History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Social workers, beware today’s drumbeat of war!

General Smedley Butler, a highly decorated U.S. Marines hero of the early twentieth century, is best known for his stinging antiwar screed, War Is A Racket (still in print, and still worth reading in its entirety). Less known is that Butler was also a true patriot who in Congressional testimony called out a 1934 conspiratorial big business plot to overthrow the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and establish a fascist dictatorship in its place. You can read a stunning account of the coup conspiracy in Jonathan Katz’s new book, Gangster Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire.

As the military-industrial-congressional-corporate media complex floods the political airwaves with increasingly breathless talk of war with Russia over Ukraine (a nation led by neo-Nazis that the U.S. helped to install in a 2014 coup that displaced the democratically elected government), and investigations by the January 6 Commission (chaired by Mississippi’s Rep. Bennie Thompson) provide new evidence of a coordinated plot to steal the 2020 election for Trump, both the memory and the words of General Butler are worth recalling. Here are a few quotes from 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.”

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. 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. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

“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.”  

“To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket. 1. We must take the profit out of war. 2. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war. 3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.”

Especially when elected officials awash in corporate donations insist that the U.S. cannot afford universal health care, cannot afford to raise its children out of poverty, cannot afford a livable wage or paid sick days for working people, cannot afford to educate its citizens for free, cannot afford to provide decent housing for the homeless, or care for the mentally ill, or the disabled, or its poor elderly, while racing to join the bi-partisan chorus for increased military spending year after year; especially when these same “representatives” fall in love with every tax cut for the wealthy and for rapacious global corporations (including the weapons manufacturers) that comes their way, while at once unabashedly trying to sell economic austerity to the underserved population with the lie that it will be good for everyone, “good for the country” – especially then should social workers, first and foremost among thinking citizens, refuse to succumb to the drumbeat of war.

Indeed, social workers should be leading a non-violent yet militant campaign for peace – peace not just with Russia and the other “great powers,” but with every nation in the world – as did our great professional forebear, Jane Addams. Peace on principle, and peace as a matter of practicality, as the only life-affirming way forward for a global community in deep distress and seemingly careening toward self-destruction.

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