Why No Retired Generals Oppose America’s Forever Wars

Yves here. Even though Sjursen describes the cultural factors and institutional mechanisms that allow the US armed services to perpetuate pro-war groupthink, I’m surprised to see almost no mention of economic incentives. Retired generals can look forward to consulting assignments and board appointments with military contractors. Some also wind up getting lucrative speaking gigs. Having a possible or actual dissident in their ranks could lead to uncomfortable conversations about “Why didn’t you rein this guy in?”

By Danny Sjursen, a retired U.S. Army major and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and now lives in Lawrence, Kansas. He has written a memoir of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge and his forthcoming book, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War, is available for pre-order. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his podcast “Fortress on a Hill. Originally published at TomDispatch

There once lived an odd little man — five feet nine inches tall and barely 140 pounds sopping wet — who rocked the lecture circuit and the nation itself. For all but a few activist insiders and scholars, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler is now lost to history. Yet more than a century ago, this strange contradiction of a man would become a national war hero, celebrated in pulp adventure novels, and then, 30 years later, as one of this country’s most prominent antiwar and anti-imperialist dissidents.

Raised in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and educated in Quaker (pacifist) schools, the son of an influential congressman, he would end up serving in nearly all of America’s “Banana Wars” from 1898 to 1931. Wounded in combat and a rare recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor, he would retire as the youngest, most decorated major general in the Marines.

A teenage officer and a certified hero during an international intervention in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900, he would later become a constabulary leader of the Haitian gendarme, the police chief of Philadelphia (while on an approved absence from the military), and a proponent of Marine Corps football. In more standard fashion, he would serve in battle as well as in what might today be labeled peacekeeping, counterinsurgency, and advise-and-assist missions in Cuba, China, the Philippines, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, France, and China (again). While he showed early signs of skepticism about some of those imperial campaigns or, as they were sardonically called by critics at the time, “Dollar Diplomacy” operations — that is, military campaigns waged on behalf of U.S. corporate business interests — until he retired he remained the prototypical loyal Marine.

But after retirement, Smedley Butler changed his tune. He began to blast the imperialist foreign policy and interventionist bullying in which he’d only recently played such a prominent part. Eventually, in 1935 during the Great Depression, in what became a classic passage in his memoir, which he titled “War Is a Racket,” he wrote: “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service… 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.”

Seemingly overnight, the famous war hero transformed himself into an equally acclaimed antiwar speaker and activist in a politically turbulent era. Those were, admittedly, uncommonly anti-interventionist years, in which veterans and politicians alike promoted what (for America, at least) had been fringe ideas. This was, after all, the height of what later pro-war interventionists would pejoratively label American “isolationism.”

Nonetheless, Butler was unique (for that moment and certainly for our own) in his unapologetic amenability to left-wing domestic politics and materialist critiques of American militarism. In the last years of his life, he would face increasing criticism from his former admirer, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the military establishment, and the interventionist press. This was particularly true after Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland and later France. Given the severity of the Nazi threat to mankind, hindsight undoubtedly proved Butler’s virulent opposition to U.S. intervention in World War II wrong.

Nevertheless, the long-term erasure of his decade of antiwar and anti-imperialist activism and the assumption that all his assertions were irrelevant has proven historically deeply misguided. In the wake of America’s brief but bloody entry into the First World War, the skepticism of Butler (and a significant part of an entire generation of veterans) about intervention in a new European bloodbath should have been understandable. Above all, however, his critique of American militarism of an earlier imperial era in the Pacific and in Latin America remains prescient and all too timely today, especially coming as it did from one of the most decorated and high-ranking general officers of his time. (In the era of the never-ending war on terror, such a phenomenon is quite literally inconceivable.)

Smedley Butler’s Marine Corps and the military of his day was, in certain ways, a different sort of organization than today’s highly professionalized armed forces. History rarely repeats itself, not in a literal sense anyway. Still, there are some disturbing similarities between the careers of Butler and today’s generation of forever-war fighters. All of them served repeated tours of duty in (mostly) unsanctioned wars around the world. Butler’s conflicts may have stretched west from Haiti across the oceans to China, whereas today’s generals mostly lead missions from West Africa east to Central Asia, but both sets of conflicts seemed perpetual in their day and were motivated by barely concealed economic and imperial interests.

Nonetheless, whereas this country’s imperial campaigns of the first third of the twentieth century generated a Smedley Butler, the hyper-interventionism of the first decades of this century hasn’t produced a single even faintly comparable figure. Not one. Zero. Zilch. Why that is matters and illustrates much about the U.S. military establishment and contemporary national culture, none of it particularly encouraging.

