The US Army Attacks Pt. II: the Bonus Marchers & the Government Attack
As summer approached in June of 1932 the U.S. House of Representatives did pass a bill which in effect would have allowed for distribution of the vets bonus. The Depression was in full swing and vets were starving and living without a net, but anticipating the worst, and the worst did happen, as the Senate, in it’s infinite wisdom defeated the bill with a very un-American vote of 62-18. The Bonus Marchers had anticipated this defeat and on the very day it went down in flames on June 17, the marchers already in place in the city, surrounded the the capital building. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The people should not be afraid of their government…the government should be afraid of it’s people!” This should hold true today as well.
In honour, or rather dishonour of President Herbert Hoover, the Bonus Army named their ramshackle encampment, Hooverville. This was the same name the Okies who were escaping the Dust Bowl on their mass migration to the golden state of California once they were kicked off their farms had named their camps along the roadside on Route 66. They had been uprooted and now had to trek westward to pursue the elusive American Dream, which had transformed itself into the American Nightmare on Elm Street.
The Bonus Marchers chose a plot of land to set up camp in Washington in an area known as the Anacostia Flats which was nothing more than a swampy area of mud and dirt on the the Anacostia River near the 11th Street Bridge. (I went to the site on my recent trip to D.C. after my visit to the Vietnam Memorial) The ramshackle camp structures were constructed from the trash they had taken from nearby landfills, and Hooverville became a small peoples state within the government state as the vets had now taken control of the area, established santitation facilities, constructed mud streets and of course, held parades and protested daily with marches in the capital while they became more and more vocal as the government turned a deaf ear to their plight. Congress and the president meanwhile do what they generally do best…they did nothing thinking it would all blow over like a bad dream. That was not about to happen. Something did happen however, and the full weight of the U.S. government hit the fan!
If there’s one thing governments can’t stand, its protesters who can organize themselves
On July 28, U.S. Attorney General, William Mitchell issued a directive to have the vets and their families forcibly removed from Hooverville, using any means at their disposal. No this was not Area 51, but extreme force and measures were put in place. The first deadly volley came from the D.C. police who descended on the camp and faced angry men and their families. These angry young men were not intimidated. These men had faced battle on the European fields against other armed forces in the first mechanized war in history. The marchers refused to budge, the police opened fire, two vets were shot and died. Other locations of the Bonus Army were also attacked throughout the city and more vets were shot dead by police.
The heavy handed Hoover flexing his presidential muscle now ordered the U.S. Army into action to clear the vets out of the camps. The attack was planned and led by none other than the glory hound, General Douglas MacArthur, who at the time was the Army Chief of Staff. He attacked full force with infantry, cavalry and tanks. The marchers were uner assault, ousted and all their belongings were burned and destroyed. Once the attack subsided, the Marchers moved back in to the camps. The police attacked again and two more vets were shot dead. William Huska was one, who is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He may have been driven out of his Hooverville, but today is a permanent resident of the capital where he protested for his rights and was killed for his trouble…a constant reminder of a government gone mad.
Hoover now needed a course in anger management ordered the army to clear the entire city of the marchers. MacArthur, happy as a hooker in on getting paid to get laid, once again led the attack. This time General George Patton lead the tank assault. Civilian government employees lined the streets and started yelling at the attackers and in defence of the marchers! The army now attacked not only with tanks but the infantry fixed bayonets and lobbed teargas into the camps. The camps cleared quickly as the vets and their families fled across the river.
Hoover issued the command to stop the attack as it was getting way out of hand, even by his standards, but MacArthur, ever the deluded god in uniform ignored the order thinking this “revolution” would overthrow the government attacked again, more viciously this time. A woman was attacked by troops, beaten and miscarried, and a 12 year old boy died from the teargas attack. Dwight Eisenhower who was MacArthurs top aide felt the attack was all wrong and later when president he said, quote, “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go!”
One vet who had won accomodation after accomodation in battle and had saved Patton’s life during a battle tried to talk to him and have him call off the attack. Patton refused and and ordered the MP’s to remove him and make sure he didn’t show up again or would be arrested!
New Elections, New Government, & The Importance of Eleanor Roosevelt
Needless to say, the attacks destroyed Hoovers chances for re-election and opened the door to the White House for FDR. They organized another march in 1933 and this time FDR provided them with a campsite and three meals a day on land in Virginia near the capital. Negotiations opened up once again, and this time FDR sent his wife, Eleanor into the camps to talk with the protesters. She ate with them and talked with them and even joined them in a few choruses of protest songs. One vet said in an interview, “Hoover sent in the army, FDR sent his wife!”
The results of all the bloodshed finally ended in 1936 when the both houses passed a bill that authorized immediate payment of $2 billion dollars in bonuses. By the way, the House vote was 324 for passage, 61 against while the Senate vote was 76 for versus 19 against. Unfortunately this was not the first time in American history that vets got a raw deal, the first time was in 1781 when the vets marched to protest the fact that during the war for independence..they were never paid as promised. In fact, they were not paid at all!
The vets were eventually paid for ther services but it took almost two decades after WWI had ended, bloodshed and death on the streets of the nations capital to acheive what was rightfully theirs as promised. Meanwhile, today, VA hospitals are facing and have had budget cuts…vets programs have been cut…and today you can see many homeless vets on the streets..but the lawn at Arlington National Cemetery is maintained to garden perfection…monuments abound there at tax pays expense..and Congress still holds back on the living vet and other segments of society…mental health programs…homeless funding and passing a liveable minimum wage while they enjoy six figure incomes, free health care, and SUV limos all at your expense. When in DC on a visit and went to the Capital building…I notice two dozen limos parked in their lot adjacent…found out they were indeed Congressional vehicles…I happened to voice my opinion when I entered to building to the people I was with..Security overheard me and refuse me entry, I began to protest and was physically removed from the building..not the first I was to protest in DC …the first time was during the Poor Peoples March in the sixties when I was on active duty in the Army when I was arrested by the FBI…lets face it…a vet can’t win…or protest without consequences.
Age not withstanding to prohibit me from active duty…count me out of the next war for many reasons, besides, as John Lennon said “give peace a chance” — or as many of us who served say “fuck the army”
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