Smedley Butler’s career at war intersected with one of the most rapacious periods of imperialism in US history. An accounting of it here is necessary, not to glorify his actions, but to highlight, as Butler himself would in his book War is a Racket many years later, the sheer barbarity of the American war machine. Decades prior to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first mention of the term, Smedley Butler would decry what we today know too well as the US Military Industrial Complex. Smedley Butler was no mere running dog—he commanded the respect of the standard imperial foot soldiers, and remains one of the most decorated marines in US history—he was at the head of the pack, and it would be precisely for this reason that, in the early 1930’s, he would be approached by the bourgeois masters he had spent his life in service of, and given an offer: to lead America’s own fascist coup.
By late-1934, the forces of fascist terror had cast their shadow far and wide: Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, Benito Mussolini as Il Duce of Italy, Engelbert Dollfuss as Chancellor of Austria, and the popular Second Spanish Republic was heaving in political uncertainty as civil war loomed just ahead. That year, General Smedley Butler, now retired from the USMC, approached the FBI with revelations of enormous implications: a plot was being brewed by the most prominent capitalists in the country. Terrified of the economic policies of FDR—considering them a direct threat to their profits and authority—the J.P Morgan firm sought to put up around $300 million (roughly $5 billion today) to bankroll the raising of a “veterans association” that, organizing some 500,000 American veterans, could then topple the US government and install General Hugh S. Johnson as dictator. The interest group behind the plot, the American Liberty League, included J.P Morgan Jr., Irénée du Pont, Prescott Bush, the CEOs of the General Motors, Birds Eye, and General Foods corporations, and more. The US media and government derided Butler’s allegations as insane nonsense, and publicly cast aspersions about his character; yet, what he described aligned almost perfectly with the fascist playbook as had been utilized across Europe, and in early-1934 had nearly succeeded in the overthrowing of the French Republic.
The legacy of General Smedley Butler did not end with his career as a gangster for capitalism, but rather, following his retirement from the USMC, he would become even more respected by veterans for his support of the Bonus Army—WW1 veterans whom had been promised bonuses for serving in the war, and had not been paid despite the onset of the great depression. His speaking tours around the country decrying imperialism, war, and mistreatment made him a household name.
"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. 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 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might 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."
Due to his popularity and support among veterans, coupled with his clear interest in politics, the Business Plotters saw in Smedley a potential key ally in overthrowing the US government. Butler’s loyalty to the bourgeois State, however, would not be swayed, and so the press—owned by the same people who had formed the plot—did everything in its power to destroy his credibility and portray him as a storyteller. Nevertheless, a Congressional committee was convened to investigate the matter. The committee’s final report, in 1935, stated that [t]here is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.
And that was the end of it. No further investigation, and no arrests were made. Smedley Butler died in 1940, and his memory, save for some precious fragments, mostly died with him. In looking at the correlations between the Business Plot of 1933, and the events of 06 January, 2021, it becomes all the more apparent that not only has bourgeois democracy once again failed to learn the lessons of history, it appears fascist forces are more advanced in the US today than even at their peak in the past century—an increasingly dangerous and unstable arrangement.
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