The Plot To Seize The White House

By Jules Archer



About seven weeks after Butler and French had testified, John Spivak asked McCormack for an interview, and it was granted. McCormack had no fear of talking to a reporter from the New Masses, for which Spivak was writing at the time. Communis-toriented or not, McCormack knew that the Masses was in the forefront of exposing Nazi and anti-Semitic activities in the United States.

Asked about the deleted testimony, McCormack at first suggested that Spivak was relying on gossip. When Spivak revealed and convinced McCormack that he had 'seen the transcript of the executive session, the congressman grew annoyed and canceled the interview. He agreed to let Spivak leave questions with him, however, and said he would reply to those he chose to answer within three days.

Writing Spivak a letter three days later, he gave no specific answers to questions about the American Liberty League, the American Legion's passage of the gold resolution, and the report that John W. Davis had written the speech that MacGuire and Clark had wanted Butler to make.

"The reason for certain portions of General Butler's testimony in executive session being deleted from the public record," he wrote, "has been clearly stated in the public record."

He went on to make a broad attack against the plotters and to suggest that the hearings had defeated them: "As a result of the investigation, and the disclosures made, this movement has been stopped, and is practically broken up. There is no question but that some of the leaders are attempting to carry on, but they can make no headway. Public opinion, as a result of the disclosures of the investigation, is aroused."

Spivak went to see Dickstein and asked him why Colonel Grayson M.-P. Murphy had not been called upon to testify. "Your committee knew," Spivak reminded him, "that Murphy's men are in the anti-Semitic espionage organization, Order of '76."

"We didn't have the time," Dickstein replied. "We'd have taken care of the Wall Street groups if we had the time. I would have had no hesitation in going after the Morgans."

"You had Belgrano, commander of the American Legion, listed to testify. Why wasn't he examined?"

"I don't know," Dickstein replied, and referred him back to McCormack for the answer.


Spivak decided to inform General Butler, who, he was sure, did not realize it, that portions of his and French's testimony had been omitted in the official report issued by the McCormack-Dickstein Committee. "If he knew and said so publicly," Spivak reasoned, "he would reach a vastly greater audience than was available to me through the New Masses."

Telephoning the general, Spivak announced that he was from the New Masses and wanted to see him about his testimony. "Come on out," Butler said promptly. "Glad to see you." The roads had not been cleared of a heavy snowfall of the night before, and Spivak trudged to the house in Newtown Square through knee-deep snow. His spartan march appealed to Butler, who welcomed him heartily with the approval he had always shown to soldiers who disregarded the foulest weather to push on doggedly with their assigned missions.

Spivak saw a slender man with receding hair, lined and sunken cheeks, thick eyebrows, furrowed lines between keen eyes, generous nose, and jutting underlip. He liked Butler instantly, and the feeling was apparently mutual.

During their talk Butler revealed that he was intensely preoccupied with the corporate exploitation of the military for profit. Anxious to arouse Americans to this spoliation, he now believed it might be done by a more sophisticated book of memoirs and reflections than Old Gimlet Eye.

"I think you're the man I've been hoping to run into to help me do an autobiography," he told Spivak. "There are things I've seen, things I've learned that should not be left unsaid. War is a racket to protect economic interests, not our country, and our soldiers are sent to die on foreign soil to protect investments by big business."

Spivak said regretfully that he felt compelled to continue investigating and exposing a more urgent and dangerous situation -Nazi activities in the United States. Butler agreed at once that this activity was more important and offered to help by opening any doors he could for Spivak.

During their discussion Spivak learned "things about big business and politics, sometimes in earthy, four-letter words, the like of which I had never heard." Butler spilled over with anger at the hypocrisy that had marked American interference in the internal affairs of other governments, behind a smoke screen of pious expressions of high-sounding purpose.

"We supervised elections in Haiti," he said wryly, "and wherever we supervised them our candidate always won."

Admiring Butler's candor, Spivak did not want to mislead him or sail under false colors. He reminded the general that he was from the New Masses, and in case Butler didn't know it, added, "It's supposed to be a Communist magazine."

"So who the hell cares?" Butler shrugged. "There wouldn't be a United States if it wasn't for a bunch of radicals. I once heard of a radical named George Washington. As a matter of fact from what I read he was an extremist-a goddam revolutionist!"

Because of his fierce anti-Fascist and anti-big-business views, Butler was sometimes Red-baited. He was scarcely unique in being made a target for this kind of attack by rightists and ultraconservatives. As George Seldes told me, "If you are saying anything in general about the fight against fascism in America, it seems to me that a point to emphasize is that the entire Red-baiting wave which culminated in the McCarthy era was successful in inundating the anti-Fascists by making every anti-Fascist, whether liberal, socialist, or Communist, a Red."

Butler was shocked when Spivak showed him copies of the portions of his and French's testimony that had been deleted from the official report of the hearings. His scowl deepened as Spivak revealed that Belgrano had been dismissed without being asked a single question about what had happened at the "gold-standard resolution" Legion convention in Chicago.

According to Spivak, upon learning that the committee had reported to Congress that it had verified the authenticity of the plot, yet no action had been taken about MacGuire's wholesale denials under oath, Butler lost control of his volatile temper.

"I'll be goddammed!" he roared. "You can be sure I'm going to say something about this!"

Spivak asked him to hold off long enough to let the tiny circulation New Masses break the story first. Butler agreed. When the Masses appeared with the expose, it was a sensational news scoop, but none of the Washington correspondents dared touch it or follow it up.

"Several expressed regret," Spivak related, "that the exposes were appearing in the New Masses; when they quoted from one of my stories-solely on its news value-their editors cut the material out and advised them that quotes from `that magazine' might make readers say the paper was spreading Red propaganda. So great had the fear of communism and `Red propaganda' become that even editors who did not swallow all of it themselves went along because it was the popular attitude."


In his broadcast over WCAU on February 17, 1935, Butler revealed that some of the "most important" portions of his testimony had been suppressed in the McCormack-Dickstein report to Congress. The committee, he growled, had "stopped dead in its tracks when it got near the top." He added angrily:

Like most committees, it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape. The big shots weren't even called to testify. Why wasn't Colonel Grayson M.-P. Murphy, New York broker ... called? Why wasn't Louis Howe, Secretary to the President of the United States, called? . . . Why wasn't A1 Smith called? And why wasn't Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, called? And why wasn't Hanford MacNider, former American Legion commander, called? They were all mentioned in the testimony. And why was all mention of these names suppressed from the committee report?

This was no piker set-up. MacGuire, who was the agent of the Wall Street bankers and brokers who proposed this organization, told me that $3,000,000 was "on the line" and that $300,000,000-and that's a lot of money even today was in view to put over this plot to bluff the government.

He kept up a running attack on the conspirators night after night, revealing facts that had been omitted in the official committee report. In another broadcast he lashed out at the American Legion with no holds barred:

Do you think it could be hard to buy the American Legion for un-American activities? You know, the average veteran thinks the Legion is a patriotic organization to perpetuate the memories of the last war, an organization to promote peace, to take care of the wounded and to keep green the graves of those who gave their lives.

