Smedley Butler & the Networked Solution

January 28, 2001

Comment #:  403

Attached Reference:

[1] David Ignatius, "Think Globally, Build Networks," Washington Post Outlook, January 28, 2001, Page B07.

Notwithstanding the election of George Bush, the neo-Wilsonian preachers of Coercive Diplomacy still hope the new "globalism" justifies engagement everywhere, spearheaded by unilateral action of the world's indispensable power. The strength of their belief can be seen in America's growing predilection during the 1990s for knee jerk interventions, often initiated by drive-by shootings with cruise missiles. Is more of their handiwork to be in our future as we move forward into the new world order?

Nothing symbolizes the new Globalism more that the annual convention of its glitterati in in Davos, Switzerland. But as David Ignatius observes in Reference 1, this year's hi-jinks are not so glittering. It is taking place in an atmosphere of depression amid growing evidence that the hyped promises of globalization are being felt by only a few. Rather than lifting all the economic life boats, most boats are being filled now with members of the middle and upper classes in the rich countries and the elites in the poor countries. Disease, overpopulation, poverty, unemployment, third world urbanization, ethic/religious strife, deforestation, global warming (maybe), pollution (definitely), spreading desertification, depletion of fisheries and water resources, etc. are all global problems moving in the wrong direction.

Not only are these problems getting worse, Francois Rischard, the vice president for Europe of the World Bank, told the assembled glitterati that existing global institutions -- like the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, and the 19th Century nation-state based multi-lateral treaty process (not to mention the growing horde of internationalist non-governmental organizations) - are incapable of solving these problems.

Something new is needed.

Rischard proposed what he called "Global Issues Networks" These networks, built on an analogy to the internet, would take the form of "coalitions of interested nations, private companies and non-governmental organizations." They would use online polling to set standards or norms of behavior - "much like the informal bodies that built out the Internet without treaties or legislated rules and regulations. Over time, Rischard hopes the coalitions will issue ratings that measure how well countries and private businesses are doing in meeting specified norms on the environment and other issues that affect the welfare of the planet.

At the heart of this idea, according to Ignatius, is the premise that a failure to meet these agreed-to norms will expose rogue players in the global economy. This exposure presumably would set the stage for international pressure that would in turn result in corrective changes. But neither Ignatius nor Rischard say how these rogues would be induced or, more likely, coerced into correcting their behavior.

Ignatius also misses a deeper assumption underpinning the Networked Solution: Namely, that one can use the idea of a network to set up a self-organizing, self-policing process based on spontaneous emergent behavior.

As most evolutionary biologists know, this is indeed theoretically possible. Order can emerge spontaneously from disorder if certain conditions are met: [1] there is a struggle for existence which sets up some kind of selection process; [2] there is a potential for change in the individual player's capacity to succeed or fail in this struggle; [3] certain changes can be transmitted to succeeding generations or laterally in cultures by some form of replication process, like imitation and learning in culture; [4] there is a process by which individual variations accumulate to confer advantages to populations or groups (adaptation); and [5] there is a potential for stable arrangements at some, but not all, higher or more complex levels of organization (stratified stability).

These five conditions set the stage for self-organizing evolutionary pathways into the future. But it is important to remember that the specifics of a particular pathway depend upon the interplay of chance and necessity, and therefore, these specifics will be unpredictable over the long term. To be sure, at any given point of time, the universe of all future variations or possibilities is always constrained by the emerged structure in the pathway already traveled. Nevertheless, the question of which current possibility will be selected for the future will always be unanswerable in a pure evolutionary process. In short, change for the better is by no means inevitable in a struggle for survival, as Rischard's theory seems to assume.

Each point in time, therefore, should be thought as setting the initial conditions that constrain the domain of future possibilities from which an ongoing selection process will shape the emerging pattern of self-organization into the future.

While he does not show any indication that he understands the crucial importance of these initial conditions, Ignatius nevertheless concludes his essay by suggesting the starting point should be the World Economic Forum at Davos. And the key to the self-organization process, he says, is to get a few powerful nations and organizations to form Global Issues Networks to launch the process. By sponsoring such coalitions, he even suggests, the World Economic Forum can restore its place in the sun.

Put another way, the starting point for Ignatius is the powerful minority which advocates and has benefited from the process of globalization.

