A groundbreaking journey tracing America’s forgotten path to global power—and how its legacies shape our world today—told through the extraordinary life of a complicated Marine.
"The book is far more extraordinary than even the life of Smedley Butler... a compelling and insightful meditation on the trauma people still feel as a result of Butler’s career and the American ambitions it represented."
—The Washington Post
Smedley Butler was the most celebrated warfighter of his time. Bestselling books were written about him. Hollywood adored him. Wherever the flag went, “The Fighting Quaker” went—serving in nearly every major overseas conflict from the Spanish War of 1898 until the eve of World War II. From his first days as a 16-year-old recruit at the newly seized Guantánamo Bay, he blazed a path for empire: helping annex the Philippines and the land for the Panama Canal, leading troops in China (twice), and helping invade and occupy Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Mexico, and more. Yet in retirement, Butler turned into a warrior against war, imperialism, and big business, declaring: “I was a racketeer for capitalism."
Award-winning author Jonathan Myerson Katz traveled across the world—from China to Guantánamo, the mountains of Haiti to the Panama Canal—and pored over the personal letters of Butler, his fellow Marines, and his Quaker family on Philadelphia's Main Line. Along the way, Katz shows how the consequences of the Marines' actions are still very much alive: talking politics with a Sandinista commander in Nicaragua, getting a martial arts lesson from a devotee of the Boxer Rebellion in China, and getting cast as a P.O.W. extra in a Filipino movie about their American War. Tracing a path from the first wave of U.S. overseas expansionism to the rise of fascism in the 1930s to the crises of democracy in our own time, Gangsters of Capitalism tells an urgent story about a formative era most Americans have never learned about, but that the rest of the world cannot forget.
Journalist Katz (The Big Truck That Went By) delivers a searing and well-documented portrait of early 20th-century U.S. imperialism focused on the career of U.S. Marine Corps major general Smedley D. Butler (1881 1940). Contending that American military actions served the interests of U.S. business and financial institutions, often with dire effects on local people, Katz provides the geopolitical context behind interventions in China, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and visits each location to document the legacy of U.S. interference. He describes the terror campaign waged against residents of the Philippine island of Samar in retaliation for a 1901 insurgent attack that killed 48 U.S. soldiers, and notes that people still celebrate the uprising and mourn their forebears' deaths in annual commemorations. In the Caribbean and Central America, Marines helped to install puppet leaders and organized militarized police forces who oppressed the people and smoothed the way for U.S. profiteers. All of these interventions were presented to the American people as heroic assistance for the development of people not ready to govern themselves, Katz notes. Butler's evolution from the naive son of a prominent Quaker family who lied about his age to enlist in 1898 to a highly decorated major general whose 1935 book, War Is a Racket, condemned the antidemocratic actions he helped carry out provides the history's intriguing through line. The result is an eye-opening portrait of American hubris.
Book of the Year!
Should be required reading at every military academy and veterans hall. General Butler was a major player and witness to the brutality of war and it’s aftermath. His eventual epiphany to those who benefitted from waging war and the economics that perpetuates it is brilliantly weaved in the past and present by Mr. Katz.