Why No Antiwar Generals

When Smedley Butler retired in 1931, he was one of three Marine Corps major generals holding a rank just below that of only the Marine commandant and the Army chief of staff. Today, with about 900 generals and admirals currently serving on active duty, including 24 major generals in the Marine Corps alone, and with scores of flag officers retiring annually, not a single one has offered genuine public opposition to almost 19 years worth of ill-advised, remarkably unsuccessful American wars. As for the most senior officers, the 40 four-star generals and admirals whose vocal antimilitarism might make the biggest splash, there are more of them today than there were even at the height of the Vietnam War, although the active military is now about half the size it was then. Adulated as many of them may be, however, not one qualifies as a public critic of today’s failing wars.

Instead, the principal patriotic dissent against those terror wars has come from retired colonels, lieutenant colonels, and occasionally more junior officers (like me), as well as enlisted service members. Not that there are many of us to speak of either. I consider it disturbing (and so should you) that I personally know just about every one of the retired military figures who has spoken out against America’s forever wars.

The big three are Secretary of State Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson; Vietnam veteran and onetime West Point history instructor, retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich; and Iraq veteran and Afghan War whistleblower, retired Lieutenant Colonel Danny Davis. All three have proven to be genuine public servants, poignant voices, and — on some level — cherished personal mentors. For better or worse, however, none carry the potential clout of a retired senior theater commander or prominent four-star general offering the same critiques.

Something must account for veteran dissenters topping out at the level of colonel. Obviously, there are personal reasons why individual officers chose early retirement or didn’t make general or admiral. Still, the system for selecting flag officers should raise at least a few questions when it comes to the lack of antiwar voices among retired commanders. In fact, a selection committee of top generals and admirals is appointed each year to choose the next colonels to earn their first star. And perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that, according to numerous reports, “the members of this board are inclined, if not explicitly motivated, to seek candidates in their own image — officers whose careers look like theirs.” At a minimal level, such a system is hardly built to foster free thinkers, no less breed potential dissidents.

Consider it an irony of sorts that this system first received criticism in our era of forever wars when General David Petraeus, then commanding the highly publicized “surge” in Iraq, had to leave that theater of war in 2007 to serve as the chair of that selection committee. The reason: he wanted to ensure that a twice passed-over colonel, a protégé of his — future Trump National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster — earned his star.

Mainstream national security analysts reported on this affair at the time as if it were a major scandal, since most of them were convinced that Petraeus and his vaunted counterinsurgency or “COINdinista” protégés and their “new” war-fighting doctrine had the magic touch that would turn around the failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Petraeus tried to apply those very tactics twice — once in each country — as did acolytes of his later, and you know the results of that.

But here’s the point: it took an eleventh-hour intervention by America’s most acclaimed general of that moment to get new stars handed out to prominent colonels who had, until then, been stonewalled by Cold War-bred flag officers because they were promoting different (but also strangely familiar) tactics in this country’s wars. Imagine, then, how likely it would be for such a leadership system to produce genuine dissenters with stars of any serious sort, no less a crew of future Smedley Butlers.

At the roots of this system lay the obsession of the American officer corps with “professionalization” after the Vietnam War debacle. This first manifested itself in a decision to ditch the citizen-soldier tradition, end the draft, and create an “all-volunteer force.” The elimination of conscription, as predicted by critics at the time, created an ever-growing civil-military divide, even as it increased public apathy regarding America’s wars by erasing whatever “skin in the game” most citizens had.

More than just helping to squelch civilian antiwar activism, though, the professionalization of the military, and of the officer corps in particular, ensured that any future Smedley Butlers would be left in the dust (or in retirement at the level of lieutenant colonel or colonel) by a system geared to producing faux warrior-monks. Typical of such figures is current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley. He may speak gruffly and look like a man with a head of his own, but typically he’s turned out to be just another yes-man for another war-power-hungry president.

One group of generals, however, reportedly now does have it out for President Trump — but not because they’re opposed to endless war. Rather, they reportedly think that The Donald doesn’t “listen enough to military advice” on, you know, how to wage war forever and a day.

What Would Smedley Butler Think Today?

In his years of retirement, Smedley Butler regularly focused on the economic component of America’s imperial war policies. He saw clearly that the conflicts he had fought in, the elections he had helped rig, the coups he had supported, and the constabularies he had formed and empowered in faraway lands had all served the interests of U.S. corporate investors. Though less overtly the case today, this still remains a reality in America’s post-9/11 conflicts, even on occasion embarrassingly so (as when the Iraqi ministry of oil was essentially the only public building protected by American troops as looters tore apart the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in the post-invasion chaos of April 2003). Mostly, however, such influence plays out far more subtly than that, both abroad and here at home where those wars help maintain the record profits of the top weapons makers of the military-industrial complex.

