Back to Index

Smedley Butler and Official policy

A feature of the British and American system of government is that officials must toe the official line. They must express the policy of the prime minister or president, whatever they may think or whatever disagreements there may have been in intra-government discussions. In the present "axis of evil" talk, Colin Powell and Condy Rice have echoed the president's line, but I have the feeling that, while flinty Condy (as she has been called) may support it wholeheartedly, kind Colin is less enthusiastic. This opens up a whole constitutional problem. In the French cohabitation system, Chirac and Jospin are fighting to win the presidential elections, so they cannot sing a harmonious duet.

While the Angle-American system is fine for docile individuals like me. it must be a problem for feisty Marines like Smedley Butler. But The System must prevail. Paul Simon, a diplomat, says: "If General Butler was on duty and publicly contradicted the President's policy, he violated his terms of service, as I would if I did so. It's quite conceivable that he insulted Mussolini at a public forum. Commissioned officers swear an oath to always support the executive branch in public. He could say what he wanted in private forums or off the record.

I know someone who was "strongly encouraged" to resign from the Foreign Service after insulting a head of state. She was posted in a small, very poor African country, and was desperate to break her assignment. She was denied a medical evacuation (quoth the State Department MD, "Saying 'this place is driving me nuts' does not qualify you for a psychiatric evacuation.."). So she determined to get herself declared Persona Non Grata (PNG). A few weeks later, the opportunity presented itself. She went up to the Prime Minister at a reception and told him that he was a boob, his government was a pack of thieves, his people lazy and ignorant, and his country an open sewer. As with what Butler might have said about Il Duce, her statements were quite possibly true but still a no-no when on duty. She was PNG'ed in 3 days. Back in Washington, State decided to encourage her to resign her commission: they immediately reassigned her to....Haiti. She took the hint".

My advice: Remember the old adage: "A gentleman is someone who does not insult a person unintentionally". Jesus was a gentleman and a gentle man.

Ronald Hilton - 2/15/02