Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Marines’ “How To” Handbook for Empire

Apr 9, 2004 1:47 pm


The Marines’ “How To” Handbook for Empire



The official cheerleader publication for the neoconservatives effort to rejuvenate the American Empire’s interventionist agenda around the world, The Wall Street Journal, carried a page one article April 7, 2004, entitled “For Guidance in Iraq, Marines Rediscover A 1940s Manual.” It highlighted that “Small-War Secrets Include: Tips on Nation-Building, The Care of Pack Mules.”

Considering the exploding insurgency in Iraq this week, the insurgents might well proclaim what Gen. George Patton supposedly commented about Gen. Erwin Rommel, “I read your book.!” And, that’s just what is needed in Iraq; some tips on how to care for mules.

Apparently numerous Marine officers have taken the book with them to Iraq, and it has been cited by gung ho congressmen for its insights. Max Boot, then a Journal writer, built a whole book around it two years ago, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars & the Rise of American Power, and has often since written on how the Philippines provide a model for nation building in Iraq.

The Journal article hints, since the Small Wars Manual wasn’t rediscovered until 1972, it might have helped the U.S. win in Vietnam. William Luti, an advisor to Donald Rumsfeld, keeps a copy in his Pentagon office.

Americans love a good “How To” book, and the Journal has long touted this 446 page one, which details how “from 1898 to 1934, the Marines fought a number of small wars, in the Philippines, Cuba, Honduras, China, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.”

What no one bothers to mention is that the great Marine hero Gen. Smedley Butler (2 Medals of Honor, in combat), turned against all of this interventionism in which he had participated (a kind of early Whistle Blower!), in his 1934 book, War is a Racket, listing the nations in which he intervened for American global corporations such as Standard Oil, United Fruit, and the National City Bank. Butler observed that Al Capone operated in three Chicago districts, the Marines on six continents. He concluded, in short, “I was a gangster for Capitalism [Imperialism?]!”

The Journal does point out the Manual may be popular in Iraq not because of its “excellence” but because there is “little serious competition,” and “in the absence of anything better.” What a comment on the intellectual bankruptcy of the Tactics of Empire!

Granted, that it does discuss a bit of what is today called nation building, one wonders if any of its advocates have examined the list of its so-called successes in any dimension other than the short-run military put-down of an insurgency.

The Philippines: The U.S. won because the insurgents had few guns, and with fissures in the revolutionary coalition, never really adopted the tactics of people’s war. The Philippines are rife with corruption and insurgents today, and were in 1981 when this writer lectured there for the USIA. With 220,000 dead Filipinos, and 2,000 Americans, this was a small war? Only if you consider Asians not worth counting!

Cuba: Now there’s a great example of the success of America’s interventionist nation building skills.

Honduras: Not noted as a great success, but under “H” the Journal forgot to mention Haiti, where the Marines intervened several times. Ask Bill Clinton about what a great success story that has been.

China: A growing success, but I‘m not sure about the role played by the U.S. and the Marines in all of that since 1900.

Nicaragua: The Marines in the 1920s made A.C. Sandino a hero all over Latin America for his successful tactics against them and their use of the auto-gyro, the ancestor of the helicopter used with such success in Vietnam and Mogadishu. Our trained police thug and later dictator, the first Somoza, with the knowledge of the American ambassador murdered Sandino as he was coming in under a flag of truce. Well, things are quiet there for now after the events of 1979.

The Dominican Republic: Like Haiti, with the inflation there, hundreds of people are taking to rafts, floating into the shark infested Mona Passage hoping to reach Puerto Rico, since Miami is too far away.

Mexico: The Journal didn’t mention it, but Butler did. Pollsters might ask a wetback swimming the Rio Grande what he thinks about American interventionism.

Russia: Not mentioned by the Journal, but let's remember that the Marine intervention force of 1918-19 had to be recalled because many of the grunts were fraternizing with the Bolsheviks in Vladivostok.

“How To” books deal with Tactics, not whether you should be doing whatever it is you’re trying to do, just as Condi Rice blathered on yesterday about the Tactics of Empire. When will some American leader take on the questions of Strategy and Grand Strategy; What Empire is doing to corrupt America?

In the meantime, with respect to the success of our “small” war interventions, to paraphrase King Pyrrhus, “ A few more successes like Iraq, and we may be undone.”




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