That beast, first identified by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is now on steroids as American commanders in retirement regularly move directly from the military onto the boards of the giant defense contractors, a reality which only contributes to the dearth of Butlers in the military retiree community. For all the corruption of his time, the Pentagon didn’t yet exist and the path from the military to, say, United Fruit Company, Standard Oil, or other typical corporate giants of that moment had yet to be normalized for retiring generals and admirals. Imagine what Butler would have had to say about the modern phenomenon of the “revolving door” in Washington.

Of course, he served in a very different moment, one in which military funding and troop levels were still contested in Congress. As a longtime critic of capitalist excesses who wrote for leftist publications and supported the Socialist Party candidate in the 1936 presidential elections, Butler would have found today’s nearly trillion-dollar annual defense budgets beyond belief. What the grizzled former Marine long ago identified as a treacherous nexus between warfare and capital “in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives” seems to have reached its natural end point in the twenty-first century. Case in point: the record (and still rising) “defense” spending of the present moment, including — to please a president — the creation of a whole new military service aimed at the full-scale militarization of space.

Sadly enough, in the age of Trump, as numerous polls demonstrate, the U.S. military is the only public institution Americans still truly trust. Under the circumstances, how useful it would be to have a high-ranking, highly decorated, charismatic retired general in the Butler mold galvanize an apathetic public around those forever wars of ours. Unfortunately, the likelihood of that is practically nil, given the military system of our moment.

Of course, Butler didn’t exactly end his life triumphantly. In late May 1940, having lost 25 pounds due to illness and exhaustion — and demonized as a leftist, isolationist crank but still maintaining a whirlwind speaking schedule — he checked himself into the Philadelphia Navy Yard Hospital for a “rest.” He died there, probably of some sort of cancer, four weeks later. Working himself to death in his 10-year retirement and second career as a born-again antiwar activist, however, might just have constituted the very best service that the two-time Medal of Honor winner could have given the nation he loved to the very end.

Someone of his credibility, character, and candor is needed more than ever today. Unfortunately, this military generation is unlikely to produce such a figure. In retirement, Butler himself boldly confessed that, “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…”

Today, generals don’t seem to have a thought of their own even in retirement. And more’s the pity…

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  1. rusti

    Even though Sjursen describes the cultural factors and institutional mechanisms that allow the US armed services to perpetuate pro-war groupthink, I’m surprised to see no mention of economic incentives. Retired generals can look forward to consulting assignments and board appointments with military contractors.

    I agree that it might have been beneficial for him to elaborate on this, he did dedicate one paragraph:

    That beast, first identified by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is now on steroids as American commanders in retirement regularly move directly from the military onto the boards of the giant defense contractors, a reality which only contributes to the dearth of Butlers in the military retiree community. For all the corruption of his time, the Pentagon didn’t yet exist and the path from the military to, say, United Fruit Company, Standard Oil, or other typical corporate giants of that moment had yet to be normalized for retiring generals and admirals. Imagine what Butler would have had to say about the modern phenomenon of the “revolving door” in Washington.

    To give a useful counterexample to principled Colonels like Bacevich and Wilkerson, Four-Star General and JSOC Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford is illustrative. He just accepted a presumably lucrative gig on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, which I am sure provides a nice example for other high-ranking officers of how to retire in a lot more comfort than their military pension would offer and they can act accordingly when influencing purchasing decisions.

    As the War Nerd often cites, Major General James Post didn’t understand that this sort of corruption is supposed to have a veneer of credibility to it, so when Post explicitly said that anyone supporting retaining the A-10 (rather than the F-35) was treasonous he crossed the line.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Agree I should have given Sjursen more credit, but I think he’s being charitable in not weighing on this more and in missing the other forms of grift. Go look at the major speakers’ bureaus and see what generals get paid.

  2. Lambert Strether

    > 900 generals and admirals currently serving on active duty, including 24 major generals in the Marine Corps alone, and with scores of flag officers retiring annually, not a single one has offered genuine public opposition to almost 19 years worth of ill-advised, remarkably unsuccessful American wars. As for the most senior officers, the 40 four-star generals and admirals whose vocal antimilitarism might make the biggest splash, there are more of them today than there were even at the height of the Vietnam War, although the active military is now about half the size it was then.

    Third World countries like our own often have top-heavy militaries. Cf. C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law:

    Omitting technicalities (which are numerous) we may distinguish at the outset two motive forces. They can be represented for the present purpose by two almost axiomatic statements, thus: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.”

    From this description of the factors at work the student of political science will recognize that administrators are more or less bound to multiply… Vast masses of statistical evidence have been collected and it is from a study of this data that Parkinson’s Law has been deduced. Space will not allow of detailed analysis but the reader will be interested to know that research began in the British Navy Estimates. These were chosen because the Admiralty’s responsibilities are more easily measurable than those of, say, the Board of Trade. The question is merely one of numbers and tonnage. Here are some typical figures. The Strength of the Navy in 1914 could be shown as 146,000 officers and men, 3249 dockyard officials and clerks, and 57,000 dockyard workmen. By 1928 there were only 100,000 officers and men and only 62,439 workmen, but the dockyard officials and clerks by then numbered 4558. As for warships, the strength in 1928 was a mere fraction of what it had been in 1914 — fewer than 20 capital ships in commission as compared with 62. Over the same period the Admiralty officials had increased in number from 2000 to 3569, providing (as was remarked) “a magnificent navy on land.”

