Friday, July 27, 2012

Occupy Washington circa 1932

Occupy Washington circa 1932
In the spring and summer of 1932 43,000 did an Occupy Washington D.C. type live-in in our nation's Capital. The group consisted of 17,000 Veterans and the rest were primarily family members. Many of these Veterans had been out of work since the start of the Great Depression but some since the first World War. These protesters were called the Bonus Army.
 These Veterans were there to protest the "World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924." The act had awarded military personnel "credits" for their service. These were in addition to their military pay but were not redeemable until 1945 (there were insurance and additional revenue the government expected to get back at that time). But the rolling '20s had fallen into the Great Depression and these papers were useless for people trying to feed their families.

President Herbert Hoover (hope is just around the corner) was stuck in the situation of dealing with 43,000 people living in tents in Washington D.C. He directed his Attorney General, William D. Mitchell, to order the veterans removed from all government property. The police were sent in with the tools they have, the gun and the club. These veterans had all seen combat and were not going to be moved and after the clash there were between 2 and 15 veterans dead.

Since force had been so effective already, President Hoover ordered the army to clear the campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur (yep, that MacArthur) personally commanded the attack. He led the infantry, cavalry and six tanks.

Before we go any further, let me tell you a little about the "Bonus Army" and their ramshackle garbage town they called "Hooverville." They only allowed veterans who could prove they were honorably discharged from the armed service, held daily parades in D.C., and built sanitation systems, to keep their town of garbage dump scavenged materials clean. So, yes this was a blight on the Capital, but it was controlled and clean for basically a bunch of tents and home made shacks.

On July 29th, 1932 at 4:45 p.m., the United States Army, commanded by General MacArthur, supported by tank commander Major George S. Patton (yep, that Patton), and MacArthur's junior aid Major Dwight D. Eisenhower (soon to be general and then President Eisenhower), attacked United States Veterans. The army charged with gunfire and bayonets after an initial volley of vomit inducing adamsite gas.

The veteran protesters and their families fled across the Anacostina River. After clearing them President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. General MacArthur, who thought the protest was a Communist attempt to overthrow the US government (remember this is prior to the Cold War), ignored the President and ordered a new attack. In this second wave of military assault on American Veterans there were a couple deaths, a lot of injuries and 135 arrests and one miscarriage.

These were the good old days. After a financial collapse caused by the abuses of an under regulated financial system a group of Americans staged a live-in. The government of the United States used a military force to disperse them.

 I look around at the Occupy Movement and I see the Bonus Army movement. I see Americans with no other course of action than to put their bodies in a place and not move. I see the violent retaliation of the political establishment on non-violent protest. I am reminded of Dr. King and the attack dogs, Kent State, UC Davis last year and this recent business in Anaheim California. I look around and think about how the Government's monopoly on and use of violence crushes non-violence and leaves citizens with only violence as their last recourse.

I guess this post is a reminder that the good old days never existed and that everything old is new again. Even governments attacking their own citizens.


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