Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Good General

I clicked through the Antiwar.com site the other day, and noticed a pretty good quote attributed to General Smedley Butler. A quote that I hadn't seen before.

Since my computer is a piece of crap, I lost the page, and when I went back to find it, the quote had changed. Anyway, I knew of General Butler -- one encounters his name frequently in old texts on imperialism -- but my interest was rekindled enough to look him up on wikipedia.

Butler is famous, from our point of view (infamous from Max Boot's point of view), for denouncing the corporate powers that had used his Marines as enforcers in international gangsterism:

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.


The places and times he references are what Max Boot glowingly refers to as America's "savage wars of peace". Butler's account of American depredations in Latin America neatly explain why the whole region has had, for years, a "yanqui go home" attitude toward us. And no wonder.

We can look somberly at Halliburton et al and note how things never change.

Butler was the most decorated Marine of his liftetime, a fact that excites desk-bound, jock-sniffing, war-loving weaklings like Boot, yet he was not a blood and guts sort of guy; Butler had a conscience, and therefore Boot, in his awful book, deprecates everything Butler said and did apart from his soldiering.

The wiki entry relates two things I didn't know, or had forgotten. One, that Butler led the Bonus Army, and two, that Butler warned FDR of a conspiracy against him by the right wing.

Let's consider the latter first. This wiki entry may not have been written by a wingnut, but I have a strong presumption that it was. Or, if not, it was written by someone from the squishy center, for whom there can be no conspiracy without an actual smoking gun or some memo that says, in the bluntest language, that so and so must be taken out. In other words, their standards are intentionally too high, much like those stathead fools who will only believe that Barry Bonds has taken steroids when they see photographic evidence (and even if that happened, I suspect many would scream, "photoshop!"). What constitutes a conspiracy?

Does the fact that several rightwing Generals (Brown was one) and business leaders of the Joe Kennedy variety, spoke among themselves of the ruin "Franklin D. Rosenfeld" would cause them, and that "that Jew" could be "taken out" by relatively few troops, qualify? Butler, in his position, would know of such talk, and indeed they apparently tried to recruit him, respecting the loyalty troops gave to him. But no, to the squishy centrist, unless there was a typed memo from some General to some Crapitalist saying "kill FDR at 2100", there could be no conspiracy, and Smedley Butler was just an hysteric. In reality, FDR deserved to be notified of such talk, even if it hadn't progressed further than smokey paranoid conversations at rightwing poker tables. The rightwing had continually circulated the smear that FDR had been crippled not from polio but from syphilis, which was typically dirty of them, but talking, even idly, of a coup d'etat is in a whole other order of importance. Butler's a hero for many things, one of which being that he spilled the beans on this plot.

Now about the Bonus Army: when I first read of it, I was shocked -- and I use that word, for once, in all sincerity. It is an episode never taught in schools. These raggedy men, depleted and desperate from the Great Depression, came to Washington and camped out, fairly peacefully (I know a few threw rocks), until the Veterans' Bonuses promised to them were paid. The government's reaction was shameful, and any police brutality done to later protest movements, even that done by Daley's goons in Chicago 1968, pales in comparison. This was Waco on a massive scale; and if the final casualty numbers seem few, it's not because of the government's lack of trying. Butler must have been appalled.

Without trying to sound too despondent, I have to say that learning of the Bonus Army convinced me that the United States was not and is not an open society in Karl Popper's definition of the phrase. Nevermind people amassing to change a whole government -- a la the Rose and Orange Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine respectively -- these men -- veterans at that, to whom the government at least in theory has more than the normal debt -- of the Bonus Army merely wanted paid for their services. In other words, this is a paltry demand compared to one of changing the government, and yet they were treated brutally. Imagine, then, even a perfectly constructed peaceful movement at Washington, of thousands or millions, even with the required signatures and theoretical representation to create a new constitutional convention: a real mandate. I'm sorry, but I just know in my bones (as the saying goes) that it would be a bloodbath no matter which party is in power.

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