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Published: Friday, 4/9/2004

Time to break the cycle of war

BY EILEEN FOLEY

I THINK those who declare war should fight it, up close and personal. You know, President Bush and Saddam at 20 paces, no weapons but fists, winner takes all. There would be a lot fewer declarations and a lot less politicking about wars gone bad.

Of course GOP nasties who have never risked lives in battle couldn't carp about war heroes like John Kerry. He turned on war, but never so fervently as the late Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler.

After three decades of fighting American wars on three continents, General Butler, a rare, two-time Medal of Honor winner, came to the remarkable view that war is a racket for which many pay and few benefit.

"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 said in 1933.

General Butler was also noted for his support of World War I vets who marched to Washington in the Depression for promised bonuses. They were rousted by Douglas MacArthur.

The marine's detailed account of the costs of World War I, the billionaires it made of people whose lives weren't on the line, and the devastation that was the legacy of the fighters, resonates today, as Americans die in Iraq and the Bushies seek to add soldiers in Colombia. A big part of their job there is to protect an Occidental pipeline.

"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914," General Butler said.

"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 ... I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.

"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."

His racketeering spanned three continents. He liked to say it outdid Al Capone's.

General Butler was a military isolationist before rockets and missiles could do what airplanes couldn't, wreak havoc on the American continent and get back home. He urged a national defense a rat couldn't breach, but saw little reason for Americans to spend money to kill or be killed away from home.

That has changed. He didn't foresee high-tech weaponry that leaves us vulnerable. But citizens anywhere are wise to explore his ideas before knee-jerking to patriotic invocations.

From the early 1930s until his death in 1940, as clouds of war engulfed Europe and dictators ruled, the general argued for his thesis and the title of his book, War is a Racket.

Most Americans don't know how close we came to embracing the fascism that gripped Europe in the 1930s. General Butler outed an American fascist-big business putsch plan to undo President Franklin Roosevelt. He had riled up big business interests who idolized Mussolini.

Il Duce, who said "fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility or the utility of perpetual peace," sounds a lot like the neo-con prattle on struggle and dominance.

Some see other hints of fascism today. One place is in George W. Bush's Florida victory, relying as it did on Brother Jeb's oversight of the disenfranchisement of some 50,000 African-Americans in that state.

General Butler decried war profiteers, including 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires from World War I whose lives were never at risk, and faulted the military for spending wildly.

The public, he said, paid with new "gravestones, mangled bodies, shattered minds, broken hearts and homes, economic instability, depression and its attendant miseries, and backbreaking taxation for generation" - all of it "dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country," and hard work.

His beguiling idea to break the cycle of war was to "conscript capital and industry and labor before the nation's manhood can be conscripted." A month before seemed about right. He urged equalizing wartime pay of business executives and workers to that of the grunt; and, before a war declaration, a vote, but only by those who'd fight.

General Butler, who came from Philadelphia Quakers, also urged antiwar legislation, including a Peace Amendment, and young men's organizing as "veterans of future wars."

"The mother, the wives, and the sisters of the future cannon fodder must lead the way," he concluded. Since Vietnam, when many moms noisily told the world that "war is not good for children or other living things," they've been pretty quiet.

Eileen Foley is a Blade associate editor. E-mail: efoley@theblade.com



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