    It would be interesting to follow the further progress by which the 8118 Admiralty staff of 1935 came to number 33,788 by 1954.

    Dry, very dry.

    1. David

      A large part of the increase was certainly in research and development in naval technology – especially electronics – which changed and grew out of all recognition during the Second World War, and was advancing further afterwards. Air power, both fixed wing and helicopter was also much more important and needed far more resources. National service meant large numbers of young men called up, trained, sent around the world and then discharged, which was not the case in the professional Navy of the 1930s. And the Navy had large overseas bases in Malta and Singapore. There were around 500 active ships to procure, maintain, refit, scrap, replace etc, several times the number in the 1930s Oh, and the Navy shrunk after the First World War because the Treasury took the chopper to it, under the Ten Year Rule, which required the military to assume there would be no war for the next ten years.
      Parkinson’s book is often misunderstood: it’s a piece of light-hearted satire, making fun of the rash of books of the time prophesying Britain’s doom. It was never intended to be taken seriously.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, all.

        It’s no better in Blighty. In my lifetime, I can only recall Field Marshal Edwin Bramall, General Michael Jackson, Lieutenant-General Michael Rose and Major-General Patrick Cordingley speaking out. Bramall and Cordingley on nuclear disarmament. Jackson and Rose on adventures in the Middle East and Africa. There are some former soldiers, more junior officers and ranks, often on RT. All are ignored by the MSM.

        As the UK’s aerospace and defence manufacturers target the US and emerging markets, former senior officers and civil servants with an eye on post service “compensation”, a ghastly word, are unlikely to rock the boat and, if the likes of generals Nick Houghton and Mark Carleton-Smith and Foreign Office officials John Scarlett, Matthew Ryecroft, Kim Darroch, Karen Pierce and Richard Dearlove are any guide, more likely to be egging on war in government and cashing in after.

        https://bootcampmilitaryfitnessinstitute.com/2015/03/02/royal-navy-admirals-to-warships-ratio/ is interesting. It’s little better in 2020.

        1. RBHoughton

          Is that my nephew your speaking of Colonel? Frightful fellow. Proceed at once to Addis Ababa, do not pass Go, do not receive $200.

      2. Conrad

        In reply to David’s claim that Parkinson was only joking. Parkinson’s first article on his eponymous law was published in the Economist in 1955. A year before the Suez crisis. Which seems to me to be a pretty good place to say that the UKs transition from global power to regional also ran became undeniable.

    2. Olga

      I don’t generally disagree, but am not sure it is accurate to call the wars “remarkably unsuccessful.” First, what would success look like? Has there ever been a definition of “success” for these wars? Don’t remember seeing one. On the contrary, it seems that they’ve succeeded spectacularly in at least one common aspect – i.e., destruction of the state apparatus (and its replacement with generally chaotic conditions that serve as incubators for ongoing destabilization). Not to mention that they’ve also succeeded in the perpetuation (and wild growth) of MIIC.
      For analysis, one could invoke a self-licking ice-cream cone, but – given the consistency of this perceived “unsuccess” – I wonder about unspoken agenda for these wars.

      1. curious euro

        Success is Germany and Japan, generally western Europe post WW2. Biggest war prize ever.

        The current colonial wars are more of a “destroy these states before they slip out of our grasp”. This goes for the near wars like Venezuela and Iran as well.
        The reason for destruction is not cause they don’t want a german outcome but they can’t do it anymore. I think it was Korea and mainly Vietnam that showed them this, both wars unwinnable, but they inflicted so much hurt on those countries, it took them decades to recover if ever. Same happens now in Libya and Syria.

        The MIC fattening is only a sideshow. Certainly more than a sideshow for its C-suite and shareholders but ultimatively a sideshow in the bigger picture. Oil interests for example are vastly more important than MIC.

        1. Procopius

          I remember while I was still on active duty there was discussion of whether or not the definition of “victory” in Field Manual 30-1 should be revised (this was the continuing discussion after we withdrew from Vietnam). Clausewitz described “victory” as forcing the enemy to agree to do something you desired which he had been resisting. I don’t remember the exact definition in the Field Manual, but it was something like, “annihilation of the enemy.” In other words, exactly what we had done in World War II.There were historical reasons why that strategic outcome could be defended then, but we should have reverted to Clausewitz’s understanding long ago. I’m an outlier, in that I think we actually “won” in Korea, because we achieved our initial objective there, which was restoration of the status quo ante, with a more defensible line of demarcation between the two “nations.” I don’t think it was in our national interest then to unify the two parts of the one nation, and I’m pretty sure it’s not now.

