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WAR IS A RACKET

General Butler says goodbye to his boys at the Quantico Marine Base.
AP news wire, September 23, 1931. (Courtesy of Jeff Roth)

COMMON SENSE NEUTRALITY
by Major General Smedley D. Butler

From the 1939 J.J. Little and Ives Company (New York) book compilation of non- interventionist essays and speeches by Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, Dr. Charles A. Beard, Dr. Philip D. Bookstaber, Han. William E. Borah, Rev. A. Herbert Haslam, Herbert Hoover, Jay C. Hormel, Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hon. Sumner Welles, and others.

COMMON SENSE NEUTRALITY

Let's look over this European brawl and see where we stand on it or why we should stand anywhere on it for that matter.

First, let's see if we have contributed one single thing to cause it. Also let's see if even a part of the responsibility for it can be pinned on us. Finally, let's see if we have anything at all to do with it.

If we think it over calmly, we all know perfectly well that we did not have one solitary blessed thing to do with the making of the mess over there. And that there is no possible sane and logical reason why we should feel any impulse to take a hand in it.

Did we have anything to do with the promises Britain and France made to Poland? No, we didn't. Did we have anything to do with Hitler's land-grabbing? No, we didn't. Did we have anything to do with Britain and France declaring war on Germany? We certainly did not and were not even consulted.

These are some of the SMELLY things in this pit of European back-alley politics into which we will be sucked if we don't watch our step -- if we are fools enough to allow ourselves to get all excited about this brawl that is going on over there, as such brawls have, almost since the dawn of history.

Before they started this row over land and natural resources, did they ask our advice or tell us their plans? Ask for our good wishes or even our opinion? No, they did not, and we neither advised nor encouraged them, so why should we get all stewed up about it and furnish the ammunition to keep it going? Just because people on the other side of the world insist on continuing their age-old practice of committing mass suicide, do we as a nation have to follow their example and blow out our brains, too?

Are we to adopt a policy of sitting around this European cockpit and going to the rescue of our favorite cocks whenever they get themselves into a fight they might not be able to win without us? Are we to become so entangled in European high-pressure politics that the main issue at our elections will be whether or not to allow political changes abroad? If we are to make it our practice to take part in these cockfights over there we should certainly vote on it -- have it in all our national political platforms every time we have an election.

Twenty-five years ago we sold them munitions and then had to go abroad to bail out Britain and France, helped drench the gore-sodden fields of Europe with the blood of a quarter of a million of our finest boys -- the pride of our manhood -- helped sow the seeds of the present orgy -- spent fifty billion dollars on that venture. Are we to keep on doing it?

Are WE to blame because Hitler built himself a great hair-trigger war machine that crushes everything in front of it? Are WE responsible that England and France did not build a machine to stop him? Are WE culpable in any way because Hitler started before the other side was ready? Provided Britain and France really want to stop Hitler, are WE to make up for their failure to prepare to do so by sticking out OUR necks?

Suppose you were walking down a strange street in a strange town in a strange country thousands of miles from your own home. You come across a brawl. You have no real interest in it. All of a sudden you hear one of the brawlers cry out, in your native tongue, as he swats his opponent: "I believe in Democracy." You don't know in the least what the fight is about but your sympathies are at once with this fellow who speaks your own language. The believer in Democracy sees you hesitate and shouts: "Come on and get in -- we believe in the same things. Also don't forget, if this other fellow wins, you'll be next. You'd better come in now."

You reply, "No, I don't want to. I'm a stranger and don't want to get mixed up in this. I like you but not enough to get into a fight. I want to be neutral."

"All right," he says, "be neutral, but you can gather up all the stones, clubs and brickbats you can get hold of and sell them to me. I'll use them on the other fellow."

That's a swell way to be neutral, isn't it?

Do you really think that if you start handing your Democratic friend ammunition, you won't get into it, too? You can't help it, if he's losing, and if he wins, he will only call you a scab, say he could have won by himself anyhow, and declare that he owes you nothing. He will also hate you because you made money out of his necessity. So both sides will hate you. On the other hand, if you stay out of this fight, with which you have nothing to do with in the first place, the argument that if the other fellow wins, he will give you a good beating too, won't apply. You will have gone on with your own business, instead of butting into a fight where you did not belong, and better still, the winner won't find you right there on hand and ready to be chewed up next. You will be thousands of miles away and he will have to come after you.

They say -- well, if the French and the British don't lick Hitler, he will come over here and jump on our necks. He'll be bombing our women and children and shelling our cities. Don't let anyone feed you that rot. It doesn't take military education to figure out what I am going to tell you:

It will take NOT LESS THAN ONE MILLION soldiers to invade the United States with any hope of success. These million men must come all at once. They must bring not less than SEVEN TONS OF BAGGAGE PER MAN. One million men, seven million tons of food, ammunition, whatnot. For instance, just ONE item: They must bring four hundred thousand vehicles alone; tractors, fifty gallons of gasoline per day for each vehicle for 270 days -- that's nine months' supply. Why, there are not enough ships in the whole world, including our own --  and we certainly wouldn't lend them ours -- to carry that kind of expedition. And remember, these ships have to bring with them enough fuel to get back with -- to make the round trips. We certainly aren't going to give them fuel over here to go home with. Any dumb cluck can see that.

