Major General Smedley Butler, a commandant of the United States Marine Corps in the early twentieth century, and a two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, summarized his career as follows:

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, 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 benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to 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. Looking back on it, I feel that I could 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.”

This is an excerpt of a speech he gave in 1933.  He died in 1940, before the priorities of the United States were turned from running a racket to building an empire, which some would say is a distinction without a difference.

From 1945 to about 1990, the overseers of the US military could get away with empire building and racketeering because all of it was done under the backdrop of an existential threat from the Soviet Union.  Since the Soviet Union fell, the military’s priorities have reverted to simply racketeering.  It now exists for the same reasons as it existed in the early twentieth century–to extract tribute for protection.  But the tribute goes to its political and economic masters, though the military is tasked with providing the protection. 

In some respects, it could be said that the US military’s sole purpose is to support the priorities of the US Federal Reserve, whose dual mandate would not even be thinkable without the military’s world hegemony. 

General Butler was Quaker–one of the few groups whose members were routinely awarded conscientious objector status for their devoutly-held pacifist views.   Perhaps the memories of his upbringing factored in his post-career pacifism.  Regardless, in my estimation, we ignore the lessons of people like Butler at our peril. 

It has often been said that the United States is great because it is good.  Bunk.  The United States is great–and it is great only in the economic sense– because it is amoral.   Its economic engineers have always known how to conflate spilling blood with a moral purpose and thereby make it palatable, but blood has ever and always been spilled in combat in order to enrich the plutocracy–a truth that General Butler, and a great many more military veterans, myself included, have learned through their service.