Jonathan Katz on ‘Gangsters of Capitalism’

Listen 49:26
(Macmillan, photo credit Jamelle Bouie)

(Macmillan, photo credit Jamelle Bouie)

A two-time Medal of Honor winner, General Smedley Butler went from spreading American imperialism in the early 20th century to places like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, to despising it.

Smedley, born into a prominent Main Line Quaker family outside Philadelphia, was a celebrated Marine General during the height of American expansion, but became disillusioned later in life with the use of America’s military might. He became an outspoken antiwar activist, explaining, “I was a racketeer for capitalism,” serving the interests bankers and big business during his military service.

Foreign correspondent JONATHAN KATZ tells Smedley’s fascinating story and his evolution in his book, Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. We’ll talk with Katz about this complicated man and America’s history of imperialism. We’ll also talk including Butler’s time as head of the Philadelphia police force and about a forgotten episode in our history when business leaders tried to recruit him to lead a fascist coup to overthrow the U.S. government.

We recommend

The New York Times, Why Would a Marine Call Himself a ‘Racketeer for Capitalism’? – “General Butler and his fellow Marines were deployed in much the same way drones are today — a tool for presidents to quietly kill and meddle in other countries without having to commit large contingents of ground forces. And kill they did.”

The Washington Post, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler: A Marine hero who saw himself as a ‘racketeer for capitalism’ – “Posted in Nicaragua to defend U.S. mining interests, he wrote, “This is a d—-d fool expedition . . . inspired and financed by Americans who have wild cat investments down here and want to make them good by putting in a Government which will declare a monopoly in their favor.”

Rolling Stone, The Plot Against American Democracy That Isn’t Taught in Schools – In an excerpt from Gangsters of Capitalism, Jonathan M. Katz details how the authors of the Depression-era “Business Plot” aimed to take power away from FDR and stop his “socialist” New Deal

Subscribe for more Radio Times

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal