The Bonus Expeditionary Force, and today

Part 1.  July 28, 1932: War on Civilians
 Maureen Gill writes:
Who might be one of the most historically important American presidents?
In my opinion, FDR rewrote Destiny.
To fully appreciate FDR’s legacy, we need to truly understand both the nation and the world as it was on March 4, 1933, the day Roosevelt was inaugurated as our 32nd president. Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany one month earlier, the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria two years earlier, and a sometimes comical but always ruthless man known as Il Duce (Benito Mussolini) had been the fascist dictator of Italy for over a decade. And let’s not forget Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin (“stalin” is the Russian word for “steel” and the name he gave himself); at the time of FDR’s inaugural Stalin was inflicting terror on millions of his own people.
Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo and Stalin make bin Laden, Mubarak, and Ghaddafi look like Larry, Curly and Moe. However, the psychopaths of Europe and Asia were of little or no concern to Americans in March, 1933. The country had endured three years of misery and was on the brink of complete political and social collapse – and no one understood it better than FDR. Shortly after he entered the White House a close friend told him if he succeeded he would go down in history as the greatest American president but if he failed he would be known as America’s worst.

Roosevelt knew better; he replied, “If I fail, I shall be the last president in American history.”

Perhaps no incident demonstrates how true Roosevelt’s statement may have been than the appalling story about the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF). If ever a story could radicalize people to violent action against their government, this would be it; it also demonstrates more dramatically than any other single story the difference one man can make in the history of a nation. If Roosevelt had been a man like his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, I really don’t think this nation would have survived.

In May, 1932, seven months before FDR was elected and Herbert Hoover was still president, an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers – 17,000  World War I veterans, plus their families, and affiliated groups – many being penniless and despairing – gathered in Washington, D.C. Their goal was simple: in the starving season of despair that engulfed America, now known as the Great Depression, the veterans rather reasonably begged for the early distribution of funds the government promised them. Specifically, they wanted immediate payment of a soldiers’ “bonus” promised by the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924; the bonus was to be distributed in 1945 but if the men could receive it in 1932 it was estimated it would amount to approximately $500 per man.

Five hundred dollars was an enormous sum of money and the vast majority of the men who were owed that sum needed it most desperately. The veterans were homeless, unemployed, and they and their loved ones were starving.

Newsmen called them the “Bonus Army” and the “bonus marchers;” the vets christened themselves the ‘Bonus Expeditionary Force’, in memory of their service in The Great War when they fought in Europe as the American Expeditionary Force.

The BEF marchers encamped in parks, dumps, abandoned warehouses, and empty stores. They were unarmed and determined to act like peaceful and law abiding citizens; they had taken care to ferret out and expel radicals preaching revolution and violence from their ranks. Despite their evident hunger they didn’t panhandle. To many observers they appeared too weak and pitiful to pose a menace; one reporter described them as “ragged, weary… with no hope on their faces.”

The bonus marchers tried to plead their case before Congress but were rebuffed. Desperate, they decided to appeal to their Commander in Chief, Herbert Hoover. It’s estimated that over one hundred thousand Washingtonians lined the streets as the veterans marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Their march was led by a Medal of Honor Winner; at the White House they begged for Hoover to receive a small delegation of veterans they had designated as their leaders.

Hoover, however, sent word that he was too busy to see them; then he proceeded to isolate himself further in a crippling fog of paranoia and resentment.

They vowed to stay the course and remain in Washington until they were paid their bonus. There was no reason to leave, really, as living as a homeless person in Washington was as good as anywhere and at least in Washington they had each other. Their vigil became a test of endurance and heartbreak and was watched by the entire nation.

The President, his Attorney General William Mitchell, and most of Congress railed against the BEF as “dangerous insurgents” and “violent socialists.” The Hearst newspapers and other conservative organs decried them as radicals; many said there wasn’t a true veteran among their number, that they were fakes and frauds and criminals. Others took pity; truckloads of food arrived from goodhearted people all over the country. A hundred loaves of bread were shipped each day from a sympathetic baker and pies came from another. Many people worried about the women and children and a health inspector described the encampments spread around Washington as “extremely bad and unhealthful.” The men tried to raise money by staging boxing and wrestling bouts among themselves and charging the locals a small admission to watch; they willingly beat themselves into submission and raised about $2500.00 to buy food and small comforts.