But is the American Legion that? No sir, not while it is controlled by the bankers. For years the bankers, by buying big club houses for various posts, by financing its beginning, and otherwise, have tried to make a strikebreaking organization of the Legion. The groups-the so-called Royal Family of the Legion-which have picked its officers for years, aren't interested in patriotism, in peace, in wounded veterans, in those who gave their lives. . . No, they are interested only in using the veterans, through their officers.

Why, even now, the commander of the American Legion is a banker-a banker who must have known what MacGuire's money was going to be used for. His name was mentioned in the testimony. Why didn't they cal] Belgrano and ask him why he contributed?

Butler was incredulous when he read that Colonel William E. Easterwood, national vice-commander of the Legion, while visiting Italy in 1935, had pinned a Legion button on Mussolini, making him an "honorary member," and had invited the dictator to the next Legion convention in Chicago.

Why, Butler wondered, did the Legion membership stand for such an abuse of the organization in their name? Apparently an uproar of sorts did break out, because Mussolini's honorary membership was later canceled as "unconstitutional" on grounds that the Legion had no honorary members.

Representative Dickstein was given the job of replying to Butler's radio blasts in a broadcast over the same network. The fifty-year-old congressman gave the committee's version of the censored testimony:

General Smedley Butler saw fit to employ this radio network to indulge in genera] criticism of the work done by the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities and to cast aspersions on the character of such men as Alfred E. Smith, Louis Howe, General MacArthur and Hanford MacNider....

The committee felt it should hear General Butler and ... follow out the "leads" which the general furnished to the members of the committee. The testimony given by General Butler was kept confidential until such time as the names of the persons who were mentioned in his testimony could be checked upon and verified. The committee did not want to hear General Butler's allegations without giving itself the opportunity to verify the assertions made by him.

It did not feel like dragging into the mud of publicity names of persons who were mentioned by General Butler unless his statements could be verified, since untold damage might be caused to a person's reputation, by public discussion of testimony which could not be substantiated.

This accounts for the fact that when the results of the hearings were finally made public, references to Alfred E. Smith and others were omitted. They were wholly without consequence and public mention might be misinterpreted by the public.

The essential portions, however, of General Butler's testimony have been released to the public and his specific charges relating to the proposed organization of a "soldier's movement" have been thoroughly aired and passed upon by the committee. . . .

General Butler asks why Clark was not called before the committee. Well, the reason was that Mr. Clark has been living in France for over a year, as General Butler well knows, and naturally he could not be subpoenaed, but on the 29th of December, 1934, Mr. Clark was represented before the committee in the person of his attorney, and full information was given the committee. Mr. Butler didn't tell you this. . . .


For whatever additional light could be shed on the plot to take over the White House that he had helped to expose, I interviewed John W. McCormack on September 17, 1971. At seventy-nine, lean, bright, warm, and friendly, the former Speaker of the House revealed a sharp, clear memory that enabled him to recall spontaneously many names and details of the hearings over which he had presided as chairman thirty-four years earlier.

I reminded him that the committee had said that it wanted to hear Clark's testimony, and Clark had stated that he would return from Europe to testify, but had not done so. Yet he had not called or subpoenaed Clark to do so. Why not?

"We couldn't subpoena Clark to testify at the executive session because they were held outside of Washington," McCormack explained. "According to the law of that day, we had no power to subpoena anyone to executive sessions outside the Capital. I subsequently recommended changing the law to give congressional committees that right, and the change was in fact made."*

Asked whether he knew what the reaction of President Roosevelt or Louis Howe had been to the exposure of the plot, he replied that he did not,

Why had the Department of justice under Attorney General Homer Cummings failed to initiate criminal proceedings against the plotters?

"The way I figure it," he replied, "we did our job in the committee by exposing the plot, and then it was up to the Department of Justice to do their job-to take it from there."

John L. Spivak was equally mystified by the lack of any action taken by the department against the conspirators. When I asked him about it, he replied, "I have no knowledge why the Attorney General did not pursue this matter except that most likely it was deemed politically inadvisable." He thought it possible that the decision might actually have been made in the White House on a basis of sheer pragmatism. As he speculated in his book A Man in His Time:

What would be the public gain from delving deeper into a plot which was already exposed and whose principals could be kept under surveillance? Roosevelt had enough headaches in those troubled days without having to make a face-to-face confrontation with men of great wealth and power. Was it avoidance of such a confrontation? Was it a desire by the head of the Democratic Party to avoid going into matters which could split the party down the middle, what with Davis and Smith, two former party heads, among those named by Butler?

I asked McCormack what his own reactions had been to MacGuire's testimony denying all of Butler's allegations.

"There was no doubt that General Butler was telling the truth," he replied. "We believed his testimony one hundred percent. He was a great, patriotic American in every respect."

"In your considered judgment, Mr. Speaker, were those men Butler named as involved in the plot guilty?"

"Millions were at stake when Clark and the others got the Legion to pass that resolution on the gold standard in 1933," he answered. "When Roosevelt refused to be pressured by it, and went even further off the gold standard, those fellows got desperate and decided to look into European methods, with the idea of introducing them into America. They sent MacGuire to Europe to study the Fascist organizations. We found the evidence that Clark and [Colonel] Grayson Murphy, who underwrote the American Legion with $125,000, were involved when we examined MacGuire's records and bank accounts."

I asked him about Colonel Murphy's role in the plot.

"Grayson Murphy was a number-one kingmaker in the Legion. His firm had clients of great wealth. Those fellows were afraid that Roosevelt would take their money away by taxes. They were desperate and sought to take power and frighten Roosevelt into doing what they wanted. But they made the mistake of approaching the wrong man to do the job."

"Had the plotters only wanted to take over the White House to restore the gold standard, or were they also out to destroy the New Deal and set up a Fascist dictatorship to run the country through an American Mussolini?"

McCormack reflected a moment, then said, "Well, we were in the depths of a severe depression, and we had a good man, Roosevelt, in the White House, and he'd revived the hopes and confidence of the American people. The plotters definitely hated the New Deal because it was for the people, not for the moneyed interests, and they were willing to spend a lot of their money to dump Mr. Roosevelt out of the White House."

"Could you say definitely that the American Liberty League was the organization of `big fellows' that MacGuire had described as being behind the plotters?"

"I don't know anything about the Liberty League," he replied in a crisp manner that did not encourage me to pursue any further interrogation along that line.

"Mr. Speaker, why were the plotters so insistent that General Butler accept their proposal that he be the one to head the Fascist march on Washington they planned?"

"They chose Smedley Butler because they needed an `enlisted man's general,' not a `general's general.' They had to have a colorful figure half a million or more veterans who had been privates and noncoms would follow. General Butler was the most popular one."

"If General Butler bad been an ambitious man like Aaron Burr and had been willing to be the Man on the White Horse for the plotters, do you think their conspiracy to take over the White House, with all that money behind it, might have succeeded?"

"Well, if General Butler had not been the patriot he was, and if they had been able to maintain secrecy, the plot certainly might very well have succeeded, having in mind the conditions existing at that time. No one can say for sure, of course, but when times are desperate and people are frustrated, anything like that could happen."

And we might have gone Fascist?"

"If the plotters had got rid of Roosevelt, there's no telling what might have taken place. They wouldn't have told the people what they were doing, of course. They were going to make it all sound constitutional, of course, with a high-sounding name for the dictator and a plan to make it all sound like a good American program. A well-organized minority can always outmaneuver an unorganized majority, as Adolf Hitler did. He failed with his beer-hall putsch, but he succeeded when he was better organized. The same thing could have happened here:'

"How did it come about that the committee first approached Butler before he approached the committee?"

