FREE SPEECH FRIDAY: Honoring an American Hero


“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.”

— General Smedley Darlington Butler

On this Veteran’s Day, I’d like to remember one of America’s most decorated veterans, Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler. He was one of 19 men to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice. He was also one of America’s bravest truth-tellers, author of the 1935 classic War is a Racket. This book is available in digital form on Amazon for 99 cents.

Butler participated in American military actions in several countries, including the first World War. He did not become outspoken until after his retirement. One of his most controversial actions was coming to Congress with information about the so-called Business Plot, a conspiracy to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt and replace him with a military dictator. All the alleged conspirators denied it, of course, but a Congressional committee verified at least some of his testimony.

I highly recommend reading Butler’s book. It’s quite short and can be read in a few hours. Though written shortly before WWII, it nevertheless seems to mirror current events, as Butler writes about all the extravagant profits earned by various “patriotic” industries, from steel to leather (for cavalry saddles.) He also condemns the use of the US military as an enforcer for corporate interests in other nations, such as United Fruit Company’s abusive, monopolistic practices in Central America.

Butler didn’t live to see the second World War that he was warning the nation about. He died of cancer in 1940 at the age of 58. Besides “War is a Racket”, he wrote books about military actions in Mexico and Paraguay. Some of his speeches and letters have also been compiled and published. One of his co-authors was Arthur J. Burks, a marine colonel and a fascinating character in his own right. Burks wrote numerous books and stories in the adventure, detective, and sci-fi genres.

If you’re an admirer of Smedley Butler, you’ll enjoy my political sci-fi novel Centrifugal Force, because he’s mentioned in it.

On Memorial Day, Honor the Heroes of Peace

This Memorial Day, I want to say thanks to a different kind of veteran. This is not a generic, blanket commendation to those who participated in US wars, most of which (since 1945, anyway) had very little to do with “freedom.” Instead, I wish to thank those that risked their reputations, careers and personal freedom to reveal war crimes, blow the whistle on wrongdoing, or refuse to participate in illegal military actions. In addition, I thank those who, after having served in the military, have spoken out to denounce the unnecessary death and suffering caused by US foreign policy.

The first veteran I wish to honor served in World War I and numerous US foreign interventions: Major General Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated man in the history of the US Marine Corps. In 1935, after his retirement, he wrote a book called War is a Racket, which was highly critical of US foreign policy. He supported veterans in the “Bonus Army” in their 1932 march on Washington and refused to participate in the 1933 “Business Plot” in which wealthy businessmen conspired to overthrow FDR in a fascist coup. I pay homage to Butler in my novel Centrifugal Force, in which a group of rebellious veterans, with grievances similar to those of the real-life Bonus Army, call themselves the “Smedley Butler Brigade.”

Next is a man with whom most of you are probably familiar: retired Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. Paul, who is also a medical doctor, served as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force from 1963-1965 and then in the Air National Guard for another three years. During his years in the US House of Representatives, Dr. Paul was an outspoken critic of US foreign intervention. After the 9/11 attacks, he was one of the few Republicans who did not jump on the Afghan War bandwagon, insisting that the pursuit of Osama bin Laden should be a matter of international law enforcement and not a cause for military conquest. He refused to support the illegal Iraq War or the inhumane sanctions on Iran, and probably could have become President if he had compromised. Today he continues the fight for a just foreign policy through the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Finally I wish to honor a man who has been much maligned: former US Army Private Bradley Manning, who languishes in prison for the alleged crime of giving classified material to the website Wikileaks. Notable among these materials is the “Collateral Murder” video, which shows US helicopter pilots in Iraq gunning down unarmed civilians, including journalists. Though none of the materials subsequently released by Wikileaks has endangered American military personnel in any specific way, Manning was of course arrested and stripped of his rank. In the intervening years, the government has subjected him to unbelievably harsh treatment, including solitary confinement. The media has also attacked him, minimizing his heroic actions by calling him “unstable” and by calling attention to his homosexuality. He is still awaiting trial. Patriotic Americans who realize that Manning is not a traitor but a hero for opposing US government war crimes (which endanger us all by inspiring terrorists around the world) should contact the Bradley Manning Support Network.

These men are only three of the many veterans who not only served in the military, but maintained the capability for independent thought. They acted on the strength of their convictions, in defiance of the jingoistic herd mentality that surrounded them. This is the true spirit of America – not unthinking obedience, but an unswerving dedication to the ideals of freedom, justice, and peace.