Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Maverick Marine

Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History

Hans Schmidt
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Maverick Marine
    Book Description:

    Smedley Butler's life and career epitomize the contradictory nature of American military policy through the first part of this century. Butler won renown as a Marine battlefield hero, campaigning in most of America's foreign military expeditions from 1898 to the late 1920s. He became the leading national advocate for paramilitary police reform. Upon his retirement, however, he renounced war and imperialism and devoted his energy and prestige to various dissident and leftist political causes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4625-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    Smedley D. Butler, impetuous, politically enterprising, a celebrated combat hero, campaigned in American military expeditions from 1898 onward—in Cuba, the Philippines, China, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, France, and finally China again in the late 1920s. The “stormy petrel” of the Marine Corps, especially in his willful flouting of bureaucracy, he evoked the warrior style of courageous manly defiance. He promoted a new Marine Corps mystique emphasizing physical stridency and egalitarian anti-intellectualism, at odds with the current trend to elitist, bookish professionalism in the officer corps. Winner of two Congressional Medals of Honor and other battlefield distinctions, Butler was...

  5. 2 The Boy Officer: CUBA, THE PHILIPPINES
    (pp. 6-13)

    Smedley Darlington Butler, swept up in enthusiasm for the Cuban war, volunteered for the Marine Corps in the spring of 1898. At sixteen he was two years underage and callow for an officer recruit. His way was eased by family political connections firmly rooted in the history of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where his ancestors included three prominent Quaker families, the Smedleys, Darlingtons, and Butlers. The Butlers traced their American origins to Noble Butler, who landed in William Penn’s colony about 1710. Over the years, the families attained substantial means, prestige, and influence in local affairs as successful farmers, lawyers, and...

  6. 3 The Teenage Hero: CHINA
    (pp. 14-26)

    The international fleet disgorging troops at Taku Bar was an extraordinary spectacle. The Great Powers strained their military resources in common effort, while elsewhere they vied with each other in quest of empire, their rival imperialisms fired by jingoistic nationalism. Allied intervention in China contrasted strangely with the contemporary crises in Venezuela, the Upper Nile, the Philippines, Manchuria, Panama, and the Balkans. These same armies, now joined in tenuous alliance to share death, glory, hardship, and loot on the plains of North China, would fourteen years later direct their full fury against each other.

    Two days before Butler’s arrival, the...

    (pp. 27-37)

    Wasted from his bout with typhoid during the three-week cruise from Taku to Manila on theBrooklyn,Buder spent a month in the sweltering naval hospital at Cavite and was finally sent home in late November 1900. His parents made the long train trip across the country to meet him in San Francisco. The subsequent homecoming in West Chester, where local newspapers had been avidly reporting his adventures, was celebrated by a public reception sponsored by the local Grand Army of the Republic. A few days later the town of West Chester hosted another reception, graced by the secretary of...

  8. 5 The American Kitchener: NICARAGUA
    (pp. 38-57)

    In November 1909 Butler took command of the Panama battalion, which shipped out from Philadelphia for the Canal Zone, crossing over immediately to Balboa on the Pacific side to board the transportBuffolo.The strategic function of the mobile Panama battalion, which Butler commanded until the opening of the canal in 1914, was to be ready on alert for expeditionary duty up either coast of Central America.

    This entailed three successive missions to Nicaragua—Smedley dubbed them the “Punic Wars”¹—which greatly furthered his experience in colonial warfare and international politics. As a young field-grade officer with irrepressible zeal and...

  9. 6 The Spy: PANAMA, MEXICO
    (pp. 58-73)

    Returning to Panama in late November 1912, Butler put his battalion back into camp and then left on seven weeks’ home leave to rejoin Ethel and the two children for Christmas at West Chester. The family sailed back to Panama in January, settling in at Camp Elliott for the last of a four-year stint, not counting time off for the three Nicaraguan interventions. There were no more expeditions, so the battalion resumed training and played its role as part of the Canal Zone garrison prior to the army takeover when the canal opened in 1914.

    The canal had been building...

  10. 7 The Haitian General
    (pp. 74-95)

    Upon returning to the United States in October 1914, Butler was assigned to the advanced-base force, then undergoing a general upgrading in fire-power and technological sophistication in Philadelphia. With Smedley close to home, the Marine Corps became correspondingly more visible in West Chester. In November, Congressman Butler requested a hundred marines, plus band, to take part in a naval parade; publicity connecting with Smedley’s renown as a war hero and the prestige of the naval services was apparently appreciated on all sides. The following June, Smedley came out to West Chester with his brigade for a three-day encampment.¹ Then hometown...

  11. 8 General Duckboard: FRANCE
    (pp. 96-109)

    For almost a year after American intervention in the European War, Butler’s numerous appeals to Marine Corps headquarters to get himself detached from Haiti and sent to the front came to naught. Ironically, his achievements as commandant of the Haitian gendarmerie proved to be an obstacle; he was said to be irreplaceable. Financial Adviser McIlhenny, banker Farnham, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt, Marine Commandant Barnett, and the State Department all pointed to the importance of his work there, and at one point Roosevelt alluded to fears of unrest if Smedley was not on hand to keep the lid on,...