But here's some more:

They've got to have harbors to lie in; docks on which to unload their stores. You know that you can't stop twenty-five miles out at sea, drop a fifty-ton armored tank overboard and tell it to swim ashore and meet you on Broadway. Remember, that with all the harbors, docks and ships of England and France at our disposal in the World War it took us nineteen months to get 1,900,000 men to France. And that though this expedition was headed for a friendly country and that all possible help on the other side was ours, it took months of preparation after the United States had actually declared war before it was safe to send the troops over. You know very well that we are not going to open our harbors to them, prepare docks for them and invite them in. New York is the only big one we have on this coast and to block New York harbor all you have to do is to dump two days' garbage in the channel, instead of hauling it out to sea.

Don't you see, it's all a question of supply -- this invading business. Men and munitions always run out before the supply of men is exhausted?

Just figure it out for yourselves:

For every man at the front, you must ship every day of the year from your home depot a thousand pounds of supplies; food, ammunition, gasoline, clothing, medical supplies, engineering supplies, spare parts, etc., to say nothing of replacements of the above. If you have 200,000 men at the front, you will have 800,000 supplying them from the rear -- and you will have to send them 100,000 tons of supplies every day.

Remember also, that for every thousand miles you go across water on an invading expedition into a hostile land, you must take with you ninety days' stores of all kinds. It is over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic -- three times ninety is two hundred and seventy days -- nine months. No, the supply of a European Army in America is out of the question, that is, an Army big enough to land here.

There is another thing to remember:

No fleet can operate more than 1500 miles from its base and Germany proper would be the base of a Hitler invading fleet. No, he couldn't get his fleet over here, or get it home again, if he did. But -- they say -- he might build a base somewhere in South America. Well, my friends, those who got up that little idea overlooked the fact that it is farther by a good deal from Berlin to South America than from Berlin to New York, so why invade America via South America? It doesn't make sense, for when Hitler got to South America, he would be a good deal farther away from us, than if he had come straight over from Berlin. So don't let that frighten you. It is all pure propaganda and insane to talk of Hitler invading us. And don't forget, too, that we have a Navy of our own and it's the best in the world, too.

Now, what about an aerial invasion? Well, Colonel Lindbergh and Eddie Rickenbacher, the two foremost fliers we have, already have told us it's ridiculous to talk of an invasion by air or to talk or think of bombing New York from Berlin. But suppose they do invent a plane that might be able to do it. That airplane has got to make the round trip, too. And without landing. With the fuel with which it started. And even if they build a plane that will do that, we have enough brains in this country to make some sort of machine that will destroy it before it hurts our women and children. And don't forget that we have an air force of our own, and a fine one too. So let's take one thing at a time.

This war's in Europe, it isn't over here. And it won't come over here unless we invite it. And the best way to invite it was to raise this embargo and sell bombs and ammunitions. They'll have the stamp of American makers on them and they have the R.S.V.P. that will bring about that invitation. An invitation to go over there and join in the mess.

Oh, but the bogey is that someone will come over here. Don't be alarmed. No one in Europe can afford to leave home. Why, if Hitler were to leave Germany with a million men to go anywhere, if he ever got back he'd find everybody speaking French or Russian. Those babies would move in on him while he was gone. No, there isn't a single crazy war dog that can come over here. We can build a defense of our own country that not even a rat, much less a mad dog, could creep through.

Let's be consistent. We cry to high heaven that we are a God-fearing and peace-loving nation and therefore we don't believe in shooting people, bombing their homes, knocking down their cities with cannon. And we really ARE a God-fearing and peace-loving people, but certainly it's un-Godly, hypocritical and unmanly of us to say to the British and the French:

Sure, we're against this fellow Hitler, but being God-fearing, WE can't shoot him, WE can't bomb him, but we'll be delighted to see YOU do it, and we'll furnish the guns and the bombs. That is, provided you pay us double what they're worth. And in order that there may be no mistake about it this time, you'll pay us in advance. You see we're against going to war ourselves, but we're not against your wars. You go ahead. WE'LL sell you the stuff.

The majority of the people of this country are against Hitler but don't want to get into this war in Europe. Our people think the best way to stay out of it is to be neutral. How is it proposed to stay neutral? Why, by regulating the sale of our products. It was satisfactorily proved that the sale of munitions to the Allies in 1914-15-16 got us into the World War. Now by selling again we run the same risks. If the sale of products has a tendency to involve us, certainly the more we sell, the greater the risk of getting in. The more we sell, the greater the business and the profits, and the greater the profits the greater our interest in the success of the customer. Our business slogan is: "The customer is always right." Isn't it?