    3. Conrad

      Parkinson’s acerbic wit remains useful today. I also love his law of grand premises, where he points out that any organisation that builds itself a magnificent edifice has passed the point where it is capable of any significant advancement or development. Something to ponder when contemplating the magnificent corporate campuses of Apple and the like.

      1. JTMcPhee

        The “edifice complex.” Saw that here, with the big local hospice organization. It had a pretty small main office and a high staff-to-administrator ratio. Most of the income went to kindly and caring service. In comes a new outside chief, suddenly there is a drastic need for a quarter of a city block admin building, places to hang plaques with the names of Big Philanthropist Donors, and architecture that yielded many corner offices three stories high. And in come the MBAs, so wages, kept low because “ it’s a CALLING to be a Hospice nurse,” dropped even lower and staff numbers got reduced while managers increased. No longer much of a place to go to die, they squeeze you for every nickel if you even qualify for their”service.” Private Equity vultures are deep into the death business, both pre-, as in hospice, and post-as in mortuaries and “harvesting” body parts for resale.

  3. jackiebass

    The institutional and cultural factor applies to non officers. The high rank officers are usually well educated. Many of them see their service as a means to cash in when they leave the military. Our military academies are really the training grounds for future private sector military contractors. The best way to fuel the system is to be in never ending wars. You are loved on with scorn if you don’t support our military and never ending wars. Orwells 1984 is spot on about what is now happening. As Bob Dylan would say, “Your only a pawn in their game”.

  4. WobblyTelomeres

    I have it on good account that Butler’s “War is a Racket” was widely circulated in Afghanistan/Iraq among enlisted Marines.

    1. sierra7

      My sign carried during Occupy:
      One side:
      “War is a Racket”
      “Dismantle the Military Industrial Complex”
      I had to explain the “War is a Racket” many, many times.

  5. Watt4Bob

    Seems strange to me that there’s no mention of the Business Plot?

    “Roosevelt’s election was upsetting for many conservative businessmen of the time, as his “campaign promise that the government would provide jobs for all the unemployed had the perverse effect of creating a new wave of unemployment by businessmen frightened by fears of socialism and reckless government spending.”
    Some writers have said concerns over the gold standard were also involved; Jules Archer, in The Plot to Seize the White House, wrote that with the end of the gold standard, “conservative financiers were horrified. They viewed a currency not solidly backed by gold as inflationary, undermining both private and business fortunes and leading to national bankruptcy.
    Roosevelt was damned as a socialist or Communist out to destroy private enterprise by sapping the gold backing of wealth in order to subsidize the poor.

    What could those put-upon rich folks do to stop the commie FDR?

    During the McCormack–Dickstein Committee hearings Butler testified that Gerald C. MacGuire attempted to recruit him to lead a coup, promising him an army of 500,000 men for a march on Washington, DC, and financial backing.
    Butler testified that the pretext for the coup would be that the president’s health was failing. Despite Butler’s support for Roosevelt in the election and his reputation as a strong critic of capitalism, Butler said the plotters felt his good reputation and popularity were vital in attracting support amongst the general public and saw him as easier to manipulate than others.
    Given a successful coup, Butler said that the plan was for him to have held near-absolute power in the newly created position of “Secretary of General Affairs”, while Roosevelt would have assumed a figurehead role.

    So, the bankers came up with a plan, Butler wouldn’t go along, and blew the whistle on them, leading to a Congressional inquiry that would end up white washing the whole thing;

    The Committee began examining evidence on November 20, 1934. On November 24 the committee released a statement detailing the testimony it had heard about the plot and its preliminary findings. On February 15, 1935, the committee submitted its final report to the House of Representatives.

    Those implicated in the plot by Butler all denied any involvement. MacGuire was the only figure identified by Butler who testified before the committee. Others Butler accused were not called to appear to testify because the “committee has had no evidence before it that would in the slightest degree warrant calling before it such men … The committee will not take cognizance of names brought into testimony which constitute mere hearsay.”

    The real reason there are no retired generals voicing anti-war sentiment is that the MIC, like the two political parties, has long ago become expert at nurturing only those compliant with the Washington consensus.

    If I was being less charitable, and I will be, I’d say that endless, meaningless war, for profit has resulted in the mass exodus of members of the mid-career officer corps who retain any vestige of intelligence and moral fiber, leaving the corrupt and compliant to rise to the general staff.

  6. IronForge

    Surprised how Sjursen left out GEN Butler’s Role in Stopping a Coup d’Etat by a Group of Bankers.

    He also seems to take the “America and Allies are not Culpable for the menacing threat of Nazi Germany” Viewpoint – which is Wrong in itself. The USA, FRA, and the GBR aren’t the Innocent Victims of WWII (and WWI for that matter).

