The Woes of Empire: New Book on General Smedley Butler

There are aspects of every country’s history that few are proud of. What normally happens is that these aspects get forgotten, undeservedly so.

When the US became an empire in 1898, a series of tragic events were set into motion; events we are still living with. The stories of US interventions in China, Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti (and others I can’t keep track of) make the current histories of these nations make more sense. Americans may have forgotten, but those nations have not. You can understand how they feel about the US.

I don’t agree with all of Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire, by Jonathan M. Katz. But it does a great job in looking at the career of one of the most interesting of all Americans, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler.

He was the most decorated of all Marines, and worked himself up from the lowest commissioned ranks to Major General. He is most famous now for ‘coming to my senses’ after he retired: "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 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."

Butler finally got sick of seeing his Marines die for "banksters" and politically connected corporations. One interesting feature of the book is how the author goes to today’s version of each of the exact places Butler saw action, and sees what the result of that is now (or at least in the months just preceding Covid).

Truly, highly recommended. Maybe it is the unchanging destiny for every great nation to burst its borders and become an Empire. But in each case, the story ends in blood, tears, decline, and even bankruptcy.

6 thoughts on “The Woes of Empire: New Book on General Smedley Butler”

  1. Jan 22, 2020 Who Is Smedley Butler? – Questions For Corbett

    Have you heard of Major General Smedley Butler? If not, you might want to ask yourself why that is. As one of the most highly decorated Marines in the history of the US Marine Corps and as a passionate and eloquent speaker about the racket that is war, Smedley Butler deserves to be a household name.

    1. We need a modern day Smedley Butler. Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, the 2 Bushes and Clinton are modern day Teddy Roosevelts that want more and more wars. George H W Bush was no better than his son “W” and bombed Iraq after the Gulf War and devastated Panama to get Noriega. He died with a guilty conscience.

  2. There might have been a successful coup in our country, were it not for the actions of Maj. General Butler.

  3. Butler was the most outspoken of his kind, but his kind no longer exists. To my knowledge, no high ranking officer since WW II has had anything negative to say about war. There was a time when general grade officers commonly waxed eloquent about the horror and futility of war- Grant, Sherman, Eisenhower, MacArthur, even Patton openly spoke the plain truth of war. No more. Today’s general grade officers are simply death pimps.

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