Smedley Butler: Wikis


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Smedley Butler
July 30, 1881(1881-07-30) – June 21, 1940 (aged 58)
A gold star shaped military medal hanging from a blue ribbon with white five-pointed stars A white male in his military uniform. Military ribbons are visible.
Smedley D. Butler
Nickname "Old Gimlet Eye"
"The Fighting Quaker"
"Old Duckboard"
Place of birth West Chester, Pennsylvania
Place of death Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Place of burial Oaklands Cemetery West Chester, Pennsylvania
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1898–1931
Rank Major General
Commands held 13th Marine Regiment
Marine Expeditionary Force, China
Battles/wars Spanish-American War
Boxer Rebellion

Banana Wars
Mexican Revolution

World War I
China Expedition

Awards Medal of Honor (2)
Marine Corps Brevet Medal
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
French Order of the Black Star
Other work Coal miner, Author, Public speaker, Director of Public Safety (Philadelphia) (1924–1925)

Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940), nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker" and "Old Gimlet Eye", was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and, at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career as a Marine he participated in military actions all over the world, including the Philippines, China, and the Banana Wars in Central America and the Caribbean. During World War I he served in France and by the end of his career he had received 16 medals, five of which were for heroism. He is one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only person to be awarded the Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for separate actions.

In addition to his military achievements, he served as the Director of Public Safety in Philadelphia for two years and was an outspoken critic of U.S. military adventurism. In his 1935 book War is a Racket, he described the workings of the military-industrial complex and, after retiring from service, became a popular speaker at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists and church groups in the 1930s.

In 1934 he was involved in a controversy known as the Business Plot when he told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists had approached him to lead a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt. He presented his testimony before a congressional committee and although they determined that there was sufficient evidence to prove that such a plot probably existed, no charges were filed and no arrests were made. The individuals that were involved denied it, and the media ridiculed the allegations. Butler continued his speaking engagements and went on an extended tour speaking about his antiwar beliefs, after which, he checked himself into the hospital after feeling ill. He died a short time later from what the doctors thought was cancer.


Early life and family

Smedley Butler was born July 30, 1881, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the eldest of three sons. His parents, Thomas Stalker Butler and Maud (Darlington) Butler,[1] were both members of local Quaker families. His father was a lawyer, judge and for 31 years, a Congressman who chaired the House Naval Affairs Committee during the Harding and Coolidge administrations.[2]

Smedley attended the West Chester Friends Graded High School, followed by The Haverford School, a secondary school attractive to sons of upper-class families near Philadelphia.[3] He was an athlete while at Haverford and became captain of its baseball team and quarterback of its football teams.[1] Against the wishes of his father, he dropped out of school 38 days before his seventeenth birthday to enlist in the Marine Corps during the Spanish–American War.[1] Regardless, Haverford awarded him his high school diploma on June 6, 1898, before the end of his final year; his transcript stated he completed the Scientific Course "with Credit."[1]

He married Ethel Conway Peters of Philadelphia in Bay Head, New Jersey, on June 30, 1905. Together they had three children: a daughter, Ethel Peters Butler, and two sons, Smedley Darlington, Jr. and Thomas Richard.[4] His best man at the wedding was his former commanding officer in China, Lieutenant Colonel Littleton W. T. Waller.[5]

Military career

In the anti-Spanish war fever of 1898, Butler lied about his age to receive a direct commission as a Marine second lieutenant.[1] He went to Washington D.C. for training at the Marine Barracks on the corner of 8th and I Streets. In July 1898, after three weeks of initial entry training, he was sent as a Second Lieutenant to participate in the 1898 invasion of Guantánamo Bay Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The bay had already been captured and secured prior to his arrival though, so he did not see any action.[6] His unit returned to the U.S. and, after a short break, he was assigned to the armored cruiser USS New York and deployed for four months.[7] He returned home to be mustered out of service in February 1899,[7]but in April 1899, he returned to the Marine Corps and accepted a commission as a first lieutenant.[7]


Philippine–American War

Butler's next assignment took him to the Philippines, more than 7,000 miles (11,000 km) away; after a month at sea, he arrived in Manila.[8] His duty in the Philippines started off slow, but bouts of drinking helped to break up the tedium of life in Manila. On one occasion, he became drunk and was temporarily demoted from command after an unspecified incident in his room. He finally saw action in October 1899, leading 300 Marines to take the town of Noveleta. In initial contact with the rebel force, known as Insurrectos, the top sergeant was wounded. Butler panicked in the initial attack, but regained his composure and led the Marines in pursuit of the enemy forces.[9] By noon the Marines had dispersed the Philippine rebels and taken the town; they suffered one dead and 60 wounded, 10 from combat and 50 from the tropical Philippine heat. After this confrontation with the enemy, garrison duty again became routine, and Butler got a very large Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, starting at his throat and extending to his waist. He also met another Marine with whom he maintained a life long friendship, Littleton Waller. When Waller received command of a unit in Guam, he was allowed to select five officers to take with him; he chose Butler to be one of them. Butler agreed, but before they could depart to Guam, their orders were changed and they were instead sent to China aboard the USS Solace.[10]

