A groundbreaking journey tracing America’s forgotten path to global power—and how its legacies shape our world today—told through the extraordinary life of a complicated Marine.
Smedley Butler was the most celebrated warfighter of his time. Bestselling books were written about him. Hollywood adored him. Wherever the flag went, “The Fighting Quaker” went—serving in nearly every major overseas conflict from the Spanish War of 1898 until the eve of World War II. From his first days as a 16-year-old recruit at the newly seized Guantánamo Bay, he blazed a path for empire: helping annex the Philippines and the land for the Panama Canal, leading troops in China (twice), and helping invade and occupy Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Mexico, and more. Yet in retirement, Butler turned into a warrior against war, imperialism, and big business, declaring: “I was a racketeer for capitalism."
Award-winning author Jonathan Myerson Katz traveled across the world—from China to Guantánamo, the mountains of Haiti to the Panama Canal—and pored over the personal letters of Butler, his fellow Marines, and his Quaker family on Philadelphia's Main Line. Along the way, Katz shows how the consequences of the Marines' actions are still very much alive: talking politics with a Sandinista commander in Nicaragua, getting a martial arts lesson from a devotee of the Boxer Rebellion in China, and getting cast as a P.O.W. extra in a Filipino movie about their American War. Tracing a path from the first wave of U.S. overseas expansionism to the rise of fascism in the 1930s to the crises of democracy in our own time, Gangsters of Capitalism tells an urgent story about a formative era most Americans have never learned about, but that the rest of the world cannot forget.
“A taut, unnerving account of the Marine who carried the Stars and Stripes all over the globe. By following Butler’s bloody trail around the world, Katz thoughtfully reckons with empire’s true cost” —Daniel Immerwahr, associate professor of history at Northwestern University and author of How to Hide An Empire
"Butler was the Forrest Gump of US imperialism, in all the good and bad ways implied by that statement. As a Marine, Butler went everywhere and helped give birth to several bloody American traditions abroad: violence in the name of commerce, a can-do spirit willing to do horrible things, and a love of soldiers who risked their lives for their country. Traveling in Butler's footsteps, Jonathan Katz devastatingly documents the toll of US interference around the globe from the late nineteenth century well into our own." —Andrea Pitzer, author of Icebound and One Long Night
"Gangsters of Capitalism is a stunning book, part secret history and part globe-spanning journalism. It brings to life one of the most interesting figures in our history, Butler, a military hero who challenged our deepest beliefs about American empire. Katz follows in Butler’s footsteps, from Guantanamo Bay, to China, to Washington, D.C., showing us uncomfortable truths about Butler’s life and legacy. Deeply reported and masterfully told, this book is indispensable reading from one of the America’s most important foreign correspondents." —Christopher Leonard, New York Times bestselling author of Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
"Katz is a wonderful writer and deep reporter who is perfectly poised to tell the story of American Empire." —Peter Bergen, New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt
"Gangsters of Capitalism may well be the most intrepid biography you will ever read... General Butler personified the first four decades of the American imperium, and this excellent biography—as compelling and colorful as the man himself—goes far toward tallying the true costs of empire. For anyone seeking to understand how the modern world came to be, Gangsters of Capitalism is an essential book." —Ben Fountain, author of the National Book Award Finalist Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk