Smedley's War

The Invisible Hand carries a big stick – Anonymous Curmudgeon

Our last two presidents have often been called dictators. The one before that was called "A hard dog to keep on the porch." There is a wide-spread opinion that we have an Imperial Presidency. Such an opinion comes from an imbalance of power between the Legislative and Executive branches of our Government. The Legislative branch has lost power because the shared responsibilities of that branch have been subordinated to partisan divisions and the Executive Branch has taken up the slack.

There was a time when extra-marital affairs of presidents were overlooked by the press, and there was a time when the word dictator had a positive connotation. In fact, Studebaker made a car called the Dictator which sold well between 1927 and 1937. There was also a time during which our country had a sense of Empire and Manifest Destiny – both were considered good things then.

When Admiral Matthew Perry steamed into Tokyo Harbor in 1854 and forced the Japanese government to open trade with the U.S. he carried out the policy of Gunboat Diplomacy, which promoted a union of U.S. political and business interests. That marriage was consummated by actions of force executed by U.S. Navy and Marines.

From 1898 to 1931 Major General Smedley Butler was a Marine whose involvement in many of such actions resulted in so many awards that he became for his time the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He is one of only 19 to receive the Medal of Honor twice. His name became a household name as recognizable as Colin Powell or David Petraeus is today. In 33 years of service Butler participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean and France. Butler would eventually assert that he felt that all but the French actions were on behalf of business interests.

In 1933 he told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists had asked him to be a co-conspirator in a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to the plan, Butler was selected to lead a march of veterans to take over the government and become dictator, similar to Fascist regimes at that time. This became known as the “Business Plot”.

Today we might have called the so-called plotters "one-percenters" because of their wealth.

Franklin Roosevelt had been elected in 1932 and sworn into office in 1933 during the worst financial crisis in U.S. history. One of his first actions was to take the country off the Gold Standard. Britain had done so earlier, resulting in a devaluation of British currency which in turn created a trade imbalance between the two countries favorable to the British and costing the U.S. even more jobs. Many conservative businessmen including former president Hoover were horrified and infuriated by Roosevelt's action. This is seen as part of the inspiration of the Business Plot.

Supposedly the plot was to retain Roosevelt as a figurehead President but would have installed Butler in a new position called Secretary of General Affairs. Butler testified on the plan to the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). His allegations were considered to be credible by the committee, but ridiculed by many in the press.

Butler told the committee that he had met with certain individuals claiming to represent the business interests who were promoting the plot. The committee seemed to believe such meetings took place, but such belief does not necessarily support the existence of a full-scale plot. Many conspiracy theories have been inspired by these committee hearings. The committee did not publish names of the alleged business leaders. Prescott Bush (father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush) and his father-in-law George Herbert Walker, are but two names that have become associated with the Business Plot.

There is left-wing hyperbole today that exacerbates such opinions. Many prominent business leaders and celebrities showed positive attitudes to fascism at the time.[1] Indeed, Prescott Bush and his father-in-law had been on the board of directors of the Union Banking Corporation which provided seed money to the embryonic Nazi Party. To suggest such action made Bush a Nazi or a promoter of a coup d'etat is like suggesting a Catholic who lends money to a Jewish person is wearing a yarmulke to bed[2]; or that Franklin Roosevelt made "an end run around the constitution" by getting elected 4 times.[3]

A more middle-of-the-road opinion has been made: opportunistic individuals had interpreted angry comments made by high-ranking conservative business leaders to infer the existence of such plot and for their own reasons approached Butler. Butler's own epiphany[4] is well-recorded and expressed in his book “War Is A Racket”. Butler's rethinking of his career was influenced by comments made by Benito Mussolini, who was the founder of the Fascist Party in Italy, and subsequently the dictator of that country. Mussolini said an alternate name for Fascism was Corporatism because it was a merger of corporate and government power.

Today, the word fascist is probably the most-used or abused pejorative of political connotation employed in knee-jerk discourse. It is used by the left to demonize the right, by the right to demonize the left and by neighbors to demonize each other. But in 1933 the word Fascism denoted a well-defined political philosophy that had developed in opposition to socialism.

Indeed, Butler had come to think of, and speak of, his military service as being the tool of a merger of corporate and government powers. By the early 1930s he was on nation-wide speaking tours in which he denounced what he called war profiteering and incipient fascism associated with military engagements seen to support a corporate agenda.

Although John McCormack, who was the chairman of HUAC, chose not to further pursue Butler's allegations, he is quoted as follows: "If the late Major General Smedley Butler of the U.S. Marine Corps had not been a stubborn devotee of democracy, Americans today could conceivably be living under an American Mussolini, Hitler, or Franco."

There is much conjecture that the choice not to pursue allegations was because the supposed collaborators were too powerful. There is another theory that I find even more interesting: Roosevelt made a deal with the Business Plotters such that they were to moderate their opposition to his policies and he in turn would not turn Congress and the American people loose on them. I like that idea. Roosevelt was a one-percenter himself and moved in the same circles as the suspected plotters..



[1]Reliable sources list the following as just a few admirers of Fascism and Nazism: Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK, the aviator Charles Lindbergh, Prescott Bush, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, John and Allen Dulles. Such admiration was generally a result of the revitalization of Germany and Italy under the Nazis and the Fascists. As World War II progressed, most changed their minds.

[2]Although Prescott Bush was a Republican, he could best be called a moderate. In fact, he was among the first of either major party to stand up to the terror campaign of Joe McCarthy.

[3]Limits on presidential terms weren't set until the ratification of the 22nd amendment in 1953, nine years after Roosevelt's last re-election.

[4]Epiphany - an experience of sudden and striking realization.


Research: Bear in mind that the term “political spectrum” is a bit arbitrary. Research on topics was done by search engine. Opinions to the “left” and the “right” on the political spectrum were reviewed. Unchallenged Wikipedia entries were were give high consideration.




Next: Historical Fiscal Cliffs – We've been there before and we will be again