Boxer Rebellion

After the Philippine-American War, Butler's combat experience came during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, when he was wounded twice, once in Tientsin and again at San Tan Pating. During the Battle of Tientsin on July 13, 1900, he witnessed the wounding of another officer and climbed out of a trench to rescue him. When doing so, Butler was shot in the thigh himself. Another Marine saw that Butler had been shot and helped get Butler to safety; in doing so the Marine was shot. Despite his injury, Butler assisted the first officer to the rear. Four enlisted men received the Medal of Honor in the battle. His commanding officer, Major Littleton W. T. Waller, personally commended him in his report and recommended that "for such reward as you may deem proper the following officers: Lieutenant Smedley D. Butler, for the admirable control of his men in all the fights of the week, for saving a wounded man at the risk of his own life, and under a very severe fire." Although officers were not then eligible to receive the Medal of Honor, Butler received a promotion to captain by brevet, while in the hospital. It was two weeks before his nineteenth birthday. He was shot in the chest at San Tan Pating, with the bullet reportedly clipping part of Central America out of his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tattoo. His experience in China made him eligible for the Marine Corps Brevet Medal, when it was created in 1921; he was one of only 20 Marines to receive the medal. [11]

The Banana Wars

Butler participated in a series of occupations, police actions, and interventions involving the United States in Central America and the Caribbean commonly called the Banana Wars due to their connection to the protection of American commercial interests in the region. Prominent among these interests, the United Fruit Company had significant financial stakes in the production of bananas, tobacco, sugar cane, and various other products throughout the Caribbean, Central America and the northern portions of South America. The U.S. was also trying to advance its political interests, maintain control of the Panama Canal and influence in the region. Starting with the Spanish–American War in 1898, they ended with the withdrawal of troops from Haiti and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy in 1934.[12] After his retirement, Butler became an outspoken critic of the business interests in the Caribbean, criticizing the ways in which U.S. businesses and Wall Street bankers imposed their agenda on United States foreign policy during this period.[13]


In 1903, Butler was stationed in the Caribbean on Culebra Island. Upon rumors of a Honduran revolt, the United States government ordered the Marines and a supporting naval detachment to sail to Honduras, 1,500 miles (2,414 km) to the west, to defend the U.S. Consulate in Honduras. Using a converted banana boat renamed the Panther, Butler and several hundred Marines landed at the port town of Puerto Cortes. In a letter home, he described the action: They were "prepared to land and shoot everybody and everything that was breaking the peace,"[14] but instead found a quiet town. The Marines re-boarded the Panther and continued up the coast line looking for rebels at several towns, but found none. When they arrived at Trujillo, however, they heard gunfire, and walked into a 55-hour-long battle between the Bonillistas and the Honduran soldiers at a local fort. At the sight of the Marines, the fighting ceased and Butler led a detachment of Marines to the American consulate, where he found the consul, wrapped in an American flag, hiding among the floor beams. As soon as the Marines left the area with shaken consul, the battle resumed and the Bonillistas soon controlled the government.[14] It was during this expedition that he earned the first of his nicknames, "Old Gimlet Eye". It was attributed to his feverish, bloodshot eyes—he was suffering from some unnamed tropic fever—which enhanced his penetrating and bellicose stare.[15] After the Honduras campaign, he was assigned to garrison duty in the Philippines, where he once launched a resupply mission across the stormy waters of Subic Bay after his isolated outpost ran out of rations. He was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown in 1908, and received nine months sick leave,for which he returned home. He found work as a coal miner in West Virginia, but returned to active duty in the Marine Corps rather than work in the mines.[16]

Central America

From 1909 to 1912, he served in Nicaragua, enforcing U.S. policy, and once led his battalion to the relief of a rebel-besieged city, this time Granada, and again, with a 104-degree fever. In December 1909, he commanded the 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, on the Isthmus of Panama. On August 11, 1912, he was temporarily detached to command an expeditionary battalion with which he participated in the bombardment, assault and capture of Coyotepec, Mexico, during October 12–31, 1912. He remained in Nicaragua until November 1912, when he rejoined the Marines of 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, at Camp Elliott, Panama.[2]

Veracruz, Mexico, and his first Medal of Honor

Eight people in military uniforms. They are wearing hats and are standing in formation.
Marine Officers at Veracruz. Front row, left to right: Wendell C. Neville; John A. Lejeune; Littleton W. T. Waller, Commanding; Smedley Butler

Butler was living in Panama in January 1914 with his family, when he and his Marines where dispatched to the shores of Veracruz, Mexico, to monitor a revolutionary movement. This was seven months before the planned August 15 opening of the Panama canal and he was ordered to report as the Marine officer of a Battleship squadron massing off the coast of Mexico. He did not like leaving his Marines or the home he and his family had established in Panama and planned to request orders home as soon as he determined there was nothing to do in Mexico.[17]

On March 1, 1914, Butler and Admiral Frank Fletcher went ashore in Veracruz and made their way to Jalapa, Mexico and back. The trip was planned so that Butler and Fletcher could discuss the details of an expedition into Mexico that Butler had been planning. His plan required him to make his way into Mexico and develop a detailed invasion plan while inside its own borders. It was a spy mission and Butler was extremely happy about it. When Admiral Fletcher contacted the leaders in Washington, D.C. and discussed the details of this plan they agreed, and Butler was sent on his way. He entered Mexico and made his way to the U.S. Consulate in Mexico City, posing as a railroad official named, simply, "Mr. Johnson". He and the chief railroad inspector scoured the city looking for a lost railroad employee, or at least that is what they said. The employee was not missing, and in fact he never existed; it was simply an excuse to give Butler access to various areas of the city. In the process of so-called search, they located weapons in use by the Mexican army, the units sizes and states of readiness. They were able to obtain updated maps and verified the railroad lines for use in the pending invasion.[18] On March 7, 1914, he returned to Veracruz with the information he had gathered and presented it to his commanders. The invasion plan was eventually scrapped when authorities loyal to Victoriano Huerta detained a small American naval landing party in Tampico, Mexico. The Tampico Affair caused the Americans to modify their plans.[19]

When President Woodrow Wilson discovered that an arms shipment was about to arrive in Mexico, he sent a contingent of Marines and sailors to Veracruz to intercept it on April 21, 1914. Over the next few days, street fighting and sniper fire posed a threat to Butler's force, but a door-to-door search routed out most of the resistance. By April 26, the landing force of 5,800 Marines and sailors secured the city, which they held for the next six months. By the end of the conflict the Americans reported 17 dead and 63 wounded to the Mexican forces 126 dead and 195 wounded. After the actions at Veracruz, the United States decided to minimize the bloodshed and limited their plans for a full invasion of Mexico to simply maintaining the city of Veracruz.[20] For his actions on April 22 he was awarded his first Medal of Honor.[2][21]

After the occupation of Veracruz, many military personnel received the Medal of Honor, an unusually high number that diminished somewhat the prestige of the award. The Army presented one, nine went to Marines and 46 were bestowed upon Navy personnel. During World War I, Butler, then a major, attempted to return his Medal, explaining he had done nothing to deserve it. When the medal was returned, he was given orders that he was not only to keep it, but to wear it as well.[22]

Haiti and his second Medal of Honor

A painting of three Marines fighting in a jungle. There is a brick wall in the background with a lot of plants and trees. An enemy fighter is in the foreground and appears to be dead.
Capture of Fort Riviere, Haiti, 1915, by D. J. Neary; illustrations of Major Smedley Butler, Sergeant Iams, and Private Gross (USMC art collection)

In 1915, rebel Haitians known as Cacos waged a campaign against the Haitian dictator Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. In response, the United States ordered the USS Connecticut to Haiti with Major Butler and a group of Marines on board. The Marines successfully defended the dictator but on October 24, 1915, 400 Cacos ambushed Butler's patrol of 44 mounted Marines. The Marines maintained their perimeter throughout the night. The next morning, they charged the much larger enemy force from three directions. The startled Haitians fled, thinking that the Marines had a much larger force.[23] By mid-November 1915, most of the Cacos had been captured or killed and the insurgency had been mostly suppressed. Only a small force of 200 Cacos took refuge at Fort Rivière, an old French-built stronghold deep in the country.[23] Fort Rivière sat atop Montagne Noire, with its front reachable only by a steep, rocky slope; the other three sides fell away so sharply that an approach from those directions was impossible. Some Marine officers argued that it should be assaulted by a regiment supported by artillery, but Butler convinced his colonel to allow him to attack with just four companies of 24 men each, plus two machine gun detachments.[23] He was given only three companies of Marine and some sailors from the USS Connecticut for the attack on the Fort. They encircled the fort, and gradually closed in on it. Butler reached the fort from the southern side with the 15th Company and found small opening in the wall. He then gave the order to attack and Marines entered the fort through the opening and engaged the Cacos in hand-to-hand combat. He and the Marines took the rebel stronghold on November 17, 1915, an action for which he received his second Medal of Honor, as well as the Haitian Medal of Honor.[21] Only one Marine was injured in the assault on the fort when he was struck by a rock and lost two teeth.[24] Butler's exploits impressed then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, who recommended the award based upon Butler's performance during the engagement in which all 200 Cacos were killed.[24] Once the medal was approved and presented in 1917, he achieved the distinction, shared with only one other Marine, Dan Daly, of being twice awarded the Medal of Honor for separate incidents of gallantry in action.[2]

Subsequently, as the initial organizer and commanding officer of the Haitian Gendarmerie, the native police force, Butler established a record as a capable administrator. Under his supervision, social order, administered by the dictatorship, was largely restored and many vital public works projects were successfully completed.[25] He recalled later that during his time in Haiti he and his troops "hunted the Cacos like pigs."[24]

