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Smedley Butler and Herbert Hoover. Fact or fiction?



General Smedley Butler, USMC. was one of the few Americans to be twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He surprised people when he gave a speech denouncing war in 1933. Here is an extract: "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. . . . 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 (where have I heard that name before?). 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".

Smedley Butler was immensely popular, and Roosevelt wanted him to become Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate. He declined, but reportedly got into a fight with President Herbert Hoover, well-known as a Quaker and a Pacifist. They should have agreed, but politics is stronger than pacifism. He charged that Hoover was a coward, and that in China, during the Boxer Rebellion, he hid under a bed. Hoover sued him, and the case went to the Supreme Court, where Hoover lost. Such is the story. How true is it? Elena Danielson of the Hoover Institution suspects that it may be one of the many stories which circulated during the 1928 presidential campaign. This raises the question as to when Smedley Butler decided that war was a racket, as he said in 1933. In the interest of fairness to Hoover, this story should be confirmed or denied. There are really two questions. Was Smedley Butler's charge true? Did the lawsuit take place as reported? I hope Tim Walch of the Hoover Memorial Library can give us his authoritative opinion. Others may have some information. When I hear from a variety of sources, I will report back.

Ronald Hilton - 2/12/02


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