(The transcript below of a Smedley Butler speech to the Bonus Army appears to be different from than the one seen in the Youtube clip above but given around the same time. My heartfelt thanks to the Veterans of Foreign War national office for sending me a copy of the article that appeared in their magazine Foreign Service in 1933.)
Foreign Service, December 1933
You’ve Got to Get Mad
Too Many Veterans Still Believe In Santa Claus
By Major General Smedley D. Butler
On the Firing Line for the V. F W.
America’s most colorful military figure, Major General Smedley Butler, is “off to war” again! He is responding to the V. F. W. “call to arms” by going on a speaking tour under the auspices of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U. S. Starting in Cincinnati on December 1st, he will visit ten different cities in as many states prepared to tell the truth about the vicious anti-veteran effects of the Economy Act. He will tell the public—in his own inimitable way—just what he thinks of those who would make the veteran bear the brunt of the depression. And he will preach the gospel of the V. F. W. to those overseas veterans who have not yet become members.
I HAVE been asked to give the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States some good advice. Boys, there is no use giving you any advice. You always do the right thing anyhow. This outfit always does. The V. F. W. isn’t a knitting society; it is a real outfit and it always pleases me very much to be invited to meet with you because I just love to go every place soldiers ask me to go. I have noticed that you are getting a little old, but you are the same lovable class of Americans as ever—dumb though you are. Anybody can put anything over on you but you are lovable just the same.
Usually soldiers don’t know what it is all about. Somebody beats a drum, somebody yells “Patriotism” and the soldiers go out, carry the guns, get shot, and, when there is no war, do all the suffering at home. Peace times they suffer and in war times they bleed.
When you got ready to go to war to lick the Hun, what did you do? You first learned how to fight, and a whole lot of brass-hats wrote a lot of instructions on how to shoot, how to march, how to do everything; so that you all marched together, keeping step. You all spoke the same language. You all had the same objective and when anybody asked you your general orders, you all said the same thing.
Now what happens? There aren’t any ten veterans in a hundred who will say the same thing to a man who asks them about a veterans’ question. No positive information. My advice to every Post is to go to school.
We are divided, in America, into two classes: The Tories on one side, a class of citizens who were raised to believe that the whole of this country was created for their sole benefit, and on the other side, the other 99 per cent of us, the soldier class, the class from which all of you soldiers came. That class hasn’t any privileges except to die when the Tories tell them. Every war that we have ever had was gotten, up by that class. They do all the beating of the drums. Away the rest of us go. When we leave, you know what happens. We march down the street with all the Sears-Roebuck soldiers standing on the sidewalk, all the dollar-a-year men with spurs, all the patriots who call themselves patriots, square-legged women in uniforms making Liberty Loan speeches. They promise you. You go down the street and they ring all the church bells. Promise you the sun, the moon, the stars and the earth,—anything to save them. Off you go. Then the looting commences while you are doing the fighting. This last war made over 6,000 millionaires. Today those fellows won’t help pay the bill.
All of these things you must be told so that you can present your case. Remember, we can’t win this alone. We have got to have the sympathy of all of our class of people. Go out and make friends with the farmers; they are a scrapping outfit. Be able to argue intelligently; know what you are talking about. Get all these people to join and then go after the enemy in the way that is provided for in your constitution. That is, go to the polls. Before you go to the polls, make every public office seeker state where he stands. Don’t take any alibi. A man who is not for the soldiers is against them. There isn’t any middle course. If he hasn’t got the courage to say yes for you, then lick hell out of him.
You can only lick him by every Post and every man going to school on your meeting nights, learning what it is all about with your instructions from your headquarters just as when you went to war. There is no difference between this battle and a sanguinary battle with guns. Learn what you want, learn to be able to express yourselves. If I were the Commander of a Post, I would have a speaking class so that everybody would learn to get up and shoot off his mouth. Bring into line all his family, all his friends, because the American people are absolutely fair. It is only this damned Tory class that doesn’t want this thing, doesn’t want the veteran class cared for. Don’t you realize that when this country started out, it wasn’t worth more than 2.5 cents, and that every damned bit of land we have we took at the point of a gun? The soldiers took it. All except a bare 60 millions that we paid France and Spain after we took their land from them. And now this nation is worth 320 billions by the work of the soldiers. So don’t let anyone bluff you. Stand by your own kind. That is what your conventions are for, to get together and learn to love each other all over again. Some of you have got falling chests and don’t look exactly right but you rub shoulders and it all comes back. There is a bond among soldiers who have slept in the mud together that nothing can supplant. Just get over your petty jealousies. Because one fellow may get ahead a little faster, the rest turn on him. You have been used to discipline and now you haven’t got it.
When you came home from the World War, you marched along Fifth Avenue, great heavy masses of men, all your feet moving together, one objective, one cause, all swaying back and forth as you went along. You were a unit. All the people of America applauded. But on the second day they disbanded you and they said, “To hell with you,” because you were then individuals and politically the soldiers never amounted to anything.
A whole lot of things face the veterans continually. Right now we are all called upon to support the administration. I know the soldiers; no matter what you tell them they are always going to support any president up to a certain point, but you must remember that you have two duties. One is to your own flesh and blood, yourself and your family; and the next is your public duty. Combined is another duty, equally important, and that is the duty to the people, the buddies who served with you, who have been hurt. Go along, do the right thing. We can’t afford to bust up this country. Nobody knows where these schemes are going to lead us nowadays. But they won’t work if the soldiers don’t make them work. You know that. Because we are the class that wins all the wars. Hell, this is a war, but at the same time you give some advice. In other words, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours to this capitalistic bunch. You have a difficult role to play because you can’t afford to have public opinion against you. At the same time, we must not desert the fellows among us who deserve help.
After all is said and done, the soldiers are one class of people and we deserve some-thing as a class. Never mind what we have done. Every other class is getting something but the soldiers. This organization, every other soldier organization, will disappear from the earth if you don’t do something for your less fortunate comrades, the fellows who have done all the bleeding. So just think it over. You have a whole lot to decide. You have got to decide whether to put up NRA signs. I am going to put an NRA sign in my window but I am going to say, “Here, come across for the soldiers, too.”
It will come, don’t worry. You have been spanked two or three times. This is going to be a tough battle all the way through and you will have to be spanked and spanked and. spanked until you get mad enough to do something. There is no class of people in the world which has been as abominably treated as the soldiers in the United States, and it is all your own fault because you haven’t stood together. Two big veteran organizations fighting each other and the Spanish American War fellows get in between. Nobody joins hands, nobody joins together to fight a common battle for the class of people who do the dying.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is a gorgeous scrapping outfit. There are no fakers in it. For that reason, it is a joy to be with you and it is our business as soldiers to stick together.
Let me tell you again. Just get together, learn your lessons, be able to say them in your sleep. Get together, follow your leaders. You have never had a leader in this outfit that sold you out and I don’t believe you ever will. I never knew a commander of another veterans’ organization who didn’t sell out every year. When you go down to Washington, you’ve got to growl and bite. When you soldiers agree to lay aside your petty jealousies and personal ambitions and fight as you fought in wars, you’ll get somewhere. Not until then will you get what you want.
You’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to hate. You’ve got to turn on these fellows who call you names such as “treasury raiders.”
The only trouble with you veterans is that you still believe in Santa Claus. It’s time you woke up—it’s time you realized there’s another war on. It’s your war this time. Now get in there and fight.