General Smedley Butler Quotes on War, Patriotism, and More



Smedley Butler quotes are some of the most influential in the world in regard to military and war. At the time of his death in 1940 Major General Smedley Darlington Butler was the most decorated Marine in American history. His 16 medals included two Medals of Honor and the Brevet Medal, all for separate acts of heroism. Following his military service Butler revealed a supposed plot to overthrow the U.S. government, as well as published War Is a Racket, a scathing criticism of American wars for profit.

Butler was born to Quaker parents in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1881. His father Thomas Butler, who later was elected to congress and acted as chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, did not approve of Butler dropping out of high school to join the Marines – but Butler did precisely that.

Butler lied about his age to become a second lieutenant during the Spanish-American War. He continued on to serve during the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Banana Wars, the Mexican Revolution, and finally the First World War. A general by 1924, Butler was appointed Philadelphia’s director of public safety in order to weed out corruption. He organized raids on over 900 speakeasies in his first two days on the job.

Don’t imagine for even a moment that we believe one paragraph could do justice to Butler’s military and public service.

In 1934 Butler reported the existence of a military industrialist plot to overthrow the U.S. government, then presided over by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Butler claimed that the “Business Plot,” as the media would dub it, was backed by a private soldiery consisting of half a million veterans and intended to set up a fascist dictatorship. Butler further claimed that he had been asked to lead the coup to install General Hugh S. Johnson as dictator, and that it was backed financially by J.P. Morgan. Despite evidence that corroborated some of Butler’s claims, the media painted the Business Plot as a great hoax and no prosecutions followed.

Butler had started delivering public lectures against war profiteering in 1933. He began serving as spokesman for the American League Against War and Fascism in 1935, delivering his speech “War Is a Racket” around the country. He published his book of the same title that year as well.

Informed by its author’s own military service, War Is a Racket elaborates several examples of industrialists exploiting public funding to profit from war and human suffering. Butler decries war as possibly the oldest money making scheme in human history, in which a shadowy cadre of misanthropes conspire to create mass casualties in exchange for money. Butler endorsed removing any opportunity to profit from war, primarily by conscripting industrialists for the same $30 a month that men fighting in the trenches earned. He further advised allowing only those eligible for military service to vote on whether to go to war, and to end wars of aggression by restricting military operations solely to defense.

Butler died of an illness that was very likely cancer, surrounded on his deathbed by his family. Today the United States is the largest operator of military bases abroad.

General Smedley Butler Quotes

“I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”
– Smedley Butler

Smedley Butler quotes - "My interest is, my one hobby is, maintaining a democracy. If you get..."
“My interest is, my one hobby is, maintaining a democracy. If you get these 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of Fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you, and we will have a real war right at home.”
– Smedley Butler

“What business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are Fascists or Communists? Our problem is to preserve our own democracy. And very little, if anything, has been accomplished to assure us that the World War was really the war to end all wars.”
– Smedley Butler

“The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms. And at all these conferences, lurking in the background but all-powerful, just the same, are the sinister agents of those who profit by war. They see to it that these conferences do not disarm or seriously limit armaments.”
– Smedley Butler

“There are only two reasons why you should ever be asked to give your youngsters. One is defense of our homes. The other is the defense of our Bill of Rights and particularly the right to worship God as we see fit. Every other reason advanced for the murder of young men is a racket, pure and simple.”
– Smedley Butler

Smedley Butler quotes - "In the world was, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription..."
“In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn’t join the army.”
– Smedley Butler

“I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men – men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed at home. Boys”
– Smedley Butler

“Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.”
– Smedley Butler

War Is a Racket Quotes

“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.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket. 1. We must take the profit out of war. 2. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war. 3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

Smedly Butler quotes - "A few profit - and the many pay. You can't end it by disarmament conferences..."
“A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys atGeneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits – ah! that is another matter – twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred percent – the sky is the limit.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket – and are safely pocketed.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“I helped make Mexico and 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 in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, 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.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“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.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? … How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

Smedley Butler quotes - "And what is this bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed..."
“And what is this bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children? What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits? Yes, and what does it profit the nation?”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making. Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

“It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war period. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.”
– War is a Racket by Smedley Butler

We hope you enjoyed these Smedley Butler quotes! Drop us a line if you think we missed any.


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  1. There are two videos that I advise every reader to watch: “All Wars Are Bankers Wars” and “JFK to 9/11: Everything Is A Rich Man’s Trick” — both were on YouTube but I do not know if they are still there.

    Thank you.

  2. If you continue to be afraid of basic geometric shapes we will have to disqualify you from potential protector status. Squares and circles and octagons have no say in decisions by people. For cryin out loud.

  3. There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our
    statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making. Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?

    Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being
    trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:
    “And above all, 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 nor the utility of perpetual peace. . . . War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

  4. If we did focus on defense of our shores only, we would significantly reduce our military budget by over 80% and it would be far better than it is today. Today we spend trillions and are easily hacked at the pentagon, the pentagon blown up, and major cities vulnerable.
    But, the Monarchs and Religious fascists overseas delight in our inability to discern our own blindness, and the corporations have long gravy trains vacuuming the money from our families and future. Our entire military command is not fit to lead, after 9/11 and 1/6. I would have them by the ear out the door , with exception of a dozen or so. We paid for the best, and our doors were left open as casually as a man handing the teller a note.

    • Our greatest power as a country is our ability combined with reluctance to bail out bullies and thieves or religious zealots. Each time we reassure them, they stir up more trouble. We are an easily led band of brainwashed fools, and aggression is the opposite of where our true strength lies. The army of the dead is appalled, dismayed, regretful, sorrowful, and pissed off. Join them.

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