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Book Review: Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America by David Talbot, Illustrated by Spain Rodriguez

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Sie waren Teufelshunde.
Er war ein Teufelshund.

Legend has it that the Germans began calling U.S. Marines “Teufelshunde,” “Devil Dogs,” in France at The Battle of Belleau Wood during The Great War.  It was during his tour of duty in France that our subject, Smedley Darlington Butler, already the recipient of two Medals of Honor, would earn the nickname (one of several) of “Old Duckboard.”  But the story begins many years earlier and will result in a surprise “twist” ending for an American military hero.

ButlerDevil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America is one of a series of books from Simon and Schuster to kick off a new genre, “pulp history.”  These books feature lavish illustrations reminiscent of traditional nineteenth century publications telling little known stories from history.  The books are hard cover with no dust jacket and full color glossy graphics with garish headlines such as “Unbelievable and ALL TRUE!”

David Talbot, author of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, along with his sister, Margaret Talbot, is the co-creator of the Pulp History series and has enlisted the talent of highly regarded graphic artist Spain Rodriguez for Devil Dogs.  Talbot chronicles Butler’s journey to fame and heroism beginning as a teenage Marine fighting in Cuba.  Butler’s assignments in The Boxer Rebellion, The Banana Wars, and France earn him a distinguished place in American lore.  He becomes the military hero that goes on to dazzle the public with more exploits in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

If you thought Seven Days in May was really fiction, wait until you read what really happened to Smedley Butler after his war years. Truth really is stranger than fiction!  Like many of our heroes, Butler died much too young but managed to get several works published and delivered some memorable speeches.  The previously mentioned, “little known stories from history” are a trivia lovers delight.


Each chapter has at least one full page comic book style story-page.  Photos and reproductions of vintage post cards abound as well as single page side stories.  One such story reveals the origin of the term “Sandinista” and appears in the chapter that recounts Butler’s Panama Canal adventures in Central America.  Classic maps adorned with images of wild animals and birds in full color add to the drama and nostalgia that provides an unforgettable experience for the reader.


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  • Reese McKay

    Well, Chip, you have found another essential piece of American history to bring into focus. I was wondering (before I saw this review) how much you knew about Butler, and what you thought of him.

    I think the story of General Smedley Butler may be one of the most important stories for all Americans to become familiar with, regardless of your political views. His life and especially his role in averting a coup against the US government may contain some of the most important lessons for all Americans especially in the current dangerous and unsettled times.

    If the stories are really true it is more than a little disturbing that General Butler is not much more known and celebrated as a rare American hero, a man who may have saved the republic for at least a few more decades.

    Right now, many Americans are concerned that perhaps the Federal Reserve, the “Imperial Presidency”, various other aspects of the Federal government, the military-industrial complex, various think tanks and lobbying organizations, the WTO, GATT, the World Bank, the international banking cartel, and the multinational corporations have finally managed to reduce US sovereignty and our republican form of government (if envisioned as the voice of the people at least) to little more than a paper tiger.

    Oddly people seem to be extremely divided over which political party to side with or to demonize, seemingly oblivious to the extent to which both D and R have been co-opted by this state of affairs.

    It may not be a “conspiracy” at all by the usual definitions. It may well be just that the narrowly defined “interests” of all of these power players have coalesced into a “perfect storm” of a corrosive power grab that has gradually choked off any real possibility for the desires and needs of “main street” to be any more than beggars at the table.

    The gradual erosion of democratic processes grounded in the individual person or even grounded in local communities and their organizational structures has perhaps rendered elections and normal constitutional checks and balances into little more than empty slogans and kabuki theater. That is perhaps an exaggeration at this point in time, but the structural power imbalances that are already in place could easily push things beyond the point of no return.

    We may still be able to salvage some semblance of the republic that B. Franklin and his cohorts delivered to us, but time could be running out. My biggest concern is that the “tea party” people and others who are quite justifiably concerned may be mistaking some of their friends for enemies and may be assuming that some of their enemies are their friends.

    History is full of sad stories where people jumped too soon, and were divided and conquered by those who seduced them with “just the right words,” just the kinds of things the people wanted to hear. We need to reconnect with each other at the local level and learn how to bridge the divides between “left” and “right” and other culture war divisions.

    We must learn to renew the bonds that connect us all to the vision of America, with room for differences of opinion, differences of policy, differences of religious views, all contained within the common understanding of give and take, personal responsibility, rule of law, individual liberty, freedom of conscience, a belief in free markets (not cartels and oligarchies), and an understanding of empiricism and entrepeneurialism as tried and true methods for creating a common prosperity and a society that can govern itself.