"Oh, we heard something about it and asked the general if he knew anything," McCormack replied. "He said he certainly did. He was giving the plotters a come-on and trying to get the whole story from them. When he had all the information on who was behind it, and what they were up to, he wanted to come to Washington, testify before our committee, and break the whole thing wide open."

Finally I asked him, "Then in your opinion America could definitely have become a Fascist power had it not been for General Butler's patriotism in exploding the plot?"

"It certainly could have," McCormack acknowledged. "The people were in a very confused state of mind, making the nation weak and ripe for some drastic kind of extremist reaction. Mass frustration could bring about anything."

He reminded me that the international smell of fascism had been very much in the air during the hectic days of the plot and that much undercover Fascist activity had been going on in the United States that the American people knew nothing about. The McCormack-Dickstein Committee had exposed Ivy Lee, the noted public relations expert ostensibly employed by the German dye trust, but actually on the payroll of the Nazi Government to help them win favorable publicity in the American press. The committee had brought about passage of the Foreign Agents' Registration Act to smoke out hidden Nazi and Soviet agents into the limelight.

This committee was not the headline-seeking, witch-hunting extravaganza that HUAC became under Martin Dies. "Its manner of investigation commanded special respect," notes historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. "McCormack used competent investigators and employed as committee counsel a former Georgia senator with a good record on civil liberties. Most of the examination of witnesses was carried on in executive sessions. In public sessions, witnesses were free to consult counsel. Throughout, McCormack was eager to avoid hit-and-run accusation and unsubstantiated testimony. The result was an almost uniquely scrupulous investigation in a highly sensitive area."

Schlesinger noted that the McCormack Committee had "declared itself `able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler' except for MacGuire's direct proposal to him, and it considered this more or less confirmed by MacGuire's European reports.... James E. Van Zandt, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and subsequently a Republican congressman, corroborated Butler's story and said that he, too, had been approached by `agents of Wall Street."'

I queried McCormack about one final point. One newspaper reporter had suggested that Butler had not himself taken the plot very seriously. "Oh, no, General Butler regarded the plot very gravely indeed," McCormack said emphatically. "He knew that this was a threat to our very way of government by a bunch of rich men who wanted fascism."

I also discussed this point with the Butler family. Smedley Butler, Jr., agreed with McCormack and explained why his father did not immediately go to Washington when he realized what the plotters were up to: "Dad was not stupid. He had no proof, and he could not name names, so he had to be careful about it."

In fairness to the American Legion today, it needs to be pointed out that the Legion leadership of our times is far different from what it was in the period during and preceding the Butler hearings, when so many former commanders and high officials were involved in the conspiracy and antilabor activities dictated by big-business interests.

John L. Spivak explained why:

A long struggle followed within the Legion between those who would use the members for their own business and political interests and those who wanted the organization used for the benefit of former servicemen. The latter won. At the time of the plot, the cleavage between the rank and file and the Royal Family seemed-as it indeed turned out to be-a permanent one. In the generation that followed, the Legion underwent drastic changes and a mellowing. . . . Members now rarely participate in antilabor activity. In fact, many Legionnaires are themselves loyal union men.


To carry his warnings further to the American people, Butler began touring the country in a series of lectures. On the podium lie held audiences fascinated not only by his vigorous exposes of big business, war-makers, the American Liberty League, and the American Legion "Royal Family," but by the sheer dynamism of his personality.

As he grew more and more heated, he would roam the stage, gesticulating vigorously as he made his points, often extemporaneously, in salty, sometimes ribald, always blunt language.

He was flooded with requests for appearances at huge veterans' bonus rallies staged by the V.F.W. all over the country. In his speeches to veterans he would growl at their naiveté as "dumb soldiers" because they didn't organize politically to fight for veterans' benefits due them. They would grin and applaud enthusiastically, knowing that behind his gruff manner was a genuine fondness and concern for their welfare. "

Acknowledged as the spokesman for the "forgotten veteran," he was besieged with requests for help in getting adequate pensions for disabled veterans, and through the V.F.W. put pressure on the Veterans Administration in hundreds of cases.

The worshipful attitude of veterans toward Butler was expressed in a typical letter to him in March, 1935, by a veteran who wrote, "We all know that you speak our language, and that the Vet is about as close to your heart as anything else in the world."

There was no generation gap between the fifty-four-year-old general and youth leaders of that period, who were organizing the American Student Union to fight "against war and fascism." They felt a close kinship with the war hero who hated wars, and hated the men who had sent him to fight them. Now constantly proselytizing against war in the hope of stopping any new ones, Butler also wrote magazine articles condemning Marine intervention in the affairs of China.

Speaking to a Y.M.C.A. in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in February, he accused the big industrialists of America of fattening on the blood of soldiers. He pointed out that the average profit of the Du Ponts from 1910 to 1914 had been only $6 million, but had soared to $58 million between 1914 and 1918. The jump in the same periods for Bethlehem Steel had been $6 to $49 million; for International Nickel, $4 to $73 million.

"It makes you feel proud," he said bitingly. "A lot of the stockholders are members of the National Economy League, and, after I complete my investigation, I will probably find they are also members of the American Liberty League."

On February 25 Time magazine ran a two-column photo showing Butler and comedian Jimmy Durante, who attended a dinner in Pittsburgh where the general was speaking, facing each other "nose to nose" in a light moment for the photographer. The caption read "SCHNOZZLE, GIMLET EYE. Fascist to Fascist?"

In a tiny footnote at the bottom of the page, in five-point type that could barely be read, Time informed those of its readers with 20-20 vision, "Also last week the House Committee on Un-American Activities purported to report that a two-month investigation had convinced it that General Butler's story of a Fascist march on Washington was alarmingly true." This was Time's microscopic amends for its lengthy page-one ridicule of the plot a dozen weeks earlier.

In March, 1935, Butler began lecturing to mass meetings called by the V.F.W., speaking on behalf of the Patman Bonus Bill. He lost no opportunity to warn veterans also against those big-business interests who favored war and fascism. His convictions were strengthened by a new book based on the Nye munitions investigation, The Road to War, by Walter Millis.

He wrote a small antiwar book of his own that year, based on an earlier magazine article m which he favored a foreign policy of strict neutrality. In War Is a Racket he advocated an "ironclad defense a rat couldn't crawl through," but only to defend the United States against attack. The job of the armed forces, he insisted, was only to protect democracy at home-not waste lives on foreign soil to protect American investments overseas:

[War] is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.... How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? . . . Newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the . . . self-same few who wring dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.... Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds again gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out....

There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making. Hell's bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers? . . . [Mussolini is] ready for war.... [Hitler] is an equal if not greater menace to peace. . . . The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose....

Yes, they [munitions makers, bankers, ship-builders, manufacturers, meat packers, speculators] are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn't they? It pays high dividends. But what does it profit the masses . . . who are killed? [American boys in past wars] were made to . . . regard murder as the order of the day.... We used them a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or being killed. Then suddenly, we discharged them and told them to do their own readjusting. . . . Many, too many, of these fine young boys were eventually destroyed mentally....

The soldiers couldn't bargain for their labor. . . . By developing the . . . medal business, the government learned it could get soldiers for less money. . . . We gave them the large salary of $30 a month!

All they had to do for that munificent sum was to leave their dear ones behind, give up their jobs, lie in swampy trenches, eat canned willy [when they could get it], and kill and kill and kill ... and be killed....

But there is a way to stop it. You can't end it by disarmament conferences ... by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.

The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nation's manhood can be conscripted. . . .

Let the officers and directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our ship-builders and our airplane builders . . . as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted-to get $3o a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages . . . yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians. . . . Why shouldn't they? They aren't running any risk of being killed or having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. . . .

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket-that and nothing else.

Industrialists and financiers were shocked by Butler's "radical" notion. But if they had checked the Oxford Dictionary, they would have found as one definition of conscription: "taxation or confiscation of property for war purposes to impose equality of sacrifice on non-conscripts."


Butler's speeches at bonus rallies and over the air helped put pressure on Congress to pass the Patman Bonus Bill. As it went to the White House, Butler urged the President to sign it into law, pointing out that it was one way the nation could make amends to the veterans for their exploitation by big business in America's wars of the twentieth century. In a radio broadcast on May 9 he urged his listeners to deluge Roosevelt with a million wires and letters supporting the bill.

But the President vetoed it. On May 21 Butler conferred with Senator Elmer Thomas, of Oklahoma, in Washington on tactics to get Congress to override the veto. Afterward he declared his hope of organizing a large-scale political movement of veterans to press for the bonus.

"My idea," he told the press, "would be a mammoth organization like the Grand Army of the Republic, which would bring political pressure to bear to take care of the soldiers."

Now he criticized not only the American Legion but also the V.F.W. for avoiding the political arena: "They're no good. They've got provisions in their bylaws which say they can't engage in political action. The politicians put them to sleep. . . . If the soldiers don't get theirs now, they'll organize and get it. There'd be about five million of them."

He was asked who would head the new organization. "I don't know who we'd get to lead it," he replied.

He was instantly besieged with requests from various veterans groups that he take them over as the nucleus for his battle for the bonus and veterans' pensions. Morris A. Bealle, publisher of Plain Talk magazine, wrote Butler on May 24 that he had already begun such an organization, calling it the Iron Veterans. He urged Butler to assume its leadership. "You may be interested to know that Bill Doyle tried to finance this organization for us," Bealle wrote, "but acted so suspicious[ly] at Miami that I thought he was trying to take it over for the Royal Family of the American Legion, and declined to do business with him." This was the same Doyle who had accompanied MacGuire in the plotters' first contact with Butler. Bealle added, "A few weeks later I discovered to my horror that he was trying to take it over for the House of Morgan."

But Butler, made wary by the Fascists' plan for a veterans' "superorganization," began to have second thoughts about the wisdom of any attempt to organize a national veterans group for political purposes.

"To attempt a national association in the beginning," he wrote to the organizer of the American Warriors in Iowa, "would only lead to great financial expense and exploitation of the veterans by chiselling professionals. . . . While it might be possible to find those who would contribute the necessary funds, it would put the veterans under obligation to the contributors."

His fight for the Bonus Bill, and his bare-knuckled attacks against the establishment, led to cancellation of his radio broadcasts as of July 3. A month earlier, when Van Zandt urged him to come to Montana to speak for the soldiers' bonus at a V.F.W. rally there, Butler declined.

"Such a trip would be a very heavy drain on my pocketbook," he explained. "And as long as I am being put off the air for being too noisy in my criticism of this administration and for taking the part of the soldiers, I more or less shall have to conserve my resources."

But he was determined to get the truth as he saw it out to the American people and undertook a new lecture tour that would cover the country. Roosevelt had not been able to get the press to carry his message to the people, so he had turned to national radio. Butler had not been able to get national radio to carry his message, so he turned to town-hall meetings all over America.

On June 12 the American League of Ex-Servicemen asked him to speak at a rally in favor of the bonus with American Labor party Congressman Vito Marcantonio. Butler agreed, with the understanding that he spoke as an individual only, not as a representative of any group. The League adjutant quickly agreed, adding, "Millions of rank-and-file veterans have always looked to you as a champion of their cause in fighting for their rights and to receive justice from the government:"

Meanwhile a vigorous debate was taking place in Congress, sparked by the Nye Committee revelations and the weakness of the League of Nations, over the Ludlow Resolution calling for a national referendum before war could be declared. The resolution failed, but on August 31 Congress passed the First Neutrality Act. It forbade transportation of munitions to any belligerents after the President had declared a state of war to exist between them and authorized the President to prohibit travel by American citizens on the ships of belligerents.

Butler regretted the failure of the Ludlow Resolution to pass, because he saw it as a way to prevent powerful men from making decisions that could drag the country to war. He praised Congress for passing the Neutrality Act, however, believing that it would help take the profits out of war for American munitions-makers, and also make it difficult for them to embroil the United States in a foreign war by stirring passions over Americans lost at sea in naval attacks.

When a book by Senator Huey Long appeared, hopefully called My First Days in the White House, it listed as members of Long's mythical cabinet Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, with Smedley Butler as Secretary of War. On September 15, one week after Long was assassinated, Butler was interviewed in Atlanta. He was asked how he felt about his inclusion in the late senator's proposed cabinet.

Characterizing it as "the greatest compliment ever paid to me," Butler smiled, "I certainly felt in good company."

Asked about his own political ambitions, Butler shrugged, "I'm just a gentleman farmer now." Reporters then asked him to comment on the government's transfer of veterans who had been lobbying for the bonus from Washington to Florida, where some had been killed in a violent hurricane.

"What I'm interested in," Butler replied, "is who approved the order to send them down there. They were in Washington, lobbying or pleading under their constitutional rights, when they were sent down to the sandspits. There are other lobbyists in Washington. Why not deport them, too?"

On October 5, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee invoked an arms embargo against both countries under the Neutrality Act. Although Butler sympathized with Ethiopia, he approved of Congress's determination to keep clear of involvement in any foreign war.

On Armistice Day he spoke to a crowd of ten thousand in Philadelphia at a peace rally held by the Armistice Day Celebration Committee and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Deglamorizing the first war he had fought in, the Spanish-American War, he shouted, "That war was caused by the newspaper propaganda of William Randolph Hearst, and he's been trying to get us into another war ever since. Don't let the man you send to Washington get you into another war ... that is surely coming along." Urging an even stronger neutrality law to keep America at peace, he declared:

My interest in peace is personal. I have three grown sons* and I'll be damned if anybody's going to shoot them! . . .

We pay the farmers in the West not to grow corn. We pay other farmers not to raise hogs . . . not to grow cotton. Let us pay the munitions makers not to make munitions! . . . We must work against war now. Wait until the war drums beat and you'll go half crazy. You'll march up Broad Street and raise Liberty loans to help Europe pay off its debts to the House of Morgan. . . .

The present man in the White House, Mr. Roosevelt, says he will do his utmost to keep us out of war. That language isn't strong enough for us. We want him to say we won't have war!

He told a Y.M.C.A. audience that Mussolini was invading Ethiopia to get oil because the nation was bankrupt:

The only way out for Mussolini is to declare war on somebody. That's the regular way of dealing with such situations.

