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War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier

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  • Posted October 4, 2012

    Pass on this

    The book was timely and topical 80 years ago but is very much out of date now. Too much has changed in international relations, politics and military procurement to make it relevant after the 1930's.

    There are better histories available, too.

    I suggest passing this one by.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 13, 2013


    Review Essay of Smedley D. Butler's "WAR IS A RACKET"

    Frank Andolini

    Excelsior College


    Smedley D. Butler, a Brigadier General in the Marine Corps, served as a racketeer for capitalism

    by his own admission. Through countless foreign campaigns, he discovers the root of all battle

    is money. Big business is the need for war. Profit margins are the name of the game. Human

    life is not figured into the equation where profits are concerned. The General attempts to open

    America's eyes to the quandary of war against her sons at the behest of business as usual- making

    big profits by any means.

    They say there are two things in life that are certain, "death and taxes." To those of us

    who revel in reality- this is true; however, there is one other bottom line condition others

    incorporate- profit margin. In "WAR IS A RACKET," Brigadier Smedley D. Butler provides a

    timely firsthand account of big business profits during World War I at the expense of American

    servicemen. His major aim is to expose the American public to the greatest racket of all time.

    Although his account is gritty and crass, his no nonsense approach is justifiable as he delivers

    the true meaning of war. War is a business. While very few profit monetarily with no concern

    for human value, the servicemen pay the cost big time; however, the General offers a partially

    practical solution to smashing the racket.

    In the first two chapters, profits reign. As it is common knowledge, the General

    emphasizes war profits by listing multiple profiteers. His emotional appeal stems the plot with

    conflict immediately- big business versus the American people. Nothing fuels Americans' fire

    more than justification for their spent tax dollars. The setting of the narrative takes place during

    the depression era or great "Dust Bowl" amid the first World War. The flashback method is a

    wise selection in that the reader is given a brief but important history lesson easily equated with

    our current post war situation. This rough and rugged account of the situation is fitting as times

    were tough- which calls for a harsh explanation. Companies such as DuPont, Bethlehem Steel,

    and United States Steel are the main focus of big money profits from war. Between the three,

    over five hundred percent profits are calculated during war times (1914-1918). General Butler

    reports, DuPont (Butler, 2003) "shrouds profits with talk of patriotism . . . loyalty" During the

    great war, businesses back politicians into duping young men into uniform with this talk- all in

    the name of profit. The more soldiers, the more provisions, which equals big money for

    businesses. The General infers that they are not alone as the politicians urge government

    committees to purchase their goods and oh, by the way, the politicians are backed by Wall Street

    tycoons who invest in and for big businesses. The General is successful at creating controversy

    and further conflict in the development of his own argument of opening up America's eyes. He

    invites the reader to join the crisis of conspiracy and wake up.

    In chapter three, the General pulls the heart strings. The crisis unfolds with the

    emergence of the American people; especially, the servicemen. Clearly the General is in bias

    form- a Marine with thirty three years and countless campaigns under his belt- his heart is with

    the men naturally; however, his description and account of who (Butler, 2003) "pays the bills" is

    gut wrenching. We all pay for wars through taxation, but the General gets into the raw with the

    soldier. (Butler, 2003) "The soldier pays the biggest bill." General Butler breaks down the

    measly salary, the dead, wounded, and the mentally destroyed. The General vividly describes

    war with (Butler, 2003) "hungry for days . . . slept in the mud . . . moans and shrieks of the

    dying for a horrible lullaby." The more the General describes the fog of war, the more surreal

    his double take is presented. The notion of big profit over value for human life is upsetting. The

    reader is compelled to draw contempt for big business and strong compassion for American

    servicemen. CEOs do not suffer the hardships known to servicemen, yet steadily profit from the

    stores the men require in battle. When one thinks of the recent ten year war, it is ironic because

    of all the billions of dollars generated for businesses, it is funny how the country rests on the

    brink of yet another great depression. Perhaps General Butler is way ahead of his time or just a

    common sense man looking out for the people that make things happen- servicemen. Perhaps

    history is repeating itself again and it will keep on doing so. Even to this day, the salary of

    service members is less than paltry in comparison to the (Butler, 2003) "9 bucks a month"

    service members receive during the time period in discussion- nine dollars after taxes, ironically

    enough, as if they did not give enough. Literally, servicemen pay the bill monetarily and

    ultimately humanly.

    In chapters four and five, General Butler draws to resolution with an angry tone. His

    common sense approach to ending war profits is what many may already think; however, it is not

    all feasible. Yes, we as a nation should defend only our turf. The masses would agree; however,

    his second thought is somewhat crazy- permitting the youth (those qualified for military service)

    to decide if the country should go to war. The majority of youth today would not be trusted to

    run a copy machine, let alone make such a monumental decision for our nation. The third idea

    of removing profit from war by making all salaries equal from CEOs, to politicians, and bankers

    to service members is just simply not going to happen. The notion seems to represent a personal

    indictment for big business men, politicians, and bankers for non-military service. Although the

    reader is left somewhat at bay by the General's solution tactics- the point is that at its very

    essence it is correct in that we have to do something along these lines or else this country will

    fall first monetarily as we are right now, second militarily, as we are drawing down right now,

    and finally as a democracy, the further we suffer from one and two.

    A powerful call to wake up is delivered by General Butler. This strong appeal to

    America's common sense approach to her affairs is a guideline to rescue this country's financial

    crisis and erosion of moral fiber concerning profit margins over the value of life. A retired

    Marine Colonel, V. Andolini once said, "War is nothing more than old men talking and young

    men dying." In General Butler's account of the great war, this is seen as the old men talking

    about making big money on the backs of the young able-bodied men paying the costs. Although

    the General is gritty and crass and somewhat farfetched in some of his tactical solutions, the

    mode fits as the subject follows suit in description, in effort to enlighten and awaken the

    American public. General Butler delivers a bold and abrasive account of war profiteering that

    can easily be applied to current times.


    Butler, B. G. (2003). WAR IS A RACKET. Los Angeles: Feral House.

    Roberts, E. V. (2012). Writing About Literature - 13th ed. Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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