War Is a Racket

“During war, the con man is given his best possible market: a populace that frowns upon critical thinking, along with governments and media that together stoke up hatred for the enemy and a spirit of ‘Let’s just do something,’ because nothing is worse than not doing something, so doing something becomes doing anything, and certain…

“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” James 4:1-2

I was in the army reserves. I joined back in 2007, and went to Kapooka, did some infantry specific training at my company headquarters, and did the weekly and monthly training for a couple of years. I did not serve overseas, I did not serve in any combat role, and I want to make that clear.

I had great admiration for the soldiers I knew back then who did serve, and I still do. I think they are some of the noblest men our country produces. In fact, this is why I joined the army, I wanted to be among such company. I want to be around men who were willing to fight to defend our country. I wanted to be one of them.

Eventually, my chosen profession took away the nights and weekends I needed to be a reservist, and so I left the army reserves. I share this so that it is clear that my perspective does not come out of a bias against the military, or a life-long or even current dedication to pacifism.

I am not a pacifist. I think Australia should have a well equipped and deadly-capable armed forces. I am not an idealist, I recognize that we live in a dangerous world, and therefore we cannot all be like the Mennonites who shun arms completely. I also think war is a racket.

War is a money-making adventure. Not every war has this as its primary objective. Sometimes nations are provoked into war. Sometimes nations are tricked into war. Sometimes nations are led by people who believe they have a righteous cause, often they are wrong, sometimes they are right. Most of the time, there is some form of greed or avarice behind the war:

“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:1-2).

Even for wars that are not motivated by greed, they are supplied and maintained by it. Often they are spurred on and financed by those who stand to gain the most wealth and power from them. This is even true of many of the so-called “righteous” wars that people think were necessary.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, who fought in World War I, held command positions, and gives first hand evidence of how much of a racket war is, in his short and powerful book, War is a Racket:

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.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the 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 very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

Smedley Butler (1935, 2003), War is a Racket, Feral House Publishing, Butler, p1-2.

Butler goes on to highlight some of the reasons why war is a racket:

The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the United States some $52,000,000,000. Figure it out. That means $400 to every American man, woman, and child. And we haven’t paid the debt yet. We are paying it, our children will pay it, and our children’s children probably still will be paying the cost of that war.

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits — ah! that is another matter — twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent — the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.

Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:

Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!

Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

 There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent. Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather.

Butler, p.3-4.

You may say, of course, companies profit. Wars cost a lot of money for governments. It’s not their fault some people and companies are in the right industry at the right time.

Well, let’s see a little more of what Butler says:

But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiselled their way into war profits.

Take the shoe people. They like war. It brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought — and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.

There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it — so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.

Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches — one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!

Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.

There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.

Butler, p.5.

In times of war, patriotic fever rises to the highest possible levels and those who seek to critically analyse either the war or how the war is being fought, or how people are profiting off of the war are branded as dangerous, or traitors.

During war, the con man is given his best possible market: a populace that frowns upon critical thinking, along with governments and media that together stoke up hatred for the enemy and a spirit of “Let’s just do something”, because nothing is worse than not doing something, so doing something becomes doing anything, and certain businesses just happen to be able to find a way to monetize those somethings and anythings.

War is Racket. I encourage you to read Smedley Butler’s book by that title, you can read it for free here.

Many people call for war, but they are not really aware of what they are calling for, who is pushing for them to call for it, and why we need to do everything in our power to avoid every possible war that we ever can. Partly, because war is a racket.

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