That war is a racket has been told us by many, but rarely by one of this stature. Though he wrote the landmark book War is a Racket in 1935, the highly decorated U.S. General Smedley Butler (two Congressional Medals of Honor) deserves to be heralded for this timeless message, which rings true today more than ever. Below is an engaging two-page summary.
WAR IS A RACKET – by General Smedley Butler
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 in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. In the World War [World War I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted huge gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows. [Please note these are 1935 U.S. dollars. To adjust for inflation, multiply all figures X 10 or more]
WHO MAKES THE PROFITS?
The World War cost the United States some $52 billion. That means $400 [over $4,000 in today's dollars] to every American man, woman, and child. The normal yearly profits of a business concern in the U.S. are 6 to 12%. But war-time profits, that is another matter – 60, 100, 300, and even 1,800% – the sky is the limit. Uncle Sam has the money. Let's get it. Of course, it isn't put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and "we must all put our shoulders to the wheel," but the profits jump, leap, and skyrocket – and are safely pocketed.
Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people. The average pre-war earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6 million a year. Now let's look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. $58 million a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950%.
Take one of our steel companies. Their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6 million. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49 million a year! Or, let's take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105 million a year. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240 million. Not bad.
They sold your Uncle Sam 20 million mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France! There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. When the war was over some 4 million sets of equipment – knapsacks and the things that go to fill them – crammed warehouses on this side. Now they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents. But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them.
If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. Their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public – even before a Senate investigatory body. It has been estimated that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52 billion [X 10 or more for inflation]. Of this sum, $39 billion was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16 billion in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16 billion profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.
WHO PAYS THE BILLS?
Who provides these nice little profits of 20, 100, 300, 1,500 and 1,800 per cent? We all pay them – in taxation. But the soldier pays the biggest part of the bill. If you don't believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran's hospitals in the United States. On a tour of the country, I visited 18 government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men – men who were the pick of the nation 18 years ago. Mortality among veterans is three times as great as those who stayed at home.
Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the offices, factories, and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded. They were made to "about face," to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put through mass psychology and entirely changed. We trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed. Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another "about face!" This time they had to do their own readjustment. We didn't need them any more. Many of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final "about face" alone.
Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the "war to end all wars." This was the "war to make the world safe for democracy." No one mentioned to them that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that their ships might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents. They were just told it was to be a "glorious adventure."
HOW TO SMASH THIS RACKET!
Well, it's a racket, all right. A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can't end it by disarmament conferences. You can't eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can't wipe it out by resolutions. Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket: 1) We must take the profit out of war; 2) We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war; and 3) We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.
I am not a fool as to believe that war is a thing of the past. I know the people do not want war, but there is no use in saying we cannot be pushed into another war. Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had "kept us out of war." Yet, five months later he asked Congress to declare war on Germany. In that five-month interval the people had not been asked whether they had changed their minds. Then what caused our government to change its mind so suddenly? Money.
An allied commission came over shortly before the war declaration and called on the President. The President summoned a group of advisers. The head of the commission spoke. Stripped of its diplomatic language, this is what he told the President and his group: "There is no use kidding ourselves any longer. The cause of the allies is lost. We now owe you (American bankers, American munitions makers, American manufacturers, American speculators, American exporters) five or six billion dollars. If we lose (and without the help of the US we must lose) we, England, France and Italy, cannot pay back this money. So..."
Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations, and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, America never would have entered the war. But this conference, like all war discussions, was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off, they were told it was a "war to make the world safe for democracy" and a "war to end all wars." Very little has been accomplished to assure us that the World War was really the war to end all wars. Disarmament conferences don't mean a thing. At all these conferences, lurking in the background are the sinister agents of those who profit by war. They see to it that these conferences do not seriously limit armaments. So...I say, TO HELL WITH WAR!