  12. 9 The Barnett Putsch: MARINE CORPS POLITICS
    (pp. 110-128)

    As a brigadier general, Butler played a more direct personal role in Marine Corps politics, especially during the early 1920s when he commanded Quantico, the premier marine base, located just south of Washington. For the first time in his career he had daily access to marine headquarters and was involved in staff committees and dealings with Congress.

    This chapter will discuss Butler’s role in Corps factionalism during the 1910s and 1920s, as well as some personal feuding that extended into the 1930s. He has been stigmatized by several historians as a singularly ambitious intriguer who, using his father’s influence as...

  13. 10 Pep and Pride: QUANTICO
    (pp. 129-143)

    Postwar demobilization meant retrenchment, rank reductions, and fights among the military services for survival in the face of shrinking budgets. In presidential politics, the postwar norm of honoring victorious generals was bypassed in favor of what Harding called a return to “normalcy,” making this the first American war not capped by presidential apotheosis. Militarism, however, survived in various mutations, and throughout the 1920s, military leaders were called upon as figureheads for civilian law-and-order campaigns, and the marines were twice used to guard the mails. As a famous and colorful marine with a knack for publicity, Smedley Butler moved with seeming...

  14. 11 Smashing Crime and Vice: PHILADELPHIA
    (pp. 144-160)

    The history of full-time urban police forces dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Meanwhile in many countries state-controlled military and paramilitary forces, such as the IrishGardai,theGuardia Civilin Spain, and the GermanStaatspolizei,continued to maintain domestic peace. Even in America, where hostility to standing armies and meddling with local liberties was strong, the military continued to intervene frequently in civil crises such as labor wars and urban riots. But military intervention often resulted in brutal class repression at variance with increasingly egalitarian political and legal standards.

    American urban police developed as independent local institutions in response...

  15. 12 Devil Dog and Demon Rum: SAN DIEGO
    (pp. 161-172)

    Smedley Buder, accompanied by his wife, three children, and journalist E.Z. “Dimmy” Dimitman, sailed from Brooklyn in late January 1926 on a twenty-six-day cruise to San Diego. Dimitman was to draft the serialized Philadelphia crime story, in which Buder told New York reporters he would be “brutally frank.” The trip was also intended to give Smedley a much-needed rest. A week and a half out he wrote his father, “The fever is gradually getting out of my blood and the two years nightmare becoming more and more indistinct, however a great hurt is still present and I imagine always will...

  16. 13 The Marines Who Wouldn’t Fight: CHINA
    (pp. 173-201)

    The China expeditionary force, soon nicknamed “exhibition force” by wags in the ranks, sailed from San Diego in mid-February 1927. Its quartermaster later reminisced that the outfit was equipped more for parade competition with international units garrisoning China’s treaty ports than for fighting. “All machine guns were nickel plated, our mortars were nickel plated, and the 37 millimeter tank guns, in those days, were also nickel plated.”¹ In fact the nickle plating came later, but the characterization was apt. This was military intervention intended to assert American interests by masterful peacekeeping rather than belligerency.

    Brigadier General Smedley Butler, left behind...

  17. 14 To Hell with the Admirals: WASHINGTON
    (pp. 202-214)

    Returning home in early 1929, Smedley Butler was assigned to Quantico, where he took over from Major General Wendell C. Neville. Neville succeeded Commandant Lejeune, who retired after nine years in office, his prolonged tenure being partly attributable to a “firm stand” by Congressman Butler.¹ In July 1929 Smedley was promoted to major general upon the death of Eli K. Cole. At forty-eight years of age, he was the youngest major general in the American services, and this was the top rank excepting only the army chief of staff. He was now the senior general in the Marine Corps after...

  18. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  19. 15 Renegade Marine: AMERICA IN THE 1930s
    (pp. 215-246)

    During his final months on active duty in 1931 and continuing into civilian life, Butler worked the lecture circuit with urgency and vigor. Publicity organized by professional lecture bureaus touted him as “one of the most picturesque and dynamic personalities in American life today.” A flyer signed by radio personality Lowell Thomas ballyhooed him as “a stick of human dynamite ... [a] Major General who would as leave spit in your eye as look at you.” He used his own material, based upon “unique and thrilling experiences,” and scorned subterfuge. “He indulges in none of the circuitous and tortuous manner...

  20. 16 Epilogue
    (pp. 247-250)

    The 1934 Wall Street plot materialized into marching troops in a 1977 Universal Studios film,The November Plan,with Lloyd Nolan playing Buder. The scenario, loosely based on Buder’s expose, was presented as plausible.

    It was not until the late 1960s that Buder’s radical antiwar message again appeared in the mass media. National Public Television broadcast newsreel footage of him walking the parade ground in Shanghai, quoting some of his anti-imperialist rhetoric in the voice-over, as part of a critical documentary on the history of U.S. military interventions. And his example may have inspired another generation of renegade marines who...

  21. Abbreviations Used in the Notes and Bibliography
    (pp. 251-251)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 252-280)
  23. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 281-284)
  24. Index
    (pp. 285-293)