Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A History I Was Never Taught

The Work of General MacArthur
What you see in the picture to your left is the burning remnants of the property of some 15,000 World War I veterans and their families, the last of their earthly possessions gone up in smoke. Sadly, this is not the carnage inflicted by the Germans on an encampment in a remote village in France, but the scene that played out in our own U.S. Capital in 1932. Many of you -- like myself -- never knew or learned of this event, but I have now become aware of it and will impart this to you.

We all grew up with the stories of World War II, and many of our grandfathers served in that war. But World War I is something too distant for our memories, as is the Great Depression. Still, we all think back to veterans of these two wars as heroes beyond reproach, men to be revered for the ages. What happened to them in the summer of 1932 is tragic beyond belief.

In 1924, the United States Congress, grateful to the recently returned heroes of World War I, voted to give the veterans a bonus of $1.25 for everyday served overseas, and a $1.00 bonus for every day served stateside. So far, so good for those who defeated the Germans the first time around. The catch was that the bonus would not come due until 1945. A long time to wait in the best of times, but then the Great Depression hit the country, and those brave soldiers were now destitute.

In May of 1932, with the nation in the grips of the Depression, roughly 15,000 soldiers and their families descended on Washington, D.C. to demand immediate payment of their bonuses, many of them flat broke and needing some assistance. Known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force, the veterans set up the largest camp across the river from the Capitol at Anacostia Flats. Being the disciplined military men that they were, taught to survive in harsh conditions, the veterans built structures from scraps from a nearby junk pile. They laid out streets, dug latrines, and held daily formations. The leader of the group, Walter Waters, was quoted as saying, "We're here for the duration and we're not going to starve. We're going to keep ourselves a simon-pure veteran's organization. If the Bonus is paid it will relieve to a large extent the deplorable economic condition."

On June 17th, the Senate was scheduled to vote on a bill passed earlier by the House of Representatives that immediately gave the veterans their bonus money. In anticipation of the vote, roughly 10,000 marchers mobilized on the Capitol grounds awaiting the outcome. By nightfall, Walter Waters appeared to deliver the bad news: the Senate defeating the House bill by a 62-18 vote. The veterans were stunned, but they were not violent. Waters directed them to "Sing America and go back to your billets", which is what they did. Some stayed on the Capitol grounds over the next month and a half in tents.

MacArthur's tanks and Patton's
cavalry attack WWI vets.
On July 28th, the Attorney General ordered the Washing police to evacuate the veterans from the Capitol grounds. There was resistance from the veterans, and the police shot two veterans dead. Upon hearing this news, President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army to clear out the veterans. Infantry and cavalry, supported by 6 tanks were dispatched under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, with Patton commanding the cavalry.

At 4:45 P.M. the troops were poised to attack. Seeing this display, the Bonus Vets mistakenly thought the show of the military was in their honor and began cheering. Then, the army turned to attack. They advanced with fixed bayonets, lobbing tear gas into the crowd. By nightfall, the veterans were driven back across the Anacostia River, and Hoover gave the order to halt the attack. MacArthur, however, was convinced that the Bonus Expeditionary Force was comprised of Communists, and ignored Hoover order to cease.

MacArthur advanced across the bridge to continue his assault on the very men who only years before had defeated the Germans in World War I. He destroyed their makeshift town of shanties, leaving everything these poor men had left in smoldering ruins.

We remember the Kent State massacre, but in fairness -- and not to make light of young people being killed by their own government -- these were protesting college students trying to end the Vietnam War. What our government did to the men who fought for us all in WWI is a dastardly shame. And it set a dangerous precedent.

On May 16th of this year, there is a massive protest being planned to occupy the Capitol, and civilians and former military are expected to participate. The goal is to march on to Washington, D.C. and not leave the Capitol grounds until the members of Congress either leave or agree to major changes in government spending. Informally known as the American Spring movement, judging by our past, things could get ugly in D.C.

To see what our own government is capable of, watch this brief video,

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1 comment:

PerhapsBruceWayne said...

This "massive protest" is going to be hilarious. Thanks for the laughs.