Monday, November 12, 2007

After World War I: The Bonus Army & Hoovervilles

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Remember the scene at the end of the Fighting 69th with the troops returning home to the cheering crowds? Well things didn't go too well for those veterans. In fact, unemployment and homelessness has been a recurring problem for veterans in history. All Things Considered had a segment on it today. I matched the audio with images of the Bonus Army and the Hoovervilles that cropped up all over the country in the early 1930's. A recommended site from the library of congress
About the Bonus Marchers:
The Bonus Army or Bonus March or Bonus Expeditionary Force was an assemblage of about 17,000 World War I veterans, accompanied by their families and other affiliated groups, who demonstrated in Washington, DC, during the spring and summer of 1932. The marchers were seeking immediate cash payment of Service Certificates granted eight years previously by the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. Each Service Certificate issued to a qualified soldier bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus interest. The sticking point was that the certificates, similar to bonds, were set to mature a full 20 years from the date of their original issue. Thus, under existing law, the certificates could not be redeemed until 1945.

The Bonus Army veterans were led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant, and were encouraged in their demand for immediate monetary payment by an appearance from retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time.

The Bonus Army massed at the United States Capitol on June 17 as the U.S. Senate voted on the Patman Bonus Bill, which would have moved forward the date when World War I veterans received a cash bonus. Most of the Bonus Army camped in a Hooverville on the Anacostia Flats, then a swampy, muddy area across the Anacostia River from the federal core of Washington. The protesters had hoped that they could convince Congress to make payments that would be granted to veterans immediately, which would have provided relief for the marchers who were unemployed due to the Depression. The bill had passed the House of Representatives on June 15 but was blocked in the Senate.

After the defeat of the bill, Congress appropriated funds to pay for the marchers' return home, which some marchers accepted. Some of the veterans stayed and continued to protest. On July 28, Washington police attacked the veterans. After many people got injured and two veterans died, the protesters assaulted the police with blunt weapons, wounding several of them. After the police retreated, the District of Columbia commissioners informed President Herbert Hoover that they could no longer maintain the peace, whereupon Hoover ordered federal troops to remove the marchers from the general area. James Quinn helped the veterans by donating food and supplies so that they could survive while they were camped outside of Washington D.C.

The marchers were cleared and their camps were destroyed by the 12th Infantry Regiment from Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment under the command of MAJ. George S. Patton from Fort Myer, Virginia, under the overall command of General Douglas MacArthur. The Posse Comitatus Act, prohibiting the U.S. military from being used for general law enforcement purposes in most instances, did not apply to Washington, DC, because it is one of several pieces of federal property under the direct governance of the U.S. Congress (United States Constitution, Article I. Section 8). Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a member of MacArthur's staff, had strong reservations about the operation. Troops carrying rifles with unsheathed bayonets and tear gas were sent into the Bonus Army's camps. President Hoover did not want the army to march across the Anacostia River into the protesters' largest encampment, but Douglas MacArthur felt this was a communist attempt to overthrow the government and thus exceeded his authority. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several were killed, including William Hushka and Eric Carlson; a wife of a veteran miscarried, and other casualties were inflicted. The visual image of U.S. armed soldiers confronting poor veterans of the recent Great War set the stage for Veteran relief and eventually the Veterans Administration.

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