Smedley Butler

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Smedley Butler was a renowned Major General in the United States Army. His father’s political career had a strong influence on him, and he had a strong desire to join the army since he was a toddler. He dropped out of school before finishing the program and lied about his age to earn a commission as a ‘Second Lieutenant.’ Thus began an extraordinary career in which he fought fight after battle, demonstrating his courage and leadership abilities on several occasions. His bravery was acknowledged and admired, particularly in the conflicts of China, Mexico, and Haiti. In between all of the battles, he found time to clean up Philadelphia’s corruption as the ‘Director of Public Safety.’ His post-retirement activity is equally important, since he bravely addressed his worries about financial interests in conflict, as well as exposing the US government’s distorted goals in the wars. He gave a series of presentations on these topics across the country, all of which were well-received. He shown even more audacity when he exposed the ‘Business Plot,’ a plot to topple the president and install tyranny on the United States. He is revered and remembered for not only his achievements on the battlefield, but also those off it, as a result of these efforts.

Childhood and Adolescence

Smedley Butler was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to Thomas and Maud Butler. His father worked as a lawyer, a judge, and a member of Congress.

In 1898, he completed six weeks of training in Washington, D.C., and was sent to a Marine Battalion at ‘Guantanamo Bay,’ Cuba. He did not engage in combat, however, because the region had already been taken by the time he arrived.
He was then assigned to the cruiser USS New York for four months before being discharged. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps just two months later.

Career of Smedley Butler

Butler was dispatched to Manila, Philippines, to fight in the Philippine-American conflict. He was initially assigned mainly to garrison duties, but in 1899, he was given the opportunity to engage in combat when he commanded 300 marines in the victorious seizure of Noveleta from the Filipino ‘Insurrecto’ insurgents.

He was dispatched to Tientsin, China, in 1900 to fight the ‘Boxer Rebellion.’ In the conflicts there, he showed great bravery and was elevated to Captain as a result of his actions.

In 1901, he returned to the United States and was involved in a series of US interventions in Central America and the Caribbean for the next two years. The ‘Banana Wars’ were a series of interventions fueled by commercial and political interests.

He was dispatched to Honduras in 1903 to protect the US Consulate in the aftermath of a revolt. In the midst of a conflict between rebels and government forces in the town of Trujillo, he rescued a consul.

He was deployed to Central America with a battalion under his command after another tour of Garrison Duty and an attempt at coal mining. He led his regiment to the Coyotepe hill in Nicarcagua in 1912.

He was stationed on a battleship off the coast of Mexico at Veracruz in 1914 to keep an eye on the Mexican Revolution. To prepare for future military operations, he pretended to be a railroad officer and surveyed Mexico City, gathering important information for their assault. However, after the ‘Tampico Affair,’ the invasion plans were shelved.

A contingent of Marines and sailors was dispatched to Veracruz in 1914 to intercept an armaments shipment; Butler led his forces superbly, and they quickly defeated the Mexican forces with few casualties.

The assassination of Haitian President ‘Vilbrun Guillaume Sam’ by locals in 1915 threw the country into chaos. Butler led a force into Haiti and defeated the insurgents in various fights, notably the conquest of Fort Riviere, when he demonstrated outstanding leadership and bravery.

He was promoted to ‘Brigadier General’ and given charge of ‘Camp Pontanezen’ in France in 1918, during World War I. He drastically improved sanitary conditions in the overcrowded camp, which functioned as a major US debarkation station.

In 1924, he received leave from the Marines and was named the ‘Director of Public Safety’ in Philadelphia, at the request of Philadelphia mayor W. Freeland Kendrick.

In Philadelphia, he launched a relentless push to clean up the city’s municipal board. To battle corruption, he took a direct, military-style, and confrontational approach. However, the people did not approve of his severe but efficient methods, and he was forced to retire in 1926.

For two years in 1927, he led a Marine Force in China, where he worked for US interests and dealt deftly with numerous Chinese warlords and authorities.

He was elevated to ‘Major General’ after his return to the United States in 1929. He organized long marches and re-enactments of battles like ‘Gettysburg’ in front of prestigious audiences to raise public awareness about the Marines.
In 1931, he left the military and began talking full-time at events and conferences. He traveled across the western United States, giving a total of 60 talks.

He teamed up with Gifford Pinchot to run for the US Senate in Pennsylvania. In 1932, however, they were defeated by James J. Davis. In the same year, he backed the ‘Bonus Army’ demonstrators, who demanded rapid payment of service certificates issued eight years prior under the ‘World War Adjusted Compensation Act.’

He continued to lecture extensively from 1933 forward. His lectures focused on the profit reasons for war and the self-interested motives for America’s international military actions. He also wrote a book about similar topics called ‘War Is a Racket.’

In 1934, he claimed that a group of businesspeople plotted to topple President Franklin D. Roosevelt and establish a Fascist regime. Some of Butler’s claims were substantiated after further examination.

Battles of Importance

Butler was sent to Tientsin, China, in 1900 to put down the ‘Boxer Rebellion.’ During the combat, he was hit in the thigh when getting out of his trench to assist a wounded officer, yet he still managed to get the officer to safety. During the ‘Gaselee Expedition,’ he was injured once more when a bullet brushed his chest. Because of his gallantry in these fights, he was promoted to Captain.

He led a group of Marines to seize an arms shipment in Varcruz, Mexico, in 1914. Street fighting and sniper fire threatened the Marines, but Butler overcame these dangers by undertaking a door-to-door search, which led to the Marines’ triumph with few losses.

During the capture of Fort Riviere in Haiti in 1915, he and two other men entered the fort through a drain in the wall, evading gunshots the entire while. However, he was able to gain access to the fort and, as a result, the war was won in just twenty minutes, with no soldiers lost.

Achievements & Awards

In 1914, he was awarded the ‘Medal of Honour’ for directing forces against Mexican rebels with minimal casualties.
For his role in the capture of Fort Riviere in Haiti in 1915, he received his second ‘Medal of Honour.’
In 1921, Butler was awarded the ‘Marine Corps Brevet Medal’ for his valor during the ‘Boxer Rebellion,’ which included transferring a wounded commander to safety.

Personal History and Legacy

Butler married Ethel Conway Peters in 1905 in New Jersey, and they had three children: Ethel Peters Butler, a daughter, and Smedley Darlington, Jr. and Thomas Richard, two sons.

In 1908, he had a nervous breakdown and was forced to take nine months off work. He was in charge of a coal mine in West Virginia at the time.

He was diagnosed with ‘an incurable upper gastro-intestinal tract disease’ in 1940. His family accompanied him to the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia till his death. Many notable people, including politicians and Marines, attended his funeral. He was laid to rest in a cemetery outside West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Smedley Butler Net Worth

Smedley is one of the wealthiest war heroes and one of the most popular. Smedley Butler’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


When he was sixteen, this highly decorated former Major General of the ‘US Marine Corps’ received a direct commission as a ‘Second Lieutenant’ in the Marine Corps.