first name is my Irish grandmother's family name. Over the years,
I have run across the writings of a number of Butlers whose views
of life seemed to parallel my own, leading me to wonder if there
might be some genetic connection. Samuel Butler's satirical political
views along with his interest in a collective unconscious; the poetry
of William Butler Yeats; and the Realpolitick of Smedley Butler,
provide a few examples.
Butler is a name with which you may not be familiar, even though
he twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor. If he were
to appear on television today, he would be identified as "Maj.
General Smedley Butler, USMC (ret.)" But even if he were still
alive, he would not appear on any network television news
shows because, late in life, he openly expressed his opposition
to the war system. He went on to expose the symbiotic relationship
existing between the institutional interests of corporate America
and the state. Many former top generals and admirals have written
memoirs around the theme "war is hell," but Gen. Butler
went a step further, writing a book titled War
Is a Racket.
defined a racket as "something that is not what it seems to
the majority of the people." War, he goes on, "is possibly
the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious"
of rackets. Reflecting upon his own early 20th century
career, he noted that, "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." He
related how he had helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests,
Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank, a number
of Central American countries more pleasant for Wall Street interests,
the Dominican Republic more conducive to the sugar industry, and
China more compatible with the interests of Standard Oil. Then,
after observing how he had helped supply the coercive, deadly force
to advance corporate interests throughout various parts of the world,
Butler added: "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." You can see that his book does
for adults what The
Emperor's New Clothes does for children.
have my doubts that we shall be hearing such candor anytime soon
from the Bush administration's appointed military ruler of Iraq,
Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. I have seen far too many retired military officers
on network television news and talk shows faithfully reciting the
Establishment's position on the necessity for, the success of, and
the bright prospects for the American government's military involvement
in Iraq (and, perhaps, other Middle Eastern countries as well).
The media — which has been eager to ferret out the economic or ideological
interests of those who oppose administration policies — could
demonstrate a bit of "truth-in-advertising" by identifying
the defense industry interests for whom these various retired generals,
admirals, and colonels now work!
military academies have apparently expanded their curricula to include
the training of future officers to become military occupiers of
other countries. One West Point cadet expressed an awareness of
the interconnected nature of her military training and the political
domination of a nation. Contemplating her possible assignment to
Iraq upon graduation, she pondered how she "might have to go
over there and basically be mayor of a town." This young woman
would be well advised to read Gen. Butler's book!
Americans are uncomfortable contemplating that war is, and always
has been, a system by which a few are able to direct the coercive
machinery of the state to serve their economic interests, always
at the expense of the many. Gen. Butler's words have never been
more apropos than in the current U.S. abomination in Iraq: "Out
of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.
They just take it. This newly acquired territory is promptly exploited
by the few . . . . The general public shoulders the bill,"
as do the soldiers and their families whose lives are sacrificed
for the benefit of those who profit from war.
those who doubt this assessment, I invite you to read Murray Rothbard's
excellent essay, Wall
Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy. Rothbard was
always fond of asking the cui bono? question (i.e., "who
benefits?"), an inquiry that almost always identifies the hidden
interests of governmental policies. From at least the Civil
War onward, economic interests have manipulated foreign policies,
including wars, to serve the interests of major commercial, industrial,
and financial institutions. In so doing, the institutional interests
of the state have also been advanced.
Civil War that was belatedly sold to a gullible public on the pretext
of "freeing the slaves," was actually designed to preserve
the American nation-state in order to advance Northern economic
interests at the expense of the South. The Spanish-American War,
World Wars I and II, and the Cold War, had in common the purpose
of furthering American corporate interests in other regions of the
world. The avenging of the alleged attack on the battleship "Maine,"
"making the world safe for democracy," retaliating for
the attack on Pearl Harbor, or preventing the "international
communist conspiracy" from subduing the rest of the world through
the collapse of "dominoes," have served only to enlist
the gullible Americans in service to corporate-state interests.
The bumper-sticker from the 1960s that read "war is good business:
invest your son" had it right.
problem that the Bush administration had in selling the Iraqi invasion
to the public was in trying to find a rationale that would sound
convincing to a not-too-discerning boobeoisie. But at each stage,
the factual basis for the campaign failed. The "remember 9/11
and Al Qaeda" refrain collapsed for lack of evidence of any
Iraqi involvement, as did the "weapons of mass destruction"
song and dance. In desperation, the Bush leaguers opted for Iraqi
"liberation," "freedom," and "democracy"
as a justification for a war they were intent on conducting regardless
of the facts or the opposition of the rest of the world.
notions that the fostering of "democracy" had anything
to do with the invasion of Iraq were quickly dispelled by Donald
Rumsfeld who, in responding to efforts of Shiites to exercise political
power in Iraq, declared: "That isn't going to happen."
