Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, an outspoken critic of U.S. military adventurism, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. By the end of his career, he had received 16 medals, five for heroism. He is one of 19 men to twice receive the Medal of Honor, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only man to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.
In his 1935 book War is a Racket, he described the workings of the military-industrial complex and, after retiring from service, became a popular speaker at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists and church groups in the 1930s.
In 1934, he became involved in a controversy known as the Business Plot when he told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt. The purported plot would have had Butler leading a mass of armed veterans in a march on Washington. The individuals identified denied the existence of a plot, and the media ridiculed the allegations. The final report of the committee stated that there was evidence that such a plot existed, but no charges were ever filed. The opinion of most historians is that while planning for a coup was not very advanced, wild schemes were discussed.
Butler continued his speaking engagements in an extended tour, but in June 1940 checked himself into a naval hospital, dying a few weeks later from what was believed to be cancer. He was buried at Oaklands Cemetery in West Chester, Pennsylvania; his home has been maintained as a memorial and contains memorabilia collected during his various careers.
He announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania in March 1932 as a proponent of Prohibition, known as a "dry". He allied with Gifford Pinchot, but they were defeated by Senator James J. Davis
During his Senate campaign, Butler spoke out forcefully about the veterans bonus. Veterans of World War I, many of whom had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression, sought immediate cash payment of Service Certificates granted to them eight years earlier via the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924. Each Service Certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment, plus compound interest. The problem was that the certificates (like bonds), matured 20 years from the date of original issuance, thus, under extant law, the Service Certificates could not be redeemed until 1945. In June 1932, approximately 43,000 marchers—17,000 of whom were World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—protested in Washington, D.C. The Bonus Expeditionary Force, also known as the "Bonus Army", marched on Washington to advocate the passage of the "soldier's bonus" for service during World War I. After Congress adjourned, bonus marchers remained in the city and became unruly. On July 28, 1932, two bonus marchers were shot by police, causing the entire mob to become hostile and riotous. The FBI, then known as the United States Bureau of Investigation, checked its fingerprint records to obtain the police records of individuals who had been arrested during the riots or who had participated in the bonus march. The veterans made camp in the Anacostia flats while they awaited the congressional decision on whether or not to pay the bonus. The motion, known as the Patnum bill, was decisively defeated, but the veterans stayed in their camp. Butler arrived with his young son Thomas, in mid July the day before the official eviction by the Hoover administration. He walked through the camp and spoke to the veterans; he told them that they were fine soldiers and they had a right to lobby Congress just as much as any corporation. He and his son spent the night and ate with the men, and in the morning Butler gave a speech to the camping veterans. He instructed them to keep their sense of humor and cautioned them not to do anything that would cost public sympathy. On July 28, army cavalry units led by General Douglas MacArthur dispersed the Bonus Army by riding through it and using gas. During the conflict several veterans were killed or injured and Butler declared himself a "Hoover-for-Ex-President-Republican"