    What Sjursen didn’t mention that GEN Butler’s Descendants/Relatives served in the US Armed Forces and worked in the MIC afterwards – One of my Schoolmates claimed to be One. Good Family – separated from Today’s trend of Cushy Revolving MIC Token Lobbyist Offers for Retired Flag Officers promoting the Long War of World Domination.

    We used to call it the “O-4 Lobotomy” as Midshipmen, when LCDRs tend to hold a Generational/Experiential differentials to Situational Viewpoints. Yet, as Officers Advance in Senior, Strategic, and Political Roles – it would appear that those with the motives to “Expand, Control, Consume, and Feed the Hegemon Oligarchies” gain the well funded Influences.

    IMHO – Restraint, Rational Thinking, Wisdom, and Discretion went out of the Window during the Transitional Collapse of the SUN into RUS, which allowed the Hegemon to pursue a path to Control the World through an Unipolar Powerbase.

    Unfortunately, the Hegemon implemented and enforced Hostile Policies and Wars of Suppression (e.g., PNAC7, PetroUSD upon IRQ and LBY) upon the World.

    Thanks to RUS emerging through the Western Fleecing (Western “Advisory Aid was anything but – e.g., Wolfowitz Doctrine), CHN and IND forging their respective Economic and Foreign Policies, and the EUROZONE beginning to becoming Independent from the USA and NATO Burdens – we’re starting to see the World rebalancing into Multi-Polar Spheres of Influence which involve Mixed Economies.

    Multi-Polarity isn’t Perfect, and Power Players may not prove to be Benign; but alternative economic venues tend to prevent dire corruption while encouraging the progressive improvement of conditions.

  7. The Rev Kev

    The truth of the matter is that a Smedley Butler would never achieve higher rank in the modern military but would be forced out through the present up-or-out process. I’m glad Watt4Bob brought up the Business Plot. Even today the whole thing is regarded as a precursor to ‘fake news’ but it actually happened. To many people, the idea of a Coup d’état in America was unthinkable but is this not what we are seeing with Trump over the past three years? The only reason it is not acknowledged as such is because Trump himself is so toxic.

    In peacetime you had a buildup of what Patton called ‘the prancers and the dancers’ but that wartime saw them sidelined in favour of real leaders. In fact General Marshall sidelined most of them before the US went into battle in private interviews. But now the present system does not have a mechanism to get rid of failures but protects them. This leads to a lot of stress between junior and seniors leaders like happened in Iraq and Sjursen himself has talked about his own problems with incompetent senior officers.

    But getting back to Butler, I think that the key is that he was always loyal to America and took his oath seriously. He did in in battle, he did it fighting for what he believed to be peace in the 30s and he did the same against the business plotters as he recognized them as a ‘domestic enemy’. Man can’t do better than that.

    1. Jermy Grimm

      I too am glad Watt4Bobb mentioned the Business plot. I have read of suggestions that FDRs forgiveness of the Business Plot, and agreements not to investigate further, was instrumental in FDRs successes with implementing Social Security and many of his other social programs. I have no idea whether this notion is true … but it does feed a lot of speculations.

  8. John Steinbach

    Roosevelt quashed the “Plot” inquiry because he knew that he needed the industrialist traitors support for entry into WW2. “The Plot to Overthrow the President” & “Trading with the Enemy” are both required reading.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Would you please add sources for you two required readings? They may be known to you but several sources pull up on the search for either book/reference title alone.

  9. Paul P

    Chalmers Johnson:

    But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.
    — Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006)

  10. ex-PFC chuck roast

    The self-absorbed disdain for the polity by flag officers begins early on in their military career. There is a clear master/slave relationship between officer and enlisted man, and the learning begins on day one of a man or woman’s military career. There are those who give orders and those who receive orders; the corp and the ranks; the elect and the damned. Those members of the newly elect that show no enthusiasm for this cruel, feudal, anti-social and regimented order are quickly weeded out and rarely advance beyond company grade officers. It was always so and it shall ever be so.

    Similarly, there are those in the enlisted ranks who find that this arrangement is largely satisfactory and are happy to climb a much shabbier ladder of elevation. They know there will be no future board positions for them, but there is a small pot of gold at the end of this opaque rainbow. They simply mark their time and take their solace in the bottle. Simple cannon fodder.

    Warriors all, sociopathic and dangerous at their core. House negroes in another era. Only fools celebrate “their service.” For much of American history military service was viewed as a less than savory occupation – useful, but undemocratic and dangerous. That changed around the Civil War.

    We will always have a warrior class. That’s just the way higher primates are. The trick is to socialize them without alienating them. Of course the bigger trick, the one that imperial powers can’t seem to get right, is to control the warrior class without becoming the warrior class.

    Bring back the draft.