They remained in Washington through the dreadful humidity and heat of one of the city’s most scorching summers. Lacking any meaningful shelters, the veterans and their families endured the fury of mosquitoes, summer storms and the killer heat. By July they were as piteously wilted and near death as the azaleas and cherry trees. The BEF and their families had taken on the appearance of ragged ghosts.

Washington businessmen complained that the sight of “so many down-at-the-heel men has a depressing effect on business.” The police, under the supervision of a retired general named Pelham Glassford, tried to respond with a degree of kindness. After Hoover made it clear he was going to do absolutely nothing to alleviate their hardship, the police began to offer weak coffee, stale bread and watered down stew at six cents a day to the marchers. This enraged Hoover who said the police were pandering to criminals. Congress formally rebuked Glassford for ever allowing the marchers to enter the city in the first place. The police department’s small relief effort withered away under the glare of presidential and Congressional condemnation.

The BEF was a humiliation to the Administration and as summer wore on there was an overall hardening across the land against the BEF. The majority of the country’s newspapers took up the cause on behalf of Hoover, his Attorney General and those in Congress, all of whom continued to insist the marchers were dangerous socialists and anarchists, and that most had never served one day in service to their country. Typically, many Americans were persuaded by such official claims – but not all. Will Rogers said the BEF had the “record for being the best behaved” of any “hungry men assembled anywhere in the world” and some military leaders like General Billy Mitchell and Marine Corps General Smedley Butler had the courage to say the men should be paid their bonuses early.

Billy Mitchell and Smedley Butler were an exception; most military leaders agreed with Hoover. One of them, Brigadier General George Moseley, wanted the bonus marchers arrested and sent to “concentration camps on one of the sparsely inhabited islands of the Hawaiian group not suitable for growing sugar” so they could “stew in their own filth.” Moseley also thought that while the government was in the business of rounding up American citizens it might as well do it right and round up people of “inferior blood” (presumably to be handled in similar fashion). Remarkably, no one thought Moseley was a lunatic. Years later Dwight Eisenhower, who knew Moseley well, described him as “a brilliant” and “dynamic officer.”

On July 28th the Attorney General declared the BEF was “guilty of begging and other acts” and ordered police chief Glassford to evacuate all veterans encamped on any piece of government property. Police wielding nightsticks decided to first clear out abandoned buildings where some of the BEF squatted and their raid began peacefully enough because most of the marchers were taken by surprise and disorganized. Word spread quickly, however, and angry BEF reinforcements arrived from camps across town. They began to throw bricks and the police fired back; horrified, Glassford shouted orders for the police to hold their fire, but the skirmish cost two veterans their lives and several more were seriously wounded.

Hoover was appalled; he ordered Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley to deploy troops. Hoover also issued a communiqué announcing the military would “put an end to rioting and defiance of civil authority” and charging that the men who clashed with police were “entirely of the Communist element.”

Secretary of War Hurley gave the order to Four-Star General Douglas MacArthur. Although brilliant, Mac was as seriously flawed as Moseley. A young career officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower was MacArthur’s aide and Ike strongly protested against military intervention; he warned his boss it was a “political matter for civilian authorities.” Specifically, he called the clash between the BEF and the police a “street corner brawl” and said it was inappropriate for a general to become involved in a local political issue.

MacArthur, of course, disagreed. “There is incipient revolution in the air!” he snapped. “We’re going to break the back of the BEF.”

MacArthur was nothing if not an egomaniac. MacArthur had a strange way of talking about himself in the royal first person and imperiously told Ike “MacArthur has decided to go into active command in the field.” And so he did.

On July 28, 1932, at 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch. The Bonus Marchers, believing the troops were marching in their honor, cheered the troops until Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the spectators to yell, “Shame! Shame!”