World War I

Four people in military uniforms wearing hats. Three are seated and one is standing.
Butler (far right) with three other legendary Marines. From left to right: Sergeant Major John Henry Quick, Major General Wendell Cushing Neville, Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune

During World War I, m to his disappointment, Butler was not assigned to a combat command on the Western Front. He made several requests for a posting in France, writing letters to his personal friend Major General Wendell Cushing Neville, who was at the time assistant to the then Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune. While his superiors considered him brave and brilliant, they described him as "unreliable."[6]

In October 1918, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 37 and placed in command of Camp Pontanezen at Brest, France, a debarkation depot that funneled troops of the American Expeditionary Force to the battlefields. The camp had been plagued by horribly unsanitary, overcrowded and disorganized conditions. U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker sent novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart to report on the camp. She later described how Butler tackled the sanitation issues. He began by solving the mud problem: "[T]he ground under the tents was nothing but mud, [so] he had raided the wharf at Brest of the duckboards no longer needed for the trenches, carted the first one himself up that four-mile hill to the camp, and thus provided something in the way of protection for the men to sleep on."[6] General John J. Pershing authorized a duckboard shoulder patch for the units. This earned him another nickname, "Old Duckboard." For his exemplary service Butler was awarded not only the Distinguished Service Medal of both the United States Army and Navy, but also the French Order of the Black Star.[2]

Following the war he became Commanding General of the Marine Barracks at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. At Quantico, he transformed the wartime training camp into a permanent Marine post. During a training exercise in western Virginia in 1921, he was told by a local farmer that Stonewall Jackson's arm was buried nearby, to which he replied, "Bosh! I will take a squad of Marines and dig up that spot to prove you wrong!";[26] he did so, and found the arm in a box. He later replaced the wooden box with a metal one, and reburied the arm. He left a plaque, which is no longer there.[26][27]

China and stateside service

From 1927 to 1929, Butler was commander of the Marine Expeditionary Force in China and while there, cleverly parleyed his influence among various generals and warlords to the protection of U.S. interests, ultimately winning the public acclaim of contending Chinese leaders. When Butler returned to the United States in 1929 he was promoted to major general, becoming, at age 48, the youngest major general of the Marine Corps. He directed the Quantico camp's growth until it became the "showplace" of the Corps.[28] Butler won national attention by taking thousands of his men on long field marches, many of which he led from the front, to Gettysburg and other Civil War battle sites, where they conducted large-scale re-enactments before crowds of often distinguished spectators.[28]

In 1931, he publicly recounted gossip about Benito Mussolini in which the dictator allegedly struck a child with his automobile in a hit-and-run accident. The Italian government protested and President Hoover, who strongly disliked Butler, forced Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams III to court-martial him. Butler became the first general officer to be placed under arrest since the Civil War. He apologized to Secretary Adams and the court martial was canceled with only a reprimand.[29]

Director of Public Safety

At the urging of his father, the newly elected mayor of Philadelphia, W. Freeland Kendrick, asked him to leave the Marines to become the official in charge of running the police and fire departments, the Director of Public Safety. Philadelphia's municipal government was notoriously corrupt and Butler refused at first, but Kendrick asked President Calvin Coolidge to intervene, and Coolidge contacted him authorizing him to take the necessary leave from the Corps. At the request of the President he agreed and served in the post from January 1924 until December 1925.[2] He started his new job by assembling all 4,000 of the city police into the Metropolitan Opera House in shifts to tell them how things would be while he was in charge. He had corrupt police replaced and in some cases switched entire units from one area to another.[30][31]

Within 48 hours of taking over, Butler ordered raids on more than 900 speakeasies, ordering them padlocked and in many cases destroyed. In addition to the speakeasies he ordered the raids on brothels, bootleggers, prostitutes, gamblers and corrupt police officers. Being more zealous than political he ordered crack downs on gangsters and working-class drinking dives, seeing no reason to spare the social elite's favorite hangouts such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Union League.[32] Although he was effective in reducing crime and cutting down on the corrupt police activity in Philadelphia, he was a controversial leader. In one instance he made a statement that he would promote the first cop to kill a bandit and stated "I don't believe there is a single bandit notch on a policeman's guns[sic] in this city, go out and get some."[30] Although many of the local citizens and police felt that the raids were just a show, they continued for the next several weeks.[31]

In his next move Butler started new programs, changed policies and changed the police uniforms.[33] These changes included military style checkpoints into the city, bandit chasing squads armed with sawed off shotguns and armored cars and changing the uniforms so they were similar in appearance to the Marine Corps.[33] The press began reporting on the good, and the bad aspects of his new war on crime. The reports mentioned the new uniforms, programs and the reductions in crime but they also reflected the publics opinions on their new Public Saftety director. Many of the citizens of the city felt that he was being too aggressive in his tactics and resented his reductions in their civil and property rights. He frequently swore in his radio addresses causing many citizens to feel his behavior was inappopriate for someone of his rank and stature.[34] Some felt he acted like a military dictator, even claiming that he inappropriately used active duty Marines in some of his raids.[34] Major R. A. Haynes, the federal prohibition commissioner visited the city in 1924, six months after Butler had been appointed. He announced that "great progress"[35] had been made in the city and attributed that success to Butler.[35]

