“War is a racket. It always has been.” So wrote US Marine Major General Smedley Butler in 1935. “It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious,” he continued. “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?
Smedley Butler went on to itemize some of the companies that had benefited from WW1.
“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.
“It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52 million. Of this sum, $39 million was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16 million in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way.”
Butler, who died in 1940, was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorized at that time. And at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
By 1933 he had started denouncing capitalism and bankers, saying as a Marine general he had been “a racketeer for capitalism.”
The business of war is highly profitable. In 2011, the 100 largest contractors in the US sold $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion. In 2000, the U.S. defense budget was approximately $312 billion. By 2011, the figure had grown to $712 billion.
“America’s brand of capitalism – functions first and foremost to make extremely rich Americans like the Bush “money dynasty” even richer,” wrote historian and political scientist Jacques Pauwels in 2003. “Without warm or cold wars, however, this system can no longer produce the expected result in the form of the ever-higher profits the moneyed and powerful of America consider as their birthright.”
Historian Stuart D. Brandes wrote: “Between 1942 and 1945, the net profits of America’s 2,000 biggest firms were more than 40 per cent higher than during the period 1936-1939.” Such a “profit boom” was possible, he explained, because the state ordered billions of dollars of military equipment, failed to institute price controls, and taxed profits little if at all.
During WWII, less than 60 firms obtained 75 per cent of all lucrative military and other state orders. The big corporations – Ford, IBM, etc. – revealed themselves to be the “war hogs,” wrote Brandes.
They were paid through taxes and loans. And the regressive Revenue Act introduced in October 1942, caused these taxes to be paid increasingly by workers and other low-income Americans, rather than by the super-rich and the corporations.
“The burden of financing the war,” observes the American historian Sean Dennis Cashman, “was sloughed firmly upon the shoulders of the poorer members of society.”
Wealthy owners and top managers of the big corporations learned that profits can be maximized much more efficiently through war than through peace.
Pauwels concluded in 2003: “The America of wealth and privilege is hooked on war, without regular and ever-stronger doses of war it can no longer function properly, that is, yield the desired profits.”