History : the bonus marchers
Background and Opinions on “The Bonus Army”
At the turn of the century, The United States of America was facing large-scale changes at all levels of society, as a traditional urban families procured work in cities where those at the top prospered while those at the bottom often worked long hours in difficult jobs for measly incomes. At the end of the first world war, many veterans were dispossessed by the state of affairs in the US and the struggles that came with the economy when the Great Depression strut. An assemblage of marchers, 43,000, a quarter of which were veterans. from WWI marched in the Capital in the spring and summer of 1932, demanding payment for their service certificates (Zin, 365).
The Bonus Army is a piece which fits into the greater puzzle of disenfranchised American citizens demanding reforms from their government and fare wages from big industry. It also represents the paradigm when such protests often were met with military suppression from the government from which they were demanding change.
Angry at finding themselves giving their lives for a country that could not even provide them with work, they demanded payment on certificates where were to be worth money in the future immediately. Their reasoning was simple, they needed the money now, and so their government should be situational aware enough to give them they money that they owed them when veterans needed it, not at a future date when the debt was due.
The Bonus army grew from all over the countries as more men came either alone or with their families to come. Zin writes, “They came in broken-down old autos, stealing rides on freight trains, or hitchhiking. They were miners from West Virginia, sheet metal workers from Columbus, Georgia, and unemployed Polish veterans from Chicago. One family-husband, wife, three-year-old boy-spent three months on freight trains coming from California” (Zin, 366).
A bill to pay of the Bonus army passed in the House of Representatives only to be defeated in the Senate. Most were staying encamped in government building in or near the capital and President Hoover ordered the army to evict them. The army responded under the command of Douglas MacAurthur sent four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, six tanks and a machine gun squadron which gathered at the white house.
Tear gas was employed to coax the veterans out of their dwellings. A number of buildings were set on fire. The scene entailed fleeing veterans and their families—wives and children—fleeing the United States Army where they had served loyally during the World War I. Eventually the army set the whole encampment ablaze. In the aftermath two veterans lost their lives and an eleven week old baby was killed and a thousand veterans were injured from the gas. Historians mark this as an important event which led to the defeat of Hoover in the November Election of 1932 (Zin, 366).
Other movements like the Bonus Army were broken up in the same way—through military action instead of peaceful negotiations between people and his or her government. Later it was The Poor People’s encampment that was broken up through this military action (Zin, 431). This brings larger issues about freedom and government overstepping to the discussion.
The Bonus Army formed out of desperation. Veterans returned to their country to find that they did not have the means at their disposal to get by. It was also a time when the rich, most who had not fought in World War I, were suffering from the great depression, but were still living lavish lives. The Bonus Army was not demanding money that it did not have coming to it, but wanted the government to recognize their need for it immediately and pay them in order to quell the other difficulties of their lives.
Hoover could have worked with the congress to pass a bill allowing them to be paid. He could have opened up a dialogue with them in order to come to an agreement regarding what could be done in which both sides would feel they were working in cooperation. What he did instead was treat the Bonus Army as criminals, instead of hard-up veterans who had traveled from all over to country to come to the doorstep of their government and seek help.
Hoover, in my opinion, acted immorally on setting current members of the armed forces to evict former members of the armed forces from where they staged their protest. Hoover’s message was clear, he was not willing to negotiate, and would respond to demands from the people of his government with military force. This also must have had an effect on officers in the army being sent to run-out the veterans who had risked their lives to protect US freedoms. Many must have wondered why they were serving if this is how their government chose to deal with reasonable requests from its people.
Zinn, Howard. A people's history of the United States: 1492-2001. New ed. NYC: Perenial Classics, 1999. Print.