Oct 1 1987

What’s Not Fit to Remember About Major General Smedley Butler

Major Smedley Butler

Major Smedley Butler: “I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

A previous issue of Extra! (8-9/87) noted, “It’s taboo in the media to question the motives of American foreign policy.” Case in point: “Nicaragua Over the Years,” a column by New York Times editorial writer Karl Meyer (8/24/87). Meyer reminisced about Major General Smedley Butler, describing him as the US Marine hero who tried to bring “true democracy” to Nicaragua in 1912.

Repeated US interventions in Nicaragua had been motivated by our desire to spread democracy, Meyer argued. He cited a communique from Washington that Butler carried with him to Nicaragua: “America’s purpose is to foster true constitutional government and free elections.”

Butler saw his role a bit differently than the Times. He admitted rigging Nicaragua’s 1912 election on behalf of the Taft administration, which entailed rounding up 400 Nicaraguans who could be counted on to vote for the US-controlled dictator, Adolfo Diaz. Only those 400 were told of the election, and as soon as they cast their ballots, the polls were closed, “Today,” Butler wrote home to his wife, “Nicaragua has enjoyed a fine ‘free election,’ with only one candidate being allowed to run…. To the entire satisfaction of our State Department, Marines patrolled all the towns to prevent disorders.”

After Butler retired, the Times column stated, he “lamented the futility of his own interventionist missions.” Not so. Butler attacked the motivation behind US meddling. These are Butler’s words to the American Legion on August 21, 1931, which the Times did not see fit to print:

I spent 33 years being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.

I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1 916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.

I had a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotions…. I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate in three cities. The Marines operated on three continents.