04 June 2009

War Is A Racket

It’s not often that a 2-star Marine Corps General, with a matching pair of Medals of Honor (that’s right, two medals of honor!), takes a stand against war. But Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, wasn’t your average Marine General.

After serving in uniform for 33 years on three continents, he wrote a small book titled War is a Racket (in 1935), in which he denounces the fact that nations go to war to enhance the profits of industrialists, while the costs of war are born by the poor. He offers an isolationist policy, and suggests that the military should focus on defending the shoreline, writing “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.

Now, I’m not going to go into a full analysis of Gen Butler’s ideas. I’m not even going to say whether I agree with him or not. However, I will say I agree completely with his denunciation of situations in which profits are privatized while losses are socialized, or where the few collect benefits while the many pay the costs. 

That was one of the main points of my Process Loss Cost article, and it’s one of the main flaws in things like Scientific Management, Business Process Reengineering and CMMI. It seems to me that the distance between payment and consumption should be as short as possible. The person gaining the benefit should also be the one paying the price. For it to be otherwise is indeed a racket.

I get a kick out of MGen Butler’s suggestion that the government be required to “conscript capital and industry and labor before the nation’s manhood can be conscripted.” He writes:

Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted -- to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn't they?

They aren't running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren't sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren't hungry. The soldiers are!

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket -- that and nothing else.

MGen Butler was a radical and a rogue thinker. His book is worth reading. We proudly award him the posthumous Rogue Medal of Independent Thinking.


David said...

I read "War is a Racket" in 2003, and it said nothing new (to my already cynical mind). I think that the OIF contracting hilarities might have shocked even MGen Butler.

What's really highlighted here is the precarious balance we have between military service and free enterprise support. The sense of duty that drives many servicemembers is not often matched by the providers of support services bought with contract $.

I have a much smaller request than MGen Butler: I want a declaration of war. Tens of thousands of US military dead in each of Korea and Vietnam, thousands in Iraq (I and II) and Afghanistan, but let's be clear: they are not war dead, as we had no declaration for any of these. If Congress cannot step up to even declare a war, maybe we have a problem...

Gabe said...

@David, very interesting indeed.