His comment reflects the vacuous meaning of "democracy,"
a concept grounded in the popular delusion that the citizenry
controls the ruling class! Rumsfeld is telling us that the American
political Establishment will select the candidates for leadership
in Iraq, from which the Iraqis will be allowed to choose. After
all, why should Iraq be any different from the United States?
the last of the satirists, Tom Lehrer, summed up the essence of
American foreign policy machinations in his song "Send the
Marines." Addressing the interests of the ordinary people
of Third World countries being colonized under a new class of nabobs,
Lehrer tells us: "they've got to be protected, all their rights
respected, ’til someone we like can get elected." Both Smedley
Butler and Donald Rumsfeld would understand the meaning of these
those willing to pay close attention to events in Iraq and the rest
of the Middle East, there is an opportunity to discover how war
is only the most violent expression of politics. War
is politics, and politics is war. Political systems
are grounded in the exercise of brute force in order to compel the
ruled to remain obedient to the demands of their rulers. In a theocracy,
the interests of the ruling class are centered around religious
institutions and doctrines. In our modern corporate-state arrangement,
a synthesis of economic and political interests dominate.
understood, and expressed, the realities of modern politics perfectly.
He also appreciated the distinction that now differentiates the
libertarian, free-market advocates (e.g., the Austrian school) from
the conservative and liberal defenders of the so-called "mixed
economy." Had he not died in 1940, he would surely have died
laughing at the nonsense perpetrated by Ayn Rand in her essay "America's
Persecuted Minority: Big Business."
defense of a truly "free market" has never been on the
agenda of either "big business" or the state. This is
why mercantilism has long been attractive to the interests
of both sets of institutions. There are many — Rothbard being the
most visible example — who understand this quite well. If all of
the business-sponsored laws, regulatory schemes, tariffs and taxation
policies, and wars were suddenly eliminated, we would soon discover
the free and creative nature of a stateless society.
rest of the world is now being given a lesson in the realities of
corporate-statism. At the uppermost level, one can see these interests
manifesting themselves in the desire to dominate as much of the
world's political and economic decision-making as possible. This
need for power over others is completely incompatible with free
markets and individual liberty.
a secondary level, one finds the efforts of individual firms to
benefit their interests through state power. Even as the occupation
of Iraq was being put together, handpicked firms with strong ties
to the political establishment were being awarded — apparently without
benefit of any process of bidding — lucrative contracts to "rebuild"
Iraq. The analogy to American "urban renewal" programs
immediately came to mind: municipalities condemning inner-city properties,
destroying buildings and neighborhoods in the process, then turning
the lands over to private developers — at lower-than-market prices
— to construct middle- and upper-income housing. The same practice
is going on in Iraq, with the Air Force bombing Baghdad to rubble,
and the American government awarding contracts to well-connected
firms to rebuild the city!
nature of the Iraqi conquest was not lost on one cable TV news reporter
who, in questioning a man who wanted the rebuilding process to be
opened up to other nations than just the United States shrieked
that the "French who wanted no part in the war now want to
share in the spoils." When one checks a dictionary and discovers
that "spoils" refers to "plunder taken from an enemy
in war," and that a synonym is "loot," it is evident
that even the media unwittingly express what is transpiring.
few journalists and soldiers, apparently invoking thousands of years
of human history, have allegedly undertaken more personal forms
of looting. In trying to smuggle paintings, historic artifacts,
and vast sums of confiscated money back into America, the alleged
perpetrators bring to mind a practice going back centuries before
the likes of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan turned it into an art
such lone wolf methods are no longer acceptable in the institutionally
centered world of the 21st century. If foreign nations
are to be despoiled, it must be according to established procedures
and due process of law. Like the practice of men wearing tuxedos
to prizefights, brutality must be dignified by the trappings of
social decorum. Thus, independent looters and other wildcatters
are no longer welcome. If you wish to get in on the game, you must
do so legally: you must incorporate, and make certain you
maintain your ties to the state's power structure. Smedley Butler
would have expected nothing less.