Smedley Butler was born on July the 30th, 1881, in Pennsylvania. Before he was 17-years old he left school to enlist in the Marine Corps during the Spanish – American war.
He served in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti (earning his Medals of Honor in Mexico and Haiti). He was known to be a great leader, and he managed to become one of the youngest major generals at the age of 48.
With years, he became one of the most beloved military leaders in American history. Teddy Roosevelt called him, “The finest fighting man in America”.
He was one of four Americans ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He was always committed to the welfare of the men under his command and soldiers loved him. He made many enemies during his career, however, he was an unparalleled leader of the rank-and-file soldier.
In the mid-1920s he was “loaned out” from the Marines to the state of Philadelphia, where he ran the police and tried to enforce Prohibition. He drunk alcohol himself, but when he took up the Prohibition cause he never drank again.
At the end of his career, he had very radical opinions about the issue of foreign wars. He called war a racket, and opposed to the imperialist aspect of the U.S. foreign interventions, claiming that foreign interventions were self-serving acts, which lined the pockets of the rich. He even ran for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania as a Republican.
He began his anti-imperialist campaign by speaking at Communist rallies and at other organizations, not because he was communist, or because that he read radical literature, but from his experiences. He accused the European “conquerors” of becoming drunk with power.
He spoke about the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and the incident caused by him when he killed a child with his car in the countryside. Mussolini passed off his hit and run incident with the observation that one life was insignificant when compared to the affairs of state.
Because of his comments, Butler was arrested and court-martialed by Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, and he was told to apologize publicly. He refused to apologize to Mussolini and he decided to retire.
After his retirement, Butler gave speeches to veterans groups and he was a big hit on the talk circuit. He was very popular and veterans groups lionized him.
The real heroism story about him starts when he retired. In 1933, A Wall Street bond salesman Gerald MacGuire approached Butler with a proposal for him. He said to him that he was acting as a front man for wealthy industrialists and bankers, and offered Butler the chance to become the American Legion’s national commander.
If he accepted the offer he would have the loyalty of 500,000 veterans and up to $300 million of funding made available by the bankers and industrialists. Their mission would be to take over the White House.
MacGuire told Butler that the same people controlled the media and that would help for the public to easily swallow the story that they were about to tell. They wanted to install a fascist government and Butler would be America’s Hitler.
Apparently, they had the money, but they weren’t that smart when they approached Butler with this proposal. They picked the wrong man; Butler didn’t like Mussolini and he didn’t like fascism. Butler didn’t say anything and he decided to play the game and try to find out more about them. He even contacted Philadelphia Record reporter Paul French and asked him for help.
He gathered all the information he could and went straight to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1934 and told them everything he knew.
Apart for the name of MacGuire, Butler gave the names of John Davis and Al Smith, who were former presidential contenders, and Grayson Murphy, who was a co-founder of the American Legion, a board member of organizations such as Morgan Bank, Goodyear and Bethlehem Steel, and MacGuire’s boss.
The money they had helped them to swept the affair under the carpet. Butler didn’t give up and he went public, but he found out that they controlled the media as they told him before and he was ignored and slammed.