This interview was first broadcast as the sovereign nation of Ukraine was being invaded by the Russian Army. Terrible as this was, it was also an appropriate time to examine our own history, which Jonathan Katz has done in his most recent book, GANGSTERS OF CAPITALISM: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of the American Empire, published in January 2022 by St. Martin’s Press.
He is an award winning journalist, whose earlier book, The Big Truck That Went By, chronicles his time in Haiti, where he was the only full-time American correspondent in Haiti, when the devastating earthquake struck on January 12, 2010 and the ensuing disasters brought on by the multiple failures of international aid projects. More than 230,000 people were killed.
As he describes in our interview, Smedley Butler was there from the very beginning of the United States’ imperialism, first as a 16 year old lieutenant in the Spanish-American War, when we secured Guantanamo Bay, then on to Puerto Rico, The Philippines, China, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
After a long career in the Marines, in which he pioneered counter-insurgency methods and the militarization of police forces to enforce the prerogatives of capitalist oligarchs, who he eventually came to understand were calling the shots, he retired with the rank of General, the most decorated Marine in history, as well as the first of only 19 Marines to have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice.
He became the Head of Public Safety for the City of Philadelphia, where he militarized that city’s police force. He eventually synthesized his experiences and understanding from his years subduing nationalist forces in those many countries – as well as battling gangsters in Prohibition era Philadelphia – to write his book, War Is a Racket, published in 1935.
He wrote, ”War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the 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 very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
He spent his final years promoting democracy here in the United States and fighting fascism here and abroad, as well as trying to prevent what became World War II. Smedley Butler died of cancer at the age of 59 on June 21, 1940.
This edition of Forthright Radio ends with a tribute to Dr. Paul Farmer, who died on on February 21, 2022 at the age of 62. It is followed by Paul Farmer’s own voice speaking of his work.
Links to articles pertinent to this interview:
Gorsuch Calls for Overruling ‘Shameful’ Cases on U.S. Territories https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/02/us/politics/gorsuch-supreme-court-insular-cases.html?searchResultPosition=1
Civil Rights Groups To Biden DOJ: Stop Using 100-Year-Old Racist Precedents In Court https://www.huffpost.com/entry/biden-doj-insular-cases-racism_n_620bc80ae4b032302470eae8
As Honduras’s New President Seeks End to Narco-State, Will US Stand in Her Way? https://truthout.org/articles/as-hondurass-new-president-seeks-end-to-narco-state-will-us-stand-in-her-way/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=75f265c3-570c-48ec-a36c-8c3be3ffa4c4
Former Honduras President Detained After a U.S. Extradition Request https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/15/world/americas/honduras-president-juan-orlando-hernandez-detained.html?searchResultPosition=3
Dominican Republic begins building border wall with Haiti https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/21/dominican-republic-begins-building-border-wall-with-haiti
Paul Farmer, Pioneer of Global Health, Dies at 62 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/obituaries/paul-farmer-dead.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Obituaries
A Moment in the Sun a novel by John Sayles