Eventually his leadership style and actions caused him to lose support within the community and it looked as though his departure was imminent. At one point Mayor Kendrick reported to the press, "I had the guts to bring General Butler to Philadelphia and I have the guts to fire him."[36] Feeling that the end to his duties in Philadelphia was coming to an end, he contacted General Lejeune to prepare for his return to the Marine Corps. Not all of the city felt he was doing a bad job though and when the news started to break that he would be leaving a gathering occurred at the Academy of Music. A group of 4,000 supporters assembled and negotiated a truce between him and the mayor to keep him in place for a while longer, and the President authorized him a one year extension.[37] At first his second year was less dramatic than the first, bringing about arrests, cracking down on crooked police and enforcing prohibition. On January 1, 1926 his leave from the Marine Corps ended and an additional extension to remain as director was declined by the President. He was given orders to report to San Diego and prepared his family and his belongings for the new assignment.[38] He again began defying the Mayor and other key officials in the city and on the eve of his departure had an article printed in the paper stating his intention to stay and "finish the job".[39] The mayor was surprised and furious when he read the press release the next morning and demanded his resignation.[39] After almost two years in office, Butler resigned under pressure stating later that "Cleaning up Philadelphia was worse than any battle I was ever in."[32]

Military retirement and later years

Five men, two in the foreground and three in the background, one mostly obscured. Two men are in suits and three are in their military dress uniforms. All of the men in the picture are wearing hats. The two men in the foreground are shaking hands.
Major General Butler at his retirement ceremony

When Butler was in the Marines, it was customary for the senior Marine Corps general to assume the position of Commandant, when it was necessary to choose a new one. As the senior major general in the Corps at that time when the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General Wendell C. Neville died July 8, 1930 the job should have gone to Butler, but it did not.[28] Although he had significant support from many in and external to the Corps including John Lejeune and Josephus Daniels, two other Marine Corps generals were seriously considered for the post, Ben H. Fuller and John H. Russell. General Lejeune and others petitioned President Hoover, garnered support in the Senate and flooded then Secretary of the Navy Charles Adams with more than 2,500 letters of support.[40] With the recent death of his influential father however, he had lost much of his protection from his civilian superiors. Furthermore, Butler had been outspoken not only about Benito Mussolini, he had criticized too many things too often. Going against Marine Corps tradition, the position of Commandant went to Major General Ben H. Fuller and, at his own request, Butler retired from active duty on October 1, 1931.[28]

Speaking and writing career and anti-war activity

Even before retiring from the Corps Butler began developing his post retirement career. In May 1931, just prior to his retirement, he took part in a commission established by Oregon Governor Julius L. Meier which helped form the Oregon State Police.[41] He began lecturing at various events and conferences, but after his retirement from the Marines in 1931, he took it up full time. His new career on the lecture circuit proved to be very lucrative, although he donated much of his earnings to the Philadelphia unemployment relief. He toured the western United States making 60 speeches before returning for his daughters wedding. She married a Marine aviator named Lieutenant John Wehle and it was the only time after he left the Marines that he wore his dress blue uniform.[42]

A man in a suit standing on a stage next to a large pole. There is a Marine in the background in his dress uniform and behind him a crowd of people are watching the man on the stage.
Smedley Butler at one of his many speaking engagements after his retirement in the 1930s.

He announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania in March 1932 as a proponent of the prohibition, known as a "dry".[42] He allied with Gifford Pinchot, but the canpaign was short and they were defeated by Senator James J. Davis.[43]

During the campaign one of the items that Butler spoke strongly about was the veterans bonus. Veterans of World War I, many of whom had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression, sought immediate cash payment of Service Certificates granted to them eight years earlier via the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. Each Service Certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment, plus compound interest. The problem was that the certificates (like bonds), matured 20 years from the date of original issuance, thus, under extant law, the Service Certificates could not be redeemed until 1945. In June 1932, approximately 43,000 marchers—17,000 of which were World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups, who protested in Washington, D.C., in spring and summer of 1932.[44] The Bonus Expeditionary Force, also known as the "Bonus Army", marched on Washington to advocate the passage of the "soldier's bonus" for service during World War I. After Congress adjourned, bonus marchers remained in the city and became unruly. On July 28, 1932, two bonus marchers were shot by police, causing the entire mob to become hostile and riotous. The FBI, then known as the United States Bureau of Investigation, checked its fingerprint records to obtain the police records of individuals who had been arrested during the riots or who had participated in the bonus march.[44][45] The veterans made camp in the Anacostia flats while they awaited congressional decision on whether or not to pay the bonus. The motion, known as the Patnum bill was decisively defeated, but the veterans stayed. Butler arrived with his young son Thomas, in mid July the day before the official eviction by the Hoover administration. He walked through the camp and spoke to the veterans, he told them that they were fine soldiers and they had a right to lobby Congress just as much as any corporation. He and his son spent the night and ate with the men and in the morning Butler gave a speech to the camping veterans. He instructed them to keep their sense of humor and cautioned them not to do anything that would cost public sympathy.[46] On July 28, army cavalry units led by General Douglas MacArthur dispersed the Bonus Army by riding through it and using gas. During the conflict several veterans were killed or injured and Butler declared himself a "Hoover for ex president republican".[47]

He continued lecturing and became known for his outspoken lectures against war profiteering and what he viewed as nascent fascism in the United States. During the 1930s he gave many such speeches to pacifist groups. From 1935–1937, he served as a spokesman for the American League Against War and Fascism (which some considered to be dominated by communists).[48][49] In 1935 he wrote a book, War Is a Racket, Butler presented an exposé and trenchant condemnation of the profit motive behind warfare. His views on the subject are summarized in the following passage from a 1935 issue of "the non-Marxist, socialist" magazine, Common Sense:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. 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.[13]

Claims of the Business Plot

In early 1934, Butler alleged the existence of a political conspiracy of Wall Street interests to overthrow President Roosevelt, a series of allegations that came to be known as the Business Plot.[50] In March 1934, the House of Representatives authorized investigations into "un-American" activities by a special committee headed by John W. McCormack of Massachusetts and Samuel Dickstein of New York. The McCormack-Dickstein committee, known as the Committee on Un-American Activities,[51] investigated Smedley Butler's allegations and a number of other high-profile topics of the era.

In November 1934, Butler told the committee that a group of businessmen, backed by a private army of 500,000 ex-soldiers and others, intended to establish a fascist dictatorship. Butler had been asked to lead it, he said, by Gerald P. MacGuire, a bond salesman with Grayson M-P Murphy & Co. The New York Times reported that Butler had told friends that General Hugh S. Johnson, a former official with the National Recovery Administration, was to be installed as dictator. Butler said MacGuire had told him the attempted coup was backed by three million dollars, and that the 500,000 men were probably to be assembled in Washington, D.C. the following year. All the parties alleged to be involved, including Johnson, said there was no truth in the story, calling it a joke and a fantasy.[51]

In its report, the committee stated that it was unable to confirm Butler's statements other than the proposal from MacGuire, which it considered more or less confirmed by MacGuire's European reports.[52] No prosecutions or further investigations followed, and historians have questioned whether or not a coup was actually close to execution, although most agree that some sort of "wild scheme" was contemplated and discussed.[53][54][55][56] The news media initially dismissed the plot, with a The New York Times editorial characterizing it as a "gigantic hoax".[57] When the committee's final report was released, the Times said the committee "purported to report that a two-month investigation had convinced it that General Butler's story of a Fascist march on Washington was alarmingly true" and "... also alleged that definite proof had been found that the much publicized Fascist march on Washington, which was to have been led by Major. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, according to testimony at a hearing, was actually contemplated".[58]

The McCormack-Dickstein Committee, which was a precursor to the House Un-American Activities Committee, confirmed some of Butler's accusations in its final report. "In the last few weeks of the committee's official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country...There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient."[59] [n 1][n 2]


On June 21, 1940 Smedley Butler died in the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia; he had checked himself into the hospital a few weeks earlier after becoming ill. His doctor described his illness as an incurable condition of the upper gastro-intestinal tract, probably cancer. While in the hospital his family visited and remained by his side until the end, even bringing his new car so he could see it from the window since he never had a chance to drive it.[59] The funeral was held at his home, beneath the Chinese Thousand Blessings Umbrellas he had constructed there. The funeral was attended by friends and family as well as several politicians, members of the Philadelphia police force and officers of the Marine Corps.[60] He was buried at Oaklands Cemetery in West Chester, Pennsylvania.[61] Since his death in 1940 his family has continued to maintain his home just as it was when he died, including a large amount of memoribilia he had collected throughout his various careers.[60]

Honors and awards

Military awards

Butler was the recipient of the following awards:

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars Red ribbon with seven white stars: a row of three stars across the center, and rows of two stars above and below Navy blue ribbon with central gold stripe Width-44 white ribbon with width-10 scarlet stripes at edges, separated from the white by width-2 ultramarine blue stripes.
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Red ribbon with two broad dark yellow stripes
Width-44 yellow ribbon with two width-12 ultramarine blue stripes each distance 4 from the edge Red ribbon with narrow central blue stripe Width-44 golden yellow ribbon with width-2 ultramarine blue stripes at the edges
Width-44 ultramarine blue ribbon with width-10 Old Glory red stripes 2 units away from the edges Width-44 red ribbon with width-10 blue stripes 2 units away from the edges Dark blue ribbon with two red stripes close to the center Red ribbon with two dark blue stripes close to the center
Width-44 golden yellow ribbon with width-4 emerald green stripes at the edges and a central width-12 ultramarine blue stripe Rainbow ribbon with violet at the outer edges and going down the spectrum to red in the center Dark blue ribbon with medium-width dark blue, yellow, and orange stripes at each border Dark blue ribbon with a dim outline of a black rosette in the center
1st row Medal of Honor[2][21][62]
2nd row Medal of Honor[2][21][62] Marine Corps Brevet Medal[21][62] Navy Distinguished Service Medal[2][21][62] Army Distinguished Service Medal[2][21][62]
3rd row Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal[62][n 3] Spanish Campaign Medal[62] West Indies Naval Campaign Medal China Relief Expedition Medal[62]
4th row Philippine Campaign Medal[62] Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1912)[62] Haitian Campaign Medal (1917)[62] Dominican Campaign Medal[62]
5th row Mexican Service Medal[62] World War I Victory Medal w/ Maltese cross[62] Yangtze Service Medal[62] National Order of Merit (France), Officer grade[2][63]

First Medal of Honor citation


For distinguished conduct in battle, engagement of Vera Cruz, 22 April 1914. Major Butler was eminent and conspicuous in command of his battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22d and in the final occupation of the city.[21]

Second Medal of Honor citation


For extraordinary heroism in action as Commanding Officer of detachments from the 5th, 13th, 23d Companies and the Marine and sailor detachment from the U.S.S. Connecticut, Major Butler led the attack on Fort Riviere, Haiti, 17 November 1915. Following a concentrated drive, several different detachments of Marines gradually closed in on the old French bastion fort in an effort to cut off all avenues of retreat for the Caco bandits. Reaching the fort on the southern side where there was a small opening in the wall, Major Butler gave the signal to attack and Marines from the 15th Company poured through the breach, engaged the Cacos in hand-to-hand combat, took the bastion and crushed the Caco resistance. Throughout this perilous action, Major Butler was conspicuous for his bravery and forceful leadership.[21]

Marine Corps Brevet Medal citation

Secretary of the Navy citation:

The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in transmitting to First Lieutenant Smedley Darlington Butler, United States Marine Corps, the Brevet Medal which is awarded in accordance with Marine Corps Order No. 26 (1921), for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy while serving with the Second Battalion of Marines, near Tientsin, China, on 13 July 1900. On 28 March 1901, First Lieutenant Butler is appointed Captain by brevet, to take rank from 13 July 1900.[21]

Army Distinguished Service Medal


The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler, United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States, in a duty of great responsibility during World War I. Brigadier General Butler commanded with ability and energy Pontanezen Camp at Brest during the time in which it has developed into the largest embarkation camp in the world. Confronted with problems of extraordinary magnitude in supervising the reception, entertainment and departure of the large numbers of officers and soldiers passing through this camp, he has solved all with conspicuous success, performing services of the highest character for the American Expeditionary Forces.[21]

Navy Distinguished Service Medal


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler, United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services in France, during World War I. Brigadier General Butler organized, trained and commanded the 13th Regiment Marines; also the 5th Brigade of Marines. He commanded with ability and energy Camp Pontanezen at Brest during the time in which it has developed into the largest embarkation camp in the world. Confronted with problems of extraordinary magnitude in supervising the reception, entertainment and departure of large numbers of officers and soldiers passing through the camp, he has solved all with conspicuous success, performing services of the highest character for the American Expeditionary Forces.[21]

Other awards

In addition to the Medal of Honor and his other military awards Butler received several awards from other countries and had several things named in his honor.

The USS Butler (DD-636), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was named in his honor in 1942.[2] This vessel participated in the European and Pacific theaters of operations during the Second World War. It was later converted to a high speed minesweeper.[2][64]

The Boston, Massachusetts, chapter of Veterans for Peace is called the Smedley D. Butler Brigade in his honor.[65] Butler was featured in the documentary film The Corporation.[66] In his book My First Days in the White House, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana stated that, if elected to the presidency, he would name Butler as his Secretary of War.[28]

Published works

See also


  1. ^ Investigation of Nazi Propaganda Activities and Investigation of Certain Other Propaganda Activities: Public Hearings Before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Seventy-third Congress, Second Session, at Washington, D.C. p.8-114 D.C. 6 II
  2. ^ "HUAC's final report to Congress: "There is no question that these attempts [the plot] were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient." The committee had verified "all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization."
  3. ^ The Expeditionary Medal, as was worn for part of his career, would have used award numerals; in Butler's case, a "4" would have been worn to denote 4 deployments. The wearing of numerals was discontinued in 1921 in favor of service stars.


  1. ^ a b c d e Schmidt, 1998, p. 7
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 
  3. ^ Archer, 1973, p. 38
  4. ^ "Butler – Peters" (PDF). The New York Times: p. 9. July 1, 1905. 
  5. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 39
  6. ^ a b c Butler, Smedley Darlington and Venzon, Anne Cipria, 1992, p. 10
  7. ^ a b c Schmidt, 1998, p. 9
  8. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 10
  9. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 11
  10. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 12
  11. ^ "Report of the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Marines in China: The Relief Expedition". United States Marine Corps. September 29, 1900. Retrieved August 17, 2006. 
  12. ^ Langley, Lester D. (1983). The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900–1934. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813114969. 
  13. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 231
  14. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, pp. 28–32
  15. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 50
  16. ^ Boot, 2003, p. 144
  17. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 60–61
  18. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 64–65
  19. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 67–68
  20. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 68–70
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Smedley Butler at Military Times Hall of Valor Retrieved on March 4, 2010
  22. ^ Editors of the Boston Publishing Company (1985). Above and Beyond, A History of the Medal of Honor from the Civil War to Vietnam. p. 113. 
  23. ^ a b c Schmidt, 1998, p. 80
  24. ^ a b c Schmidt, 1995, p. 85
  25. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 92
  26. ^ a b Farwell, 1993, p. 513
  27. ^ Horwitz, 1999, p. 232
  28. ^ a b c d e Ward
  29. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 212
  30. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 146
  31. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 147
  32. ^ a b "Leatherneck legends; Swapping some sea stories at the birthday ball? Here are 8 of the Corps' best". Marine Corps Times: 22. November 15, 2004. 
  33. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 148
  34. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 149
  35. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 150
  36. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 153
  37. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 153–4
  38. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 154–5
  39. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, pp. 156–7
  40. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 205–6
  41. ^ "Oregon State Police History". Oregon State Police, Official Oregon State website. Retrieved October 14, 2007. 
  42. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, pp. 215–16
  43. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 220
  44. ^ a b "Bonus March". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved March 9, 2010. 
  45. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 216–226
  46. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 218
  47. ^ Schmidt, 1998, pp. 218–219
  48. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 234
  49. ^ Klehr, Harvey (1984). The Heyday of American Communism. Basic Books. pp. 110–12, 372–73. ISBN 0-465-02946-9. 
  50. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 224
  51. ^ a b Gen. Butler Bares a 'Fascist Plot'. November 21, 1934. p. 1. 
  52. ^ Schlesinger, 2003, p. 85
  53. ^ Burk, 1990
  54. ^ Sargent, 1974, Vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 151–2
  55. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 226
  56. ^ Schlesinger, 2003, p. 83
  57. ^ "Credulity Unlimited". The New York Times. November 22, 1934. 
  58. ^ "Plot Without Plotters". Time magazine. December 3, 1934.,9171,929957,00.html. 
  59. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 245
  60. ^ a b Schmidt, 1998, p. 246
  61. ^ "Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC". Oaklands Cemetery. 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  62. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o John E. Lelle SgtMaj. USMC (Ret) (1988). The Brevet Medal. Quest Publishing Co. ISBN 0-915779-02-1. 
  63. ^ Schmidt, 1998, p. 119
  64. ^ "Butler". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. Retrieved October 14, 2007. 
  65. ^ "Smedley D. Butler Brigade Chapter 9 Veterans for Peace". Veterans For Peace. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 
  66. ^ "Synopsis". Big Picture Media Corporation. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

Further reading

  • "Camp Smedley Butler website". United States Marine Corps. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  • "Butler, Smedley D.". Military History. February. 
  • Hoffman, Jon T., Colonel (USMCR, Ret) (December 6, 2007) [2002]. Muschett, James O. (Project Editor). ed. USMC: A Complete History. Crumley, Beth L. (Illustration Editor), Charles J. Ziga (Design) (Beaux Arts ed.). Printed in China: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc.. pp. 135, 146–9, 151, 154–5, 165–6, 216–7. ISBN 0-88363-617-4. 
  • "Major General Smedley D. Butler". Marine Corps Legacy Museum. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 
  • McFall, J. Arthur (February 2003). "After 33 years of Marine service, Smedley Butler became an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy". Military History 19 (6): 16. 
  • Sweetman, Jack (1968). The Landing at Veracruz: 1914. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. 
  • Smedley Butler at Find a Grave Retrieved on March 13, 2010


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-07-301940-07-21), one of the most colorful officers in the Marine Corps' long history, was one of the two Marines who received two Medals of Honor for separate acts of outstanding heroism.


  • "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."
    • War is a racket. (1935)[1]
  • "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."
    • War is a racket. (1935)
  • "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. (1935)
  • "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 at Geneva. 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. (1935)
  • "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. 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."
    • Socialist newspaper Common Sense, 1935
  • "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."
    • Reply to Gerald MacGuire, after being asked to organize WWI veterans (for military support) in a fascist-coup of FDR, as related by Butler in testimony before Congress, 1934. A reporter (a Butler confidant) testified MacGuire said, "We might go along with Roosevelt and then do with him what Mussolini did with the King of Italy." Which was, made him a figure-head.

War is a racket pamplet

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. 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.

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