After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas (an arsenical vomiting agent), entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. However Gen. MacArthur, feeling the Bonus March was a Communist attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested.A veteran’s wife miscarried. When 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack, a government investigation reported he died of enteritis, while a hospital spokesman said the tear gas “didn’t do it any good.”

This is how it came to be that the 31st President of the United States Herbert Hoover, Attorney General William Mitchell, Secretary of War Patrick Hurley, and Four-Star General Douglas MacArthur (who was aided in the field by Major George S. Patton) decided that it was perfectly reasonable and permissible for the United States government to exercise extreme military force (cavalry, infantry, tanks and a machine gun detachment) against unarmed American citizens.

The aftermath
The Bonus Army incident proved disastrous for Hoover’s chances at re-election; he lost the 1932 election in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During the presidential campaign of 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt opposed the veterans’ bonus demands. When they organized a second demonstration in May 1933, he provided the marchers with a campsite in Virginia and provided them 3 meals a day. Administration officials, led by presidential confidant Louis Howe, tried to negotiate an end to the protest. Roosevelt arranged for his wife Eleanor to visit the site unaccompanied. She lunched with the veterans and listened to them perform songs. She reminisced about her memories of seeing troops off to World War I and welcoming them home. The most she could offer was a promise of positions in the newly created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). One veteran commented: “Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife.” In a press conference following her visit, the First Lady described her reception as courteous and praised the marchers, highlighting how comfortable she felt despite critics of the marchers who described them as Communists and criminals.

Roosevelt later issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the CCC, exempting them from the normal requirement that applicants be unmarried and under the age of 25. Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act in 1936 authorizing the immediate payment of the $2 billion in WWI bonuses over the President’s veto.

The story above was assembled from the following wedsites: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonus_Army> and Maureen Gill’s entry at
<http://thepragmaticprogressive.org/wp/2011/04/26/july-28-1932-war-on-civilians-2/>

2.  US Troops given mission to service dedicated US battle zone
26 September 2008,  Bill Van Auken, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/sep2008/mili-s25_prn.shtml

“For the first time ever, the US military is deploying an active duty regular Army combat unit for full-time use inside the United States to deal with emergencies, including potential civil unrest. Beginning on 1 October 2008, the First Brigade Combat Team of the Third Division will be placed under the command of US Army North, the Army’s component of the Pentagon’s Northern Command (NorthCom),
which was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with the stated mission of defending the US “homeland” and aiding federal, state and local authorities.

The unit—known as the “Raiders”—is among the Army’s most “blooded.” It has spent nearly three out of the last five years deployed in Iraq, leading the assault on Baghdad in 2003 and carrying out house-to-house combat in the suppression of resistance in the city of Ramadi. It was the first brigade combat team to be sent to Iraq three times.

While active-duty units previously have been used in temporary assignments, such as the combat-equipped troops deployed in New Orleans, which was effectively placed under martial law in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this marks the first time that an Army combat unit has been given a dedicated assignment in which US soil constitutes its “battle zone.”

The colonel’s remark suggests that, in preparation for their “homefront” duties, rank-and-file troops are also being routinely Tasered. The brutalizing effect and intent of such a macabre training exercise is to inure troops against sympathy for the pain and suffering they may be called upon to inflict on the civilian population using these same “non-lethal” weapons.

According to military officials quoted by the Army Times, the deployment of regular Army troops in the US begun with the First Brigade Combat Team is to become permanent, with different units rotated into the assignment on an annual basis. In an online interview with reporters earlier this month, NorthCom officers were asked about the implications of the new deployment for the Posse Comitatus Act, the 230-year-old legal statute that bars the use of US military forces for law enforcement purposes within the US itself.

Col. Lou Volger, NorthCom’s chief of future operations, tried to downplay any enforcement role, but added, “We will integrate with law enforcement to understand the situation and make sure we’re aware of any threats.” Volger acknowledged the obvious, that the Brigade Combat Team is a military force, while attempting to dismiss the likelihood that it would play any military role. It “has forces for security,” he said, “but that’s really—they call them security forces, but that’s really just to establish our own footprint and make sure that we can operate and run our own bases.”

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