The embargo on the sale of munitions certainly limited the volume of our sales. It most certainly cut out blood money. So why did we raise it -- why did we open the gate and run greater risk? Why? To make sure that Hitler is licked. But then we would not be neutral and we have pinned our hopes of staying out on our being neutral. It certainly does not make sense: to raise the embargo and try to stay neutral at the same time.

Also the time has come when we have to answer the big question before us: How often are we going over there to bailout Europe? Will we have to do it every twenty-five years? In addition to going ourselves last time, are we going to send our children today, are we going to be ready to send our grandchildren twenty-five years from now? Isn't it time to make a stand about this thing here and now? Are we so vitally interested right now that we want to contribute five million of the finest and strongest boys that the great Mothers of America have produced? Are you mothers and fathers so deeply concerned that you want to furnish your sons?

Also, let's look at this question from a personal viewpoint, which is the only one that counts in the long run:

It's all very well and high sounding to say:

The Government declares war. To say helplessly: As individuals we have nothing to do with it, can't prevent it. But WHO ARE  WE? Well, "WE" right now are the mothers and fathers of every able-bodied boy of military age in the United States. "WE" are also you young men of voting age and over, that they'll use for cannon fodder. And "WE" can prevent it.

Now -- you MOTHERS, particularly:

The only way you can resist all this war hysteria and beating tomtoms is by hanging onto the love you bear your boys. When you listen to some well-worded, well-delivered war speech, just remember that it's nothing but Sound. It's your boy that matters. And no amount of sound can make up to you for the loss of your boy. After you've heard one of these speeches and your blood is all hot and you want to go and hit someone like Hitler -- go upstairs where your boy is asleep. Go into his bedroom. You'll find him lying there, pillows all messed up, covers all tangled, sleeping away so hard. Look at him. Put your hand on that spot at the back of his beck, the place you used to love to kiss when he was a baby. Just stroke it a little. You won't wake him up, he knows it's you. Just look at his strong, fine, young body -- because only the BEST boys are chosen for war. Look at this splendid young creature who's part of yourself. You brought him into the world. You cared for him. That boy relies on you. You taught him to do that, didn't you? Now I ask you: Are you going to run out on him? Are you going to let someone beat a drum or blow a bugle and make him chase after it and be killed or crippled on a foreign land? Are the Mothers of America ashamed to make this fight to stay out of this European War on the ground of their love for their sons -- for what better ground could there be?

Have you ever been in one of those huge Veterans Hospitals it has been necessary to build to take care of the thousands of helpless and maimed cripples still with us from the LAST war? If you have, you will not need a reminder of what war can do to your boy, how it can render his life useless and broken at twenty, and yet keep him cruelly alive for the whole span of it. If you have not, I advise you to go and see one of them, for nothing could bring home to you more clearly or tragically the fact that in the last analysis it is your boy who is going to pay the piper. Few there are who come back entirely unscathed, and some come back in such a way that you would find yourself praying for their release from pain. Those withered, elderly, spiritless men who lie and sit so patiently in their wards day after day in those hospitals, waiting for the end, as they have waited since they got there twenty years ago, were the flower of our boys in their time. It is not age that has brought them to this pass, for their average age is a little over forty, it is WAR. Like the Unknown Soldier who was one of them, they too had mothers and fathers who felt toward them as you do about your boy. Thank God, this is a democracy, and by your voice and by your vote you can save your boy. You are the bosses of this country -- you mothers, you fathers.

And that brings up another point:

If you let this country go into a European war, you will lose this democracy, don't forget that. As you stand by your boy in bed, he is safe, but here is another picture. It may help you to build up resistance against all this propaganda which will almost drown you.

Somewhere in a muddy trench, thousands of miles away from you and your home, your boy, the same one that is sleeping so sweetly and safely in his bed with you on his side, is waiting to "go over the top." Just before dawn. Drizzling rain. Dark and dismal. Face caked with mud and tears. So homesick and longing for you and home. Thinks of you on your knees praying for him. He is frightened to death, but still more scared the boy next to him will discover his terror. That's your boy. Stomach as big as an egg. I know, I've had that sensation many times.

Do you want him to be the next Unknown Soldier?

The Unknown Soldier had a mother, you know, and a father. He didn't just appear out of the air.

Do you want your boy, tangled in the barbed wire, or struggling for a last gasp of breath in a stinking trench somewhere abroad, do you want him to cry out: "Mother, Father, why did you let them do it?"

Think it over, my dear fellow Americans. Can't we be satisfied with defending our own homes, our own women, our own children? Right here in America? There are only two reasons why you should ever be asked to give your youngsters. One is defense of our homes. The other is the defense of our Bill of Rights and particularly the right to worship God as we see fit. Every other reason advanced for the murder of young men is a racket, pure and simple.

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