If this country ever gets busted, you can look for a war in about six months. Before he started it, Mussolini called a conference with England and France ... and he thought he had everybody's permission to go ahead. Diplomacy is reeking with rotten polities. None of the representatives of any of the nations is sincere. I wouldn't trust any of them anywhere.

Interviewed on an N.B.C. radio program, he reported:

After the war I began visiting the veterans' hospitals, where I saw the ghastly, human wreckage of that war.... What right have we to send men away from their homes to be shot? I'd limit the plebiscite to those who are actually going to do the fighting and dying, to the men of military age....

Do you want your son to go? Do you want your son to leave his home and lie down on the ground somewhere on the other side of the world with a bullet in him, cut down like a stalk of wheat? Oh, no, not your son! I've got three sons and I know! I've just come back from a 9,000-mile trip around the country and I know this, too. None of the American men I spoke to want to nominate their sons for the Unknown Soldier of the future!

Seeing the war clouds gathering over Europe, he grew worried that Americans would once again be fed slogans and half-truths to distort their judgment, and fall victims to professional propagandists for those who would urge war in support of one favored country or another. He sensed the President's growing internationalism and joined other liberal pacifists in demanding that Roosevelt stick to implementing the New Deal and steer clear of any foreign adventures.

Addressing the Third U.S. Congress Against War and Fascism in Cleveland on January 3, 1936, he urged strict neutrality:

Every indication points to a second World War.... The nations of Europe and Asia are spending billions of dollars each year in military preparations. . . . These nations are bound to go to war because the men in charge of the governments of some of them have worked their people into a fanatical frame of mind. . . . Now that their people are getting out of control, these so-called leaders must attack some foreign objective if they are to remain in control. With many of them it is a question of a foreign war or being overthrown. None of these dictators is willing to cut his own throat, hence this war. . . .

If we pass a single, tiny thread of help to these leaders gone insane, these same leaders will pull a bigger line after the little one until the rope is so big they can drag us in with it.... When you take sides, you must eventually wind up by taking part. . . .

See that our Congress writes into law a command that no American soldier, sailor or Marine be used for any purpose except to protect the coastline of the United States, and protect his home-and I mean, his home-not an oil well in Iraq, a British investment in China, a sugar plantation in Cuba, a silver mine in Mexico, a glass factory in Japan, an American-owned share of stock in a European factory-in short, not an American investment anywhere except at home! . . . Let Congress say to all foreign investors: "Come on home or let your money stay out of the country-we will not defend it."

As the nation grew increasingly polarized between anti-Fascist interventionists and antiwar isolationists, Butler's uncompromising stand against war was sometimes confused with the right wing propaganda of pro-Fascists who wanted no American help given to the victims of Mussolini and Hitler.

In April, 1936, the Tacoma News-Tribune published an editorial on his antiwar speeches, intimating that he was "credited with fascist leanings." The Olympia, Washington, post of the United Spanish War Veterans immediately passed a resolution protesting this libel. Demanding a retraction, they pointed out, "Less than three years ago he stifled an incipient fascist rebellion in the eastern United States, an accomplishment due solely to his own prompt initiative, thereby demonstrating once more his stalwart Americanism."

While Butler had become an isolationist out of disillusionment with the motives of those who had engineered armed U.S. intervention in other countries, he hated fascism as fervently as he hated war. He warned angrily that the Fascist fifth column in America was so active that one in every five hundred Americans had become "at heart a traitor to democracy."

One of his long-fought crusades ended in triumph in January, 1936, when Congress, under heavy pressure from the nation's veterans aroused by Butler, Senators Patman and Thomas, and the V.F.W. bonus rallies, finally passed the Patman Bonus Bill over Roosevelt's veto.

Many veterans groups now urged him to throw his hat into the presidential race of 1936. A realist, he declined, explaining, "I am too ignorant to be President of the United States and have not a definite plan for curing our present ills. I am doing the best I can to educate myself, but feel that no man should invite others to follow him unless he has a definite objective, and has the course marked out, day by day. I, of course, learned the above from my military life."

He devoted all his energies to keeping America out of the war he saw coming. Preoccupied with writing and speaking against it, as well as reading to learn more about it, he had no time for the theater, radio, or tennis, which he loved and played brilliantly. At the dinner table at home and elsewhere, guests listened to him spellbound in complete silence. He was kept talking so much that he frequently left the table without having had more than a mouthful of food.

A thoroughgoing extrovert, he was not ostensibly an egotist; it simply came naturally to him as a Marine general to be in command of any situation. His children could not recall any gathering at which their father did not hold forth, less because he wanted or needed to, than because he was urged on by a barrage of interested questions. People were fascinated by his views and experiences.

He was not, however, among the honored guests when the American Liberty League, in January, 1936, organized a banquet for two thousand of its members at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The principal speaker was Al Smith.


In his speech Smith warned Americans that they faced a choice between "the pure air of America or the foul breath of Communistic Russia." The New Deal, he charged, was taking the nation into communism. The press, 8o percent anti-Roosevelt, warmly applauded his attack. Militant C.LO. labor leader John L. Lewis growled that Smith had undoubtedly been "well paid" by his present employers for what he had said. New Deal partisans denounced Smith as a tool of Wall Street.

"I just can't understand it," Roosevelt told Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. "All the things we have done in the Federal Government are like the things A1 Smith did as governor of New York. They're the things he would have done as President. . . . What in the world is the matter?"

The American Liberty League banquet marked the opening of their hate campaign of propaganda to defeat the reelection of Roosevelt in 1936. The Scripps-Howard press and its United Press wire service, an exception to the rabidly anti-Roosevelt newspaper chains, rushed to the President's defense.

Following through on Butler's expose, their papers carried a story headlined: "Liberty League Controlled by Owners of $37,000,000,000." Directors of the League were identified as also being directors of U.S. Steel, General Motors, Standard Oil, Chase National Bank, Goodyear Tire, and Mutual Life Insurance Company. Liberal senators joined the attack.

On January 23 Senator Schwellenbach denounced "J. Pierpont Morgan and John J. Raskob and Pierre du Pont and all the rest of these rascals and crooks who control the American Liberty League." Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., pointed out that the League's biggest contributors were the Du Ponts, A. P. Sloan, the Pews, E. T. Weir, Sewell Avery, and John J. Raskob, and declared, "It is not an organization that can be expected to defend the liberty of the masses of the American people. It speaks for the vested interests."

The attacks on the League, plus Roosevelt's reelection in 1936 over its desperate and expensive opposition, destroyed the organization as an effective force of reaction in America. It was disbanded soon afterward with a brief announcement to the press that the purposes for which the League had been formed had been served, and that it was therefore no longer necessary. But affiliates financed by the League, like the Sentinels of the Republic, the Crusaders, and other pro-Fascist and far-right organizations, continued their agitation.

Butler continued to stump the country through 1936 warning against involvement in the coming war he foresaw. He was gratified on February 29 when Congress passed the Second Neutrality Act, amending the original act to prohibit either loans or credits to belligerent nations.

He was disturbed, however, when the Spanish civil war broke out in July. The Neutrality Act imposed a boycott of aid to the Loyalist Government, while it was apparent that Mussolini and Hitler were supplying both money and military assistance to Franco. But by this time Butler was so passionately opposed to the loss of another American soldier on foreign soil, he felt only strict neutrality could prevent it.

