, where they conducted large-scale re-enactments before crowds of distinguished spectators.

In 1924, on leave from the service, Butler cleaned up Philadelphia’s crime ridden government by raiding nearly 1000 speakeasies, ordering them padlocked or in many cases destroyed. He cracked down on bootlegging, prostitution, gambling and police corruption, and on high society hangouts and working class bars.

For his efforts Butler was seen as controversial. “I don’t believe there is a single bandit notch on a policeman’s guns in this city,” he once said. “Go out and get some!” Many local citizens and police saw the raids as window dressing, yet they continued for weeks.

Nearly two years later Butler’s aggressive leadership had undermined his community support. The mayor of Philadelphia told the press, “I had the guts to bring General Butler to Philadelphia and I have the guts to fire him.” Before leaving Philly, Butler published a newspaper editorial stating he intended to “finish the job”. This infuriated the mayor, who demanded that Butler resign. Butler departed, stating later that “cleaning up Philadelphia was worse than any battle I was ever in.”

In 1930, passed up for Commandant of the Marine Corps—he was considered outspoken and unreliable—Butler requested retirement and left active duty on October 1, 1931.

In 1932, thousands of WWI vets, impoverished by the Depression, marched on Washington, DC seeking promised bonus payments. When President Hoover refused to meet with members of the Bonus March, and rejected their demands, Butler spoke to the men, raising their sagging morale. Eight days later Hoover ordered active-duty soldiers—led by future generals Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and Dwight D. Eisenhower—to put the movement down. Using cavalry, tanks, tear gas, and fixed bayonets, the troops drove the veterans from the city, killing two and wounding nearly one thousand others.

In 1934 Butler became involved in the Business Plot, (also called  Wall Street Putsch and The White House Putsch). He testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that a group of wealthy industrialists and Wall Street Banks were planning a military coup to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Butler selected to lead a march of veterans to become dictator, similar to fascist regimes at that time.

The individuals involved denied the plot, and the media ridiculed the allegations, but the McCormack-Dickestein Committee report—much of it suppressed—confirmed some of Butler’s testimony.

Medic has obtained the FBI investigation into the Business Plot led by J. Edgar Hoover: Butler/FBI file 1Butler FBI file 2.

In 1935 Butler wrote a best-selling pamphlet, War Is A Racket, and toured the country, speaking out against U.S. military aggression which served the goals of big business.

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 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China, in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.

The military did not take kindly to Butler’s unflattering speeches and candid testimony. Marine Corps agents surveilled his public appearances and filed reports. A Leatherneck informant who attended a particular meeting heard Butler state that Americans should “lay aside all religious and racial feeling and stand together” against fascism and war. The informant concluded that “the general appeared to be either insane or an out-and-out traitor.”

Butler died in a Navy hospital in 1940. He was buried without military honors after a private service.

Presently librarians at Quantico are careful to keep Butler’s anti-war tracts hidden. Accessible are the books which detail his gallantry in action and base commands.

Source: Wikipedia

For excellent articles on Smedely Butler see: Counterpunch, Rolling Stone, and W.D. Ehrhart in VVAW’s The Veteran.

For details on the Business Plot see The Guardian.