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Butler, Smedley

Butler, Smedley (1881–1940), Marine officer, antiwar crusader.Born into an old Pennsylvania Quaker family, Butler nevertheless joined the Marines as a lieutenant when the Spanish‐American War broke out in 1898. The campaigned in expeditions and military occupations from 1898 onward, spanning the transition from colonial punitive warfare to mediatory peacekeeping: Cuba, the Philippines (1899, 1905–07), China (1900), Honduras (1903), Panama (1903, 1909–14), Nicaragua (1910–12), Mexico (1914), Haiti (1915–18), France (1917–18), and finally China again as commander of the Marine peacekeeping force (1927–29). Winner of two Congressional Medals of Honor, “Old Gimlet‐Eye,” as he was called, promoted a warrior‐style Marine Corps mystique of physical stridency and anti‐intellectual egalitarianism, contrary to contemporary trends toward elitist, bookish professionalism.

Drawing upon his experience organizing colonial constabularies, Butler attempted to militarize Philadelphia's police force as its director (1924–25) during the Prohibition era, and became a leading proponent of national paramilitary police reform in the late twenties and early thirties. After premature retirement from the Marines as a major general in 1931, he renounced war and imperialism, becoming the most prominent leader of the formidable veterans' antiwar movement during the isolationist era of the mid‐ and late 1930s.
[See also Marine Corps, U.S.: 1865–1914 and 1914–45.]


Smedley D. Butler , War Is a Racket, 1935.
Hans Schmidt , Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, 1987.

Hans R. Schmidt

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