Monday, December 15, 2008


In one of the early scenes of Warren Beatty’s great movie, Reds, Beatty’s character—a journalist who had just returned from Europe during the early days of U.S. involvement in WWI—is asked to make a speech about what he’d seen. In introducing him, the emcee asks, “What would you say this war’s about, Jack Reed?”

Reed rises from his place at the dais, looks out at the audience of prominent citizens and says, “Profits,” and sits back down.

When I first saw the movie in the early 1980s, I thought the characterization a bit naïve and simplistic. But in the intervening years—as I’ve learned more of history and have observed the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—I’ve decided that Beatty’s character was right.

And it isn’t just leftist radicals like Reed who think this way. Back in the early 1930s, none other than Major General Smedley Butler, who received the United States’ highest medal for valor—the Congressional Medal of Honor—not once, but twice, said,

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of 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 masses.

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.

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.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. 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.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

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 in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). 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.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could 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.”

What Gen. Butler said seventy-five years ago sounds like it could’ve been written last week. With the revolving door between the Pentagon and defense industries; Barack Obama’s promise to withdraw (some) troops from Iraq (maybe), but increase the number of troops sent to Afghanistan; his appointments of hawks and defense lobbyists to top positions in his administration; it’s clear that little will change for those making their fortunes on the dire misfortunes of millions.

We’re told again and again that we’re in Deadly Danger from terrorists around the world. So what did Bush do? He mounted two invasions that his own advisors in the CIA told him would increase the incidence of terrorism against the U.S.

Now, we’re told by critics of his administration that this is proof of his rank incompetence and stupidity. But is it? I mean, terrorism is a tactic—virtually the only effective tactic—used by small forces when fighting a much larger force. Mind you, I’m not defending it. I don’t endorse any tactic of war on the grounds that “War is all hell” to quote Gen. Sherman. But the Big Shots know that it’ll be used by weaker countries and groups if they feel threatened by the U.S.

And by going ‘round the world shoving sharp needles into the butts of countries like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, and Bolivia, to name but a few, they’re ensuring a constant supply of desperate, outraged people who just might do something horrible that will spur us into giving up ever larger chunks of our wealth and surrendering ever larger chunks of our freedom.

It’s as if I went to a blighted, impoverished African-American neighborhood, mounted a soapbox on a busy street corner and began yelling the N-word over and over at the top of my lungs. As you might imagine, there’s a fairly decent chance that I’d soon get the living snot beaten out of me by outraged passersby. Now, the people who did the beating would undoubtedly be guilty of a crime, but any competent judge would hold me at least as responsible as my assailants, probably more so.

The same goes for the U.S. government. If one believes the propaganda that their policies are designed to thwart terrorism, they appear completely stupid—criminally so. But if one supposes they’re intentionally ‘yelling the N-word’ in order to encourage terrorism and the extravagant increases in their wealth and power that go with it, they make perfect sense.

With all of their bubbles bursting one after the other, the Big Shots are desperate to keep the money flowing out of our pockets and into theirs. All that is required is to keep pissing off (or, more to the point, pissing on) the poor of the world, combined with periodic scare alerts from the mainstream media, and they can keep on fleecing us forever.

After all, the so-called War on Terror is, by definition, unwinnable. I mean, there’s no capitol that can be conquered, no enemy leader to be captured or anything else that might constitute ultimate victory. As long as anyone, anywhere is angry enough to lash out against the U.S., the gravy train will keep on a-rollin’.

The War on Terror, the gift that just keeps on giving! It offers the opportunity to expand U.S. hegemony abroad and it keeps the Common Folk toiling for their Masters at home. Better still, in a few years it’ll bust the budget so they can have a convenient excuse for scuttling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (not to mention any economic stimuli that might protect the jobs and security of those of us not fortunate enough to have been born into an aristocratic family).

With a constant bombardment of fear-mongering in the news and entertainment media, the Big Shots want to keep us perpetually cowed and fearful, willing to do anything, pay anything or give up anything for relief from the danger.

It’s like a protection racket in one of those 1930s gangster flicks, where a sleazy character sidles up to a shop-owner and hisses, “That’s a nice little store ya got there. It suuuure would be a shame if anything was to happen to it!”

That’s how the racket works. Our Masters manufacture a crisis and then take our time, money and blood in return for promised salvation (which never comes).


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