He shocked a meeting of the American League Against War and Fascism, which was trying to raise funds for the Loyalists, by asking them, "What the hell is it our business what's going on in Spain? Use common sense or you'll have our boys getting their guts blown out over there. Americans en masse never did a wrong thing. Mind your own business. Have faith in your own country." He considered the argument that Hitler and Mussolini had to be "stopped now before it's too late" the kind of sophistry that had plunged America into World War I with frightening warnings about the Kaiser.

In September he endorsed the candidacy of Representative Vito Marcantonio, of the left-wing American Labor party, for his antiwar, anti-Fascist stand. Butler's detractors assailed this endorsement as "proof' that he was some kind of Red, ignoring the fact that two weeks earlier Roosevelt had accepted the invitation of the A.L.P. to become its candidate, as well as the candidate of the Democratic party.

The growing isolationist movement in America now resulted in more prominence being given to Butler's antiwar speeches in the press. On September 17 when he delivered a slashing attack on war makers before the V.F.W. in Denver, it was carried in part on the wires of the Associated Press:


Gen. Butler and Senator Bone
Warn Veterans of Foreign
Wars of the Future

Men who fought America's foreign wars cheered violently today as a major general and a Senator called warfare "a business racket." Major Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, used blunt language as he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that "war is hell." . . . "But what in the hell are we going to do about it? I've got something for you to do about it. I'm going to tell you in simple language so all of you can understand. Let the world know that hereafter no American soldier is going to leave the shores of this country! . . . Soldiers never leave the country except to protect the moneyed interests."

One enthusiastic veteran who applauded him afterward wrote to President Roosevelt urging Butler's appointment as Secretary of War to replace retiring George H. Dern:

This man is the most popular Military figure with the Vets as a class. Pershing hasn't one tenth of one percent his color and personality. He's a Quaker, and a helluva good one, i.e., not the Hoover type. . . . If you asked him to fill Dern's place, the army and the Republicans would holler but the common people would understand, and so would the rank and file of the veterans. Of course, the slap at Liberty Leaguer Dupont would cost their family's votes. P.S. You won't get many anyhow!

The Du Ponts supplied more grist for Butler's antiwar mill in September, when the Senate Munitions Investigating Committee revealed that the munitions industry, led by the Du Ponts, had sabotaged a League of Nations disarmament conference held at Geneva.

"After the whole conference was over and the munitions people of the world had made the treaty a satisfactory one to themselves," reported Chairman Gerald Nye, "we find that Colonel Simons [of the Du Ponts] is reporting that even the State Department realized, in effect, who controlled the Nation:

On October 19 Butler used his popularity with the dry forces, who remembered him affectionately from the Volstead Act days in Philadelphia, to appeal to the Women's Christian Temperance Union to join the peace movement. Six days later the mood of the nation grew more apprehensive, however, as Hitler and Mussolini signed the Rome-Berlin Axis pact and the following month were joined by Japan, which signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany.

Roosevelt's landslide reelection strengthened his hand against the isolationists, and there were signs that the White House intended to take a tougher stand against the Axis powers. Butler grew increasingly worried that the President might be starting the nation down the road to war.

Speaking at an Armistice Day dinner for veterans, Butler announced firmly that he, with a record of thirty-three years of military service, would never again shoulder arms except in defense of America's own shores.


Attacking congressional attempts to put loopholes in the Neutrality Act, Butler warned in a subsequent speech that once the United States was lured into shipping supplies to a belligerent,

Americans would soon hear the old cry-"the American flag insulted, American property destroyed . . . same old thing over again, just as it was in the World War." America, he said, best served itself and the world by staying at peace:

Help them to bind up the wounds when the distressed world has fought itself to exhaustion and has overthrown its false and selfish leaders. I am firmly convinced that every government which hurls its loyal but dumb masses into this coming war will be overthrown, win or lose. I am also firmly convinced that another universal war will make man into a savage, ready to take by force what he wants, law or no law.

His tone grew acrid and resentful when Roosevelt won congressional consent to amending the Neutrality Act in May, 1937, authorizing the sale to belligerents of some commodities on a cash-and-carry basis. Since a national poll showed that 73 percent of Americans favored some kind of popular referendum before the United States could declare war, Butler felt that the President was ignoring the will of the people and seeking to tie their fate to that of England and France.

On July 12 he warned a thousand veterans at Paterson, New Jersey, that unless the nation's veterans banded together to demand peace, America would be at war again in a short time. He urged them to demand that U.S. armed forces be kept within their own borders and that the use of the American flag be restricted to government-owned ships.

Speaking to a Writers' Union meeting in Philadelphia, he described how the United States might be dragged into the next European war. A European ship would stop a U.S. ship carrying munitions to a potential enemy. The American captain would radio William Randolph Hearst that the flag had been insulted. Orators would begin demanding that Americans avenge the insult. Ministers would discover that they were "transmitters from God" and encourage a holy crusade. Arms manufacturers would bring pressure to bear on Washington. And we would go to war.

A July speech he made to the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville was broadcast:

Wars do not occur. They are made by men. . . . There will never be a congressional investigation into the steps taken or the methods adopted which saves us from a war.... Lying propaganda is almost certainly necessary to bring nations to the pitch where men kill and women give their men and boys to be killed. . . .

The object of war is to get something for nothing. . . . When we have announced what we intend to defend, let us put our national flag over it and forbid the flying of our flag over anything else; then we will avoid insults to our flag, the most popular cause for our wars.... We Americans who love and protect our flag should certainly have a voice in where it is flown.

With Japanese troops sweeping through China and seizing the coastal cities, Butler addressed the V.F.W. convention in September urging that all American forces be withdrawn from China. Three months later Japanese airmen sank the U.S. gunboat Panay in Chinese waters. A poll showed that 53 percent of Americans agreed with Butler's demand for withdrawal of all United States forces. But instead Washington demanded indemnity from Tokyo.

Butler was convinced that a continued American presence in Asia could only lead to eventual war with an aggressive Japan bent on becoming the dominant power in the Orient. He saw confirmation of his belief that war was a business racket when Washington continued to permit American corporations to sell scrap iron and oil to Tokyo for its war machine. He also knew that there were over two billion dollars in American investments in Germany, which was being goaded by British diplomacy into attacking the Soviet Union.

If these facts seemed to him more immediately menacing than the steadily escalating aggression of the Axis powers, he was not alone among liberal and left-wing Americans in this myopia. In January, 1938, John Chamberlain, Alfred M. Bingham, Dwight MacDonald, Bertrand Wolfe, and Sidney Hook were among those who opposed any strong action against Japan, or any of the other Axis powers, arguing, "We believe that the first result of another War to Make the World Safe for Democracy will be the establishment of virtual fascism in this country."

By now the country was almost evenly divided between isolationists and those who advocated anti-Fascist alliances. In late January Roosevelt asked Congress for appropriations to build up the Army and Navy for "national defense."

Interviewed on February 28, 1938, on a national radio program, Butler had strong doubts about F.D.R.'s plans:

Now is the time to keep our heads better than we ever kept them before. . . . We ought to agree on a definition of the word "national." If it means defense by our Army and Navy of every dollar and American person anywhere they may happen to be on the surface of the earth, then, just as sure as I'm standing here, we'll be fighting a foreign war.