    1. Watt4Bob

      I’d be interested to know, where else, besides on-line, can this topic can be safely discussed?

      It seems to me to be a dangerous topic for even an ex-serviceman?

      1. doug

        Bob, I live in a small NC town 45 min from Ft. Bragg, the second largest installation behind the pentagon, I am told.
        It is an unwelcome subject…..But I don’t feel endangered when I point out the last time we won was over 75 years ago with the cooperation and similar great sacrifice of the the Russians. One can have such conversations at least.
        We need to refer to a spade as a spade. The lack of such conversation is the danger, IMO.

    2. LifelongLib

      “…military service was viewed as a less than savory occupation…That changed around the Civil War.”

      Actually that view lasted a lot longer, maybe fading during periods of mass conscription but coming back again in peacetime. My mom recalls that the military wasn’t considered a respectable occupation when she was growing up before WW2. My own reading suggests that at least until the draft started in the late 30s, the enlisted ranks were mostly dumping grounds for juvenile delinquents and refuges for men who couldn’t get jobs anywhere else.

      1. Procopius

        Yes. It was actually sometime after 1950 when the idea was sold that there would be no time to mobilize the traditional army, so we needed a huge standing army always ready. As recently as 1946 demobilization was considered the reasonable reaction to “winning.” That was why there was naive expectation of a “Peace Dividend” after the Soviet Union collapsed.

  11. Eugene

    To be fair here, “The cost of Loyalty” by Tim Bakken, an instructor @ West Point, just released his book, which should be read along with this one by Mr Sjursen, which further explains the situation we face today, but don’t seem to have a remedy for, IMHO.

  12. jo6pac

    I’m pretty sure none of these generals or admirals have severed in any type of combat. Yes they go to combat zone but far from the action to get their pretty little badge and that’s it. The last combat vets were Admiral Zumwalt and one other but they resigned under the dark overlord chaney.

    Russian and Syrian General server on the front lines along with their soldiers.

    A pdf of the late Butler Smedley book.

  13. Carolinian

    Thanks for this.

    As for why not–don’t forget that attitudes toward the military were quite different in the 1930s than now. The country was full of desperate former soldiers who had been drafted into the slaughterhouse of WW1. Today there is very much a civilian/military divide and big liberals like Ken Burns have to softpedal the Vietnam War lest too much reality blocks those pledge drive contributions. Anchor people wear flag pins and talk about the beauty of cruise missiles launching toward their targets (and make up imaginary combat reporting episodes). Those who can’t do go on television and we are saturated with it.

    And of course there was 9/11 which brought the results of our foreign interventions home and frightened those civilians into a long lasting silence. When the media mostly ignored the huge protests before Iraq that was the last straw. In the 60s television did much to end a war. In this era they are war’s biggest promoters.

  14. Merf56

    We were on a small group trip a couple of years ago with a retired one star general. He just told the group initially that he was just retired military but we got really friendly with him and his wife and it came up. Another general he was friendly with retired and got a cushy job as a lobbyist and persuaded our travel companion to come along for an apparently obscene amount of money and perks . . He lasted two years hating every second of it. He said he felt like a paid whore and no amount of money was worth it. He bought a small storage unit complex (with the money he made) and resigned. He was disgusted by the whole thing. But all his military buddies thought he was nuts to pass up that kind of money and perks ….

  15. David

    Two different things, here, I think.
    I can’t ever recall meeting a military officer, certainly at senior level, who relished the prospect of war or wanted existing wars to last longer. Even if they were too senior to be in the front line, and so die quickly, they usually had a very good idea of what combat actually meant. I remember an armoured corps officer during the Cold War describing to me very precisely how he expected to die in his tank if it was hit by a round from the opposition. There are cases I’ve come across of individual junior officers and NCOs who are addicted to the thrill of combat but that’s another issue. The US Army I met in the 80s and 90s was far from warlike: its commanders were still in the post-Vietnam depressive phase, and didn’t want to be spent anywhere. They were ferociously opposed to being deployed to Bosnia in the 90s, for example, and did the best to undermine Clinton’s policy there.
    The real issue is the sunk costs fallacy, which is stronger among the military than perhaps any other group. They are the ones who die in pursuit of the goals of politicians, and when you have watched your comrades die, seen terrible death and destruction repeatedly and often risked your own life, it’s hard to simply shrug your shoulders at the end of your career and say “it wasn’t worth it”. If you were, say, a Captain in 2001 and have just retired as a General, are you going to go around and say that your professional life has been a complete waste of time? Not many of us, I suspect, would do that, whatever line of work we were in.

    1. Watt4Bob

      My Dad described visiting a friend of the family in hospital during WWII.

      His tank had been hit with an anti-tank round, and he described having the round wiz around within the turret before detonating. He sustained horrible burns and was in a cast over much of his burned body, and the doctors encouraged maggots growing under his casts to keep the wounds clean by eating the dead tissue.

