Write a brief essay (500 words or fewer) on a single non-religious book that has most affected your life. NOTE: This should not be a handbook or children’s book. Be sure to explain how this book is meaningful to you.



By: Justin Shelby

To understand the importance of this book, you must know something about me: I love masculinity. I think that there is almost nothing on God’s green earth that is not improved by the addition of a little bit more testosterone. I love aggression, that “readiness to attack or confront”, physically and mentally. In turn, I love holding my ground against mental and physical pressure, raising my unnatural self against my natural fears. It should therefore come as no surprise that, after college, I seriously considered joining the military. There are few things more masculine than fighting and one of them is war. Then I read Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket.

Butler opens like this:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious…It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

It would be one thing if this were said by some effete-fucking-liberal who’d never been punched in the face, let alone shot in the leg. Or if this were the moan of a mother who had just lost a son. But these are the words of Smedley-fucking-Butler. He won two Medals of Honor, was wounded in action, and bore the responsibility both of leading men to their deaths and taking away the lives of the enemy. If this man thinks that it is not worthwhile to go to war, who am I to argue? Perhaps, had I been born in a Greek city-state or small Asian country things would be different. Butler does not decry aggression or disown violence as such. But he does lay out a very clear case that in these United States the military functions as little more than the militant arm of financial interests:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. Looking back on it, I might 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.

I don’t want to give my life, or snatch away the lives of others, for that. I still occasionally think meanly of myself for this decision, though. That I must be a coward and loser, that I am somehow betraying what is most praiseworthy to what is most contemptible. I still have a few years…But for now the unnatural parts of myself, the bits that ponder and plan as opposed to the parts that want to fight and fuck, dominate. I’ve read Homer, Vergil, Milton, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Joyce. But if you ask what book has most affected my life, it is War is a Racket. My life, wife, business, all would be completely different but for that book. So thank you Smedley, or fuck you. I might never know for sure.

Justin Shelby