He was asked how long he estimated it would take to train a man to fight. "Well," he replied, "if you want to send him three thousand miles away to fight, at least six months' training will be needed. If he was defending his home, it would take about an hour."


On April 9 Butler was called to testify before the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs on a billion-dollar naval construction bill. Urging defeat of the bill, he called it unnecessary for the real defense of the United States. In the event of war, he told the committee, he favored abandoning Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The Canal, he asserted, could be destroyed by "a handful of bombs." He also insisted that all mercantile ships operated for profit should fly commercial flags, not the American flag.

He explained that since his retirement he had visited twelve hundred cities and towns and "talked to all 'kinds of people in all parts of the country." He said, "I have a feeling that this bill does not represent a consensus of opinion among naval officers. I have a feeling that it is a grand bluff. Furthermore, I believe that the American people will turn against this bill before any of the keels provided are laid. I cannot prove it, but I believe it is proposed for the purpose of doing somebody else's business."

He bad used up fifteen years of his life, he growled, "going about the world guarding Standard Oil tins" and had participated in twelve expeditions outside the United States which he considered missions largely in the interest of Wall Street. "The whole thing is a racket," he added, "and the American people are going to catch up with it."

The committee chairman asked if he considered the existing Navy adequate to defend the continental United States. He did, he replied, and hoped that Congress would fix a defense line beyond which the Navy would not be allowed to operate.

"Suppose Japan tried to invade the United States?"

Her forces would be so weak by the time they reached the Pacific Coast, Butler replied, that "we could knock her over with a feather." He recommended a force of twenty-thousand-ton battleships that would hug the coasts and, with the aid of submarines, aircraft, and coastal defenses, would be able to stand off any hostile forces that came within striking distance.

"I am a friend of the Navy," he declared, "and I have an anchor tattooed on my chest, but if we go to building up the Navy as proposed in the bill, and loading down the people with the cost of it, the people will turn on the Navy as they did in the eighties, and not a ship will be able to leave port, for there just won't be a dollar appropriated for the Navy."

He was joined in opposing the Navy construction bill by eighteen peace organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Conference on World Peace of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Council for the Prevention of War, the Church Peace Union, and the National Student Federation. But Congress turned a deaf ear, and in May it passed the Naval Construction Act, authorizing a billion-dollar expansion program.

Butler's raging hatred of war led him into the same errors of judgment that ensnared the isolationists of America. Like them, he approved of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's efforts to buy "peace in our time" at Munich. Confident that the Nazis could not get through the French Maginot line, he also believed that every Frenchman would fight fiercely to protect his own plot of land against any invasion.

The Stalin-Hitler nonaggression pact of August 23, 1939, fol-lowed by the invasion of Poland, made it clear that the world was tottering on the verge of another great war. On August 31 Butler joined Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., in appeals to keep America out of it, at a V.F.W. convention in Boston.

"There are only two things for which Americans should be permitted to fight," Butler shouted over the whistles and cheers of veterans. "Defense of home and the Bill of Rights. Not a single drop of American blood should ever again be spilled on foreign soil. Let's build up a national defense so tight that even a rat couldn't crawl through!"

Three days later Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. On the same day the British passenger liner Athenia was torpedoed and sunk without warning off the Hebrides, drowning thirty American passengers. That night, in a fireside radio chat to the American people, Roosevelt declared, "This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well."

In November Congress passed a new neutrality act that legalized the sale of munitions to belligerent nations on a cash-and-carry basis. The news filled Butler with dismay.

"This country," he protested, "did not have one solitary blessed thing to do with the making of this mess over there, and there is no possible sane and logical reason why we should feel any impulse to take a hand in it."


A spiteful rumor that Butler had become a spokesman for Father Coughlin's Christian Front led some Jewish groups to threaten cancellation of speeches he was scheduled to make to them in November.

"I couldn't believe there was a word of truth in this," wrote Mildred Smith, executive secretary of the Open Forum Speakers Bureau, "but I dared not say an official `no' without direct word from you on this matter."

He wired back indignantly, "Have never spoken for the Christian Front. I am a Quaker and am preaching tolerance and am not connected nor will I have anything to do with any movement or organization advocating intolerance or the entrance of this country into any foreign war."

His hatred for war did not cause any diminution in his hatred for fascism, but he refused to sanction one to fight the other except in absolute self-defense. Once he was visited by a female cousin who had married a German and brimmed over with praise for the Nazis. Butler's face grew taut as she babbled on, but he said nothing until it was time to say good-bye.

Unable to contain himself any longer, he rasped at the door, "Nellie, if Hitler comes over here, thee can be sure I will be on the beach at Atlantic City to kick the everlasting hell out of him!"

His taste in books increasingly reflected both his antiwar and his anti-Fascist convictions. In his library during his last years were Sawdust Caesar, by George Seldes, The Road to War, by Walter Millis, and Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. Europe Under the Terror, by John L. Spivak, was inscribed to him as "one of the best fighters against Fascism in the country, with the respect and admiration of J.L.S."

In 1939 he wrote an antiwar piece for a book edited by Paul Comly French, Common Sense Neutrality-Mobilizing for Peace. Sharing the covers with him were such contributors as Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles A. Beard, Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, Senator William Borah, Norman Thomas, Sumner Welles, Herbert Hoover, Senator Robert La Follette, Jr., John L. Lewis, and Elliot Roosevelt.

But as the Nazis swept through Belgium and the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, bypassing the Maginot line and imperiling France, millions of Americans grew alarmed. A Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies was organized by William Allen White to rout the isolationists.

In a mood of black despair Butler delivered his last antiwar speech on May 24 at Temple University. Hating Hitler and Nazism, he nevertheless could not shake off the dread specter of one or two million dead American youths strewn over Europe's battlefields. He decried fears of a German invasion of the United States as alarmist, playing into the hands of war profiteers.

From the comfortable vantage of hindsight, it is easy to fault Smedley Butler as having been woefully shortsighted in his stubborn view that the best interests of Americans were served by persisting in a policy of neutrality. But thirty years in uniform, seeing active service in every war and campaign since the Spanish-American War, had convinced him that war was nothing but a cruel and bloody swindle of the people.

His suspicions were not eased by observing industrialists and bankers entering trade cartels with America's potential enemies, Germany, Italy, and Japan, while U.S. arms manufacturers made huge profits selling munitions to both sides and pressed Congress to spend new billions on "defense" to keep up with the "arms race" they themselves had promoted.

In his disillusionment he saw little difference between World War I and World War II. Ever since he had been a starry-eyed Marine recruit of sixteen, American administrations had persistently cried wolf in order to use him and the youths under him in order to protect and augment foreign investments wrapped in the flag. It was now impossible for him to believe that the shouts of wolf he heard once more any more genuine than all those he had heard at regular intervals since 1898.

Worn out by his strenuous speaking tours, discouraged as he saw the United States slipping step by step into another bloodbath, be fell ill with exhaustion. His doctor ordered him to enter the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia for a rest and examination.

"As soon as I get out," he promised Ethel Bitter, "I am going to take thee to Europe for the vacation I've never managed to find time for. Thee deserves it for thy patience!"

During his four weeks in the hospital, however, lie lost weight rapidly and guessed that his ailment was more serious than the doctors were letting him know.