      That story convinced me that being a tanker wasn’t the best choice one could make.

  16. ChrisPacific

    Pat Lang at SST is another critic of the US forever war program, although not an unqualified one. Illustrating the point, he is also a Colonel.

  17. hoki haya

    A much-appreciated piece; thank you. If there exist any generals of conscience – and I am certain there are a few, too intimidated to speak out – America will need their voices to engender a humane foreign policy.

    Gen. Butler is not forgotten. My paternal great great grandfather, USMC Maj. Gen Littleton Waller, was his commanding officer in Guam, then a lifelong friend, also disenchanted by wars-for-profit, particularly after being thrown under the bus in the Phillipines for refusing an order to kill all males ten years of age and older. The subsequent court-martial was a crucial, clarifying moment in both their professional and personal lives.

    1. hoki haya

      egads, the subject has me up to the wee hours here in hayastan, not only in a renewed urge to urge brass to denounce the gilded narrative, but also in odd remembrance of first being taught about My Lai.

      it was an obviously unconscionable event, indicative of widespread, unspoken policy, yet used as a warning against whistleblowing. out of 30 or so students in the class, perhaps 2 or 3 were appreciative of Lt Calley’s determination to make the atrocity known. The attitude of the prevailing majority could be surmised by one student saying, ‘well, the children would have grown up to be communists anyway.’

      After class, after I’d shown my offense to the notion, the instructor took me aside to say, “Oh, don’t worry – he didn’t mean that.”

      Except, going forward, these people who said such things went on to deployment in Iraq and did quite well for themselves in the obscenity of their ignorance and inhumanity. They are now by and large the officer class.

  18. newcatty

    Thanks to all who shared their thoughts and personal experiences. If people are still reading comments, What are your thoughts and opinions on the fact that the MIC and, therefore PTB, may create the “national security”, homeland “protection”, “America First”, NATO “alliance”, “Critical resources necessity “, and more as rationale and emotional propaganda for bringing “back the draft”?

    As more younger cohort of Amnericans awakened to the utter degradation of and the fact that they are useful as servants and fodder in combat or in collateral ” unfortunate situations” ( resulting , in not death, but in PTSD, brain injuries, ruined bodies, chronic illnesses from exposure to a toxic cocktail of chemicals in “areas of conflict or combat”, suicide ideation and successful attempts, homelessness ( for many)…

    I am only an older American who never “served” in any military institution. The American government and PTB have created a country that has many of us wringing our hands And, with sincere sympathy, saying that poor, young people join the military cause No jobs, or under emplyoyment, TINA. We also have that group that like being “heroes” or are sociopths. It is time for no more excuses and rationalizations. No more endless wars.

      1. hoki haya

        when i learned of ‘no more Iraqs, no more Libyas’ as standard and straightforward Russian foreign policy, I started paying attention to see if they followed through.

        Lavrov and Putin proved consistently reliable , in policy and ethic, and i am glad to have ‘crossed over’ even if i never see the US again.

        1. hoki haya

          Make no mistake; Syria and all its beautiful people would have been absolutely destroyed without Russia. same for Crim. wish they would have turned tanks into Donbass as well, but that’s more complicated.

          Russia has the higher moral ground, and will survive. It’s a natural partner to the US, waiting for an adult to enter the Oval Office.

  19. baldski

    What are we doing with 900 generals and admirals in the military? How do they find jobs for them all? Is that why there are so many levels of command? How does this stack up to WW2, how many generals and admirals then?

  20. TG

    Indeed, well said.

    But this is a bigger rot in our culture: our elites are out of control, and corruption and pressure grind down any dissidents. You can stick up for truth: and have your career destroyed, and there are today no real other options so you will likely lose your house etc., and nobody will listen, and the press won’t cover you – except perhaps to vilify you as a crank or Russian agent (hello, Tulsi Gabbard?).

    Taking a stand on principle is one thing. Cutting your own throat when nobody else is listening and it doesn’t matter, is madness.

    I work at a large university, and the rot is happening there. Tenure has been effectively wiped out for faculty, they are increasingly new members of the ‘precariat’. The provost (the chief academic officer) is a an anti-labor management consultant with no record of bona fide scholarship of any kind. New crazy ideas about education come out of central administration, and there is basically no push back from the faculty (criticism of any kind is not ‘constructive,’ you see), instead they just parrot the party line verbatim and try to keep their heads down. Kind of like journalists. Or, increasingly, like pretty much anyone in this society today.

  21. efschumacher

    For those who want to read the Original, it is online at:


    War is a Racket, Smedley Darlington Butler, USMC (Retd)
    CH1: War is a Racket
    CH2: Who Makes the Profits?
    CH3: Who Pays the Bills?
    CH4: How to Smash this Racket!
    CH5: To Hell with War!

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