This minority has also benefited in the face of, and perhaps also by creating, the global problems it now deplores. Nevertheless, Ignatius now says this minority should establish the point of departure for self-organizing process that will use unregulated activities like internet voting to establish the self-policing standards that would guide the entire global order out of the mess.

This is a tall order, to put it charitably.

It is too bad Smedley Butler is dead, because he might have been able to help Mr. Ignatius think more carefully through some of the possibilities that are undoubtedly associated with a starting point based on narrow coalitions of powerful governments and businesses operating according to their own rules.

In 1933, General Butler gave a speech that bears re-reading before jumping on this bandwagon. His wisdom might help us understand how a few global glitterati in the back room might be tempted to organize the real world's economic affairs.

Smedley Butler on Interventionism

Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man, to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Of course, the glitterati at Davos would probably dismiss Old Smedley's analysis as that of a crude dinosaur shaped by events of a bygone industrial era.

Smedley, after all, knew nothing about the internet or the global information age . He knew nothing about self-organization or the unregulated internet's capability to self-police itself by setting acceptable standards of behavior, pornography being a case in point. Quite clearly, therefore, Old Smedley was incapable of understanding how information-era self-organizing coalitions of elitists in the back room could set global standards that would benefit everybody, event if it came at their own expense.

On the other hand, the coercive diplomacists of the world's indispensable power might find the services of Old Smedley to be useful in those few occasions where rogues refuse to abide by standards of goodness imposed by free-play networks of others.

After all, there was one thing Old Smedley did understand: That was the theory and application of using a government-sponsored punitive expedition to benefit the business interests of a minority elite.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Think Globally, Build Networks

By David Ignatius
Washington Post Outlook
Sunday, January 28, 2001 ; Page B07


DAVOS, Switzerland --


The most innovative thinking I've heard here about globalization starts with the frank admission that current efforts to solve problems aren't working. Global warming is getting worse. The destitute countries of Africa are becoming poorer and more disease-ridden. The digital gap between the wired "haves" and the unwired "have-nots is growing."

In that sense, the protesters are right. Not only are the problems getting worse, but it's increasingly clear that the mechanisms traditionally advanced for solving them won't work. Environmental treaties, multilateral organizations, U.N. agencies -- none of them stands a prayer.

That's the provocative starting point of a speech given recently by Davos attendee Jean-Francois Rischard, who is vice president for Europe of the World Bank. He notes that despite the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the problem of global warming is getting worse -- and virtually nothing is being done about it. Similarly, tropical deforestation continues at the rate of one percent a year, fisheries are rapidly being depleted -- and the current international system seems unable to cope.


"The 19th century methods and glacial pace of global treaty-making and ratification" just don't cut it in dealing with 21st century problems, Rischard notes. Rischard also is skeptical that existing organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund or even his own World Bank can cope with the big global problems alone.

"Were a multilateral to claim a central problem-solving role for itself, its attempt would be doomed to failure," he writes. And if anyone still imagines that a "world government" will somehow emerge to save us from these potentially deadly perils, the message of a panel here Friday on that subject was: Forget it. The European Union can't even figure out how to make decisions that will be acceptable for 15 similar countries.

So what's the answer? Rischard ventures an intriguing proposal. The only models that have a chance in the 21st century will be ones that share the network effects of the New Economy. They'll be coalitions of interested nations, private companies and non-governmental organizations. They'll use online polling to speed their work along. And they'll focus on setting standards or norms -- much like the informal bodies that built out the Internet without treaties or legislated rules and regulations.

Rischard calls them "Global Issues Networks." And he hopes that, over time, they'll issue ratings that measure how well countries and private businesses are doing in meeting specified norms on the environment and other issues that affect the welfare of the planet.

The process will be quick and non-bureaucratic. The premise will be that if you don't meet the agreed-upon norms, you will be exposed as a rogue player in the global economy.

Evidence that this approach can work comes from the recent success of the Group of Seven nations against money laundering. All it took was publishing a list of countries that are havens for global criminals -- and threatening to blacklist these countries from the process of international financial transfers that runs the global economy. Really, that's all it took! Within six months, some of the most notorious offshore havens had rewritten their laws.


2001 The Washington Post