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August 08, 2004

The Corporation, STARRING Smedley Butler

I recently went to see The Corporation. My only criticism: it wasn't long enough.

Ha ha! Seriously, it's a great movie, despite the fact that after some audience members starved to death the rest of us had to eat them to survive.

So you should definitely see it if you haven't already. Besides the barrage of useful information it contains, anyone should be encouraged just that a movie like this is reaching a large audience. I saw it in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the theater was 70% full.

My favorite part was the footage of Smedley Butler they dug up. If you've heard of Butler to begin with, you probably know he was a famous Marine Corps general who vociferously denounced US foreign policy after his retirement -- most famously in his speech "War is a Racket":

War is just a racket...

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...

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

But even if you know the famous Butler quotes, you may not know that in 1933 he helped stop an attempted fascist overthrow of the Roosevelt administration by various corporate interests. The movie focuses on this, which I appreciated. I clearly remember thinking, when I first read about this (in Nicholas von Hoffman's book Make Believe Presidents): How'd they leave THAT out of my high school history class? And... what ELSE did they leave out? A good summary of the coup attempt is here.

So beyond what Butler did, what history did to him is also quite instructive. In the first third of the 1900s, he was as as famous as Douglas MacArthur. Yet for some reason Butler has somehow dropped out of mainstream historical memory, while MacArthur remains. I grew up half a mile from a road named MacArthur Boulevard, but you could look long and hard without finding any roads named after Butler.

Interestingly, where Butler is remembered is in Latin America. My uncle, who lived all over Latin America during the fifties and sixties, told me that even then Butler was so feared that Latin American mothers sometimes used Smedley Butler as the Boogeyman. "Go to sleep," they'd say to their children, "or Smedley Butler will come and get you."

Posted at August 8, 2004 02:16 PM | TrackBack

I think that movie was born to become a 3 or 4 part educational TV mini-series. Probably only on PBS and in Canada. Maybe in a few high school classrooms.

Posted by: Jake at August 10, 2004 07:40 PM

It already It aired as a three part series on some Canadian TV channel whose name I can't remember.

Posted by: Scats at August 17, 2004 12:54 AM