On June 10 Italy declared war on Britain and France. Roosevelt promptly called for "full speed ahead" in the promotion of national defense and for the extension of material aid to "opponents of' force." The next day Congress voted another $3.2 billion in military appropriations.

On June 14 Butler's gloom plunged to new depths when Germany invaded France unopposed. Four days later Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, asked Congress for a two-ocean navy in a $4-billion expansion program.

During a visit by his son Smedley, Jr., Butler reflected glumly on the futility of his long fight to keep his country from getting involved in another war. "I think," he said ruefully, "that I should have stayed with my own kind." He meant Quakers and Marines, rather than politicians.

On June 21, 1940, hours before France was scheduled to surrender officially to Adolf Hitler, Smedley Darlington Butler died in the hospital of an abdominal ailment suspected to be cancer.


Although the paths of President Roosevelt and Smedley Butler had diverged sharply over the questions of war and peace, the President sent a wire to Ethel Butler: "I grieve to hear of Smedley's passing. I shall always remember the old days in Haiti. My heart goes out to you and the family in this great sorrow."

Among others who sent condolences were former Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, then ambassador to Mexico, and Major General Thomas Holcomb, commandant of the Marine Corps. A simple funeral service was held at the Butler home in Newtown Square, followed by burial in West Chester, with attendance limited to close friends and immediate members of the family. Ethel Butler knew that elaborate formal ceremonies would be a violation of the principles of her husband, who had always detested phony pomp and circumstance.

The general who could have had all the wealth and power he wanted as dictator of the United States died leaving an estate that totaled two thousand dollars.

The New York Times now hailed him as "one of the most glamorous and gallant men who ever wore the uniform of the United States Marine Corps.... a brave man and an able leader of troops.... He laughed at danger, and he set an example to his men that helped them to carry out the traditions of the Marine Corps." Calling him also "often a storm center," the Times added, "It was when he ventured into public affairs that his impetuosity led him into trouble."

In an editorial obituary on June 23 the New York Herald Tribune had no cautious reservations:

It is as a great "leatherneck" that Gen. Smedley D. Butler will be remembered. He was an admirable officer, as tough in his speech as in the fiber of his body and soul. He came of Quaker ancestry, but no Quaker more dearly loved to be belligerent. . . . Because he was utterly unafraid, brave and unselfish, he earned the characterization of being the ideal American soldier, and, to use the words of an official citation of the Navy Department, of being "one of the most brilliant officers in the United States."

Thirty years later Tom Dick Butler told me wistfully, "Dad's experiences were an important part of our lives. He was always `where it was at.' We miss him tremendously."

When the war that Smedley Butler had dreaded and sought to prevent came to his country out of the clouds over Pearl Harbor, eighteen months after his death, an American destroyer was named the U.S.S. Butler in his honor. Converted to a high-speed minesweeper, it saw distinguished service during the war.

That would not have seemed inappropriate to the fighting hero who hated war as a racket, yet who had once declared, "I am a peace-loving Quaker, but when war breaks out every damn man in my family goes." Both his sons entered the service, Smedley, Jr. in the Marines, Tom Dick in the Navy.

A hell-for-leather Marine officer who drove himself as hard as his men, he had won their enthusiastic admiration and loyalty. He, in turn, had been passionately and stubbornly devoted to them, in service and out of it. Former Marine Commandant David M. Shoup, who served under Butler in China, told me that he and all the men in the command had respected Butler as "one helluva fine soldier."

During World War II Butler's old newspaper friend, E. Z. Dimitman, interviewed Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific as a war correspondent. Noting a resemblance between MacArthur's commander of the 32d Division, General Robert L. Eichelberger, and Old Gimlet Eye, Dimitman mentioned it to MacArthur and suggested that Eichelberger might prove another Butler.

"Never in a million years," MacArthur replied emphatically. "There's only one Butler. He was one of the really great generals in American history."


Although Butler may have been the first high-ranking Marine Corps general to challenge establishment policies, he was not the last. Significantly, as early as January, 1966, another distinguished Marine general, former Commandant David M. Shoup, went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to warn the American people that President Lyndon B. Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam was a tragic mistake.

It might also be noted that before the explosion of the Pentagon Papers, two Marine Corps colonels wrote books denouncing the intervention in Vietnam as genocide against a people caught up in a civil war, in support of a corrupt Saigon dictatorship.

Perhaps the elite fighting team of the United States produces high-ranking dissenters like Butler, Shoup, and the two colonels because many men who choose careers as Marine Corps officers tend to be strongly motivated by patriotism and idealism. When there is an American military intervention overseas, it is usually the Marines who spearhead it, do the fighting, get an accurate picture of the real situation, and observe who is being politically supported or suppressed, and why.

All too often these officers have been disillusioned by the use of the Marines to suppress social change in small countries, on behalf of dictators, an elite military and business class, and American commercial interests. This realization outrages their idealism. They resent the expenditure of the lives of Marines under them for sordid motives in power games of dollar diplomacy and international politics.

Hence the most intelligent and high-principled Marine staff officers may become the bitterest critics of American administrations that misuse the Corps. The war records, motivation, and integrity of such generals as Butler and Shoup make it impossible to dismiss their testimony expressing dismay at the way United States expeditionary forces have been deployed in the name of national defense.

Although Butler had considered himself basically a pacifist who hated war, he had placed duty to his country above all other considerations and had spent thirty-three years of his life carrying out orders to defend it. His gradual disillusionment with those orders, and the men who gave them, had led him to speak out abrasively against the use of the military on behalf of American vested interests.

No matter whose corns he trod on, or the cost to his career, he had habitually said and did what he thought right. His bluntness had made him unpopular with some Presidents, Secretaries of State and Navy, and the highest-ranking generals and admirals in Washington, who considered him a military firebrand as irrepressible as Generals Billy Mitchell and George S. Patton. But it was just this quality in Butler that had given him the courage and integrity to face public ridicule to expose, in the name of service to his country, what John L. Spivak called "one of the most fantastic plots in American history."

"What was behind the plot was shrouded in a silence which has not been broken to this day," Spivak wrote. "Even a generation later, those who are still alive and know all the facts have kept their silence so well that the conspiracy is not even a footnote in American histories. It would be regrettable if historians neglected this episode and future generations of Americans never heard of it."

In 1964 Speaker of the House John W. McCormack referred to the plot in his speech before the Democratic convention in Atlantic City, when he warned against right-wing extremists in the Barry Goldwater camp. But he did not give any details, and only a knowledgeable handful of Americans understood the full implications of what he was talking about.

The conspiracy unquestionably inspired the novel Seven Days in May, made into a successful film, which portrayed a Fascist plot by high-placed American conspirators to capture the White House and establish a military dictatorship under the pretext of saving the nation from communism. Few of the millions of Americans who read the novel or saw the film suspected that it had a solid basis in fact.

It would seem time that school textbooks in America were revised to acknowledge our debt to the almost forgotten hero who thwarted the conspiracy to end democratic government in America.

If we remember Major General Smedley Darlington Butler for nothing else, we owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for spurning the chance to become dictator of the United States-and for making damned sure no one else did either.

*The hearings were probably held in New York rather than in Washington because the committee at the same time was investigating Communist infiltration in the fur unions of that city.

*He included his son-in-law, John Wehle.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information ClearingHouse endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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