To Challenge The Warfare State

Smedley Butler fought in a whole host of military actions and wars. Most of them you’ve probably never of: Philippines, China, Haiti, Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. When he retired from the US Marine Corps, he retired with the highest possible rank then awarded. At the time of his death, he was the most decorated Marine in history. To this day, he remains one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

His men called him Old Gimlet Eye after he contracted a tropical fever that left his eyes bloodshot while fighting in Honduras. His tattoo was legendary (an eagle, globe, and anchor piece that started at the bottom of his throat and ended at his waist). At the bequest of the mayor of Philadelphia, President Calvin Coolidge awarded Butler special leave from the Corps in order to help clean up the notoriously corrupt city. His manner was non-sense and brusque.

You undoubtedly have a particular image of this man in your mind. Odds are: your image is wrong. Butler became an activist, socialist, and author of the anti-war classic War is A Racket (1935).

“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.”

You are probably far more familiar with Eisenhower than Butler. But there are some things you may not know about the last general to hold the office of the president. When the United States emerged from WWII as a super power, President Truman gave us the first of many bloated military budgets: $71.5 billion dollars. This unheard of amount was all because of a report called NSC-68. Written by a cadre of confirmed cold warriors, this report convinced the Truman that the United States needed the ability to fight multiple land wars all at the same time. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the two Generals who masterminded this scheme resigned when Eisenhower tossed their plan out the window but were recommissioned by JFK’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara).

When Eisenhower took office, the first thing he did was help negotiate an armistice to the Korean War. Then what did the General who oversaw the single largest land invasion in history do? He started slashing the military budget. Eisenhower believed a massive military force was not only completely unnecessary but the money spent to maintain such a massive force was spent at a great detriment to the well-being of the entire country. Eisenhower believed a modern military needed to be small, quick, and mobile, able to respond quickly in concert with his theory of massive retaliation using ballistic missiles.

Early in his presidency, following the death of Stalin, Eisenhower gave his Chance for Peace speech (this is where he uttered the famous “humanity hanging from a cross of iron” line), in which he explained:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

During his eight years in office, the entire time facing attacks from the Democrats for “weakening the country,” Eisenhower entirely reorganized the military and slashed the Pentagon’s budget by 30%.

In his final address to the American people as president, Eisenhower warned us us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex:

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

We have not listened to either of these two men.

The US has engaged in a disastrous foreign policy for decades. We’ve overthrown countless governments. We’ve sent our troops around the globe to die to make a bunch of rich men richer. We’ve yet to meet a target we don’t want to drone strike. We’ve destabilized the globe and birthed countless terrorist organizations. I barely remember a time when the US was not at war. The final cost of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict is estimated to be nearly $7 billion. We have a military budget of $700 billion. All while most people I know barely make it from paycheck to paycheck, and then only if nothing unplanned happens and they manage to stay healthy. All while we face the existential threat of climate change.

There is only one Democratic candidate challenging the war-machine. There is only one Democratic candidate challenging the warfare state. And that’s Tulsi Gabbard (no surprise she’s served in a war-zone). If you know what’s good for us, you’ll take a minute right now, and send her a donation – even it’s only $1-5 – to ensure that she can set foot on that debate stage. 

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