Now Playing: Lietta Ruger at Washblog
Congress didn't act then, doesn't act now; History Lesson - Bonus Army - 1932
Bonus Army March on Washington DC in 1932 provides us with a model that has seemingly gone unchanged in how Congress responds to our military veterans, and the intensity by which veterans and civilians have to 'demonstrate' to get the attention of Congress - no not just get the attention, but enough attention that causes Congress to finally take action.
A history lesson. Last night, on PBS station, was airing of a show about the 20,000 Bonus Army veterans of World War 1,along with their families, and other affiliated groups in their march on Washington DC, their encampment in Washington DC during the spring and summer of 1932, and the resulting riot that ensued to break up the encampment. Congress continued to vote no to keeping a promise they had already made and given to these WW 1 veterans. Perseverance and persistence, on the part of the veterans, families and supporters and finally Congress said Yes to keeping their promise. What happened in between with Congress saying No to Congress saying Yes is not a pretty American tale, but indeed, part of American history.
1932 - World War 1 and all the wars that followed up to the present in 2007 - why do our veterans have to fight Congress as well as fight in the battlefields? It seems this is the 'norm', not the exception.
In 1924 promise was made via Adjusted Service Certificate Law giving to WW1 veterans "bonus" certificates the following year that would be redeemable for cash after a maturation period of 20 years - payable in 1945.
June 17, 1932 and Congress was to vote on the Patman Bonus Bill, which would have moved forward the date when World War I veterans received a cash bonus. The 'Bonus Army' massed on DC, in hopes of convincing Congress to grant payments immediately, providing relief for the marchers/protestors who were unemployed. It was the era of the Great Depression, and veterans who already served found themselves in the food lines, without means to provide for their families, and were reduced from proud returning warriors to street beggars and bums (note; use of those words street beggars and bums reflects the social thinking of that era, not my definitions for how I think of the veterans of that era). Not a pretty sight then for veterans, and doesn't it bring up recent history of Vietnam-era veterans who are homeless, living in the streets in reduced life circumstances?
Why is it no surprise that Congress defeated the bill July 28, and offered the pittance of paying the veteran demonstrators way home? Some accepted and went home; others did not and remained. The Washington Police moved in to disperse the encampment, and two veterans were fatally shot in the process. The veterans hit back with blunt instruments, and the Washington Police backed off telling then President Hoover that they could not maintain the peace.
President Hoover ordered in federal troops to remove the veteran protesters. Noted Generals, General Douglas MacArthur with Dwight D. Eisenhower as part of his staff, and General George S. Patton were in command of the removal. Troops carrying rifles, unsheathed bayonets and tear gas were sent in. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several killed. It's not hard to imagine the impact on the public of a visual of U.S. armed soldiers confronting poverty-stricken veterans from what was then in American history the recent Great War. (note; jumping forward in hisotry, we've seen this image again in Vietnam war protests). It did set the stage and we do have these protesting WW 1 veterans to thank for what would become Veteran relief and eventually the Veterans Administration, making benefits of medical, home loans, and college tuition available to the next generation of veterans.
(Side note) And these benefits, I'm afraid, are on the serious decline as this Administration cites budget constraints while asking for budget supplemental appropriation to feed troop increases and keeping the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the battle against it's own veterans to clear the encampments, burning down the tents and shacks, by the end a list of casualties looked like this:
- Two veterans were shot and killed.
- An 11 week old baby was in critical condition resulting from shock from gas exposure.
- Two infants died from gas asphyxiation.
- An 11 year old boy was partially blinded by tear gas.
- One bystander was shot in the shoulder.
- One veteran's ear was severed by a Cavalry saber.
- One veteran was stabbed in the hip with a bayonet.
- At least twelve police were injured by the veterans.
- Over 1,000 men, women, and children were exposed to the tear gas, including police, reporters, residents of Washington D.C., and ambulance drivers.
President Hoover was not re-elected, and a new President in Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. After his 1933 Inauguration, some of the veterans regrouped to make their case to the new President. He did not want to pay the bonus either, and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt engaged the veterans encouraging many of them to sign up for jobs making roadways at the Florida Keys.
In the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 in Florida, 259 of these veterans were killed at their worksites on the highway. Public sentiment in reaction to seeing newsreels of veterans giving their lives for a government that had taken them for granted, is what persuaded Congress they could no longer afford to ignore it in an election year (1936). Roosevelt's veto was overridden, and the veterans received their bonus.
NPR Soldier Against Soldier; The Story of the Bonus Army with vintage newsreel.
I will mention 'Vietnam' without getting into another history lesson - a decade of sending our young into combat in an un-necessary war, 58,000 names of the dead on Vietnam Wall in Washington DC; millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians killed - oh yes, if you didn't know it to be true, U.S. troops were ordered by the Nixon Administration into Cambodia and Laos - it wasn't limited to Vietnam. The Nixon Administration also ordered the military use of weapons of mass destruction in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos without much regard to the troops or non-combatant civilians. What did it take to get Congress to act in this history lesson?
Today, then, in 2007, in the matter of four years of U.S. military deployed in occupation of Iraq, despite four years of mounted protests by hundreds of thousands in cities across the United States, in Washington DC - what is it going to take to affect Congress to action instead of using just empty words as they jocky for political position? Despite the efforts of veterans - over 1,300 Iraq veterans signed the Appeal for Redress that was delivered to Congress in January 2007 - Lt. Ehren Watada's efforts by his refusal to deploy to put the Iraq war on trial in accord with U.S. compliance with Geneva Conventions - the poll which indicated that 70% of deployed troops polled believe they should come home ----- what is going to take to get Congress to listen and act?
No, that is not a rant or a hopeless question. The history dating back to the Bonus Army, and the wars in which the U.S. military has been deployed since clearly show a more than casual disregard for the military and veterans over a 65 year period. That is more than happenstance - that is a pattern of behavior on the part of Congress. And I only went back to 1932, choosing the Bonus Army as a starting place.
Is it any wonder that there is almost now by rote an action = U.S. military deployed into questionable wars with reaction = U.S. public must battle Congress to see the error it it's ways via repeated and accelerated protest demonstrations before Congress will act? Is this the norm in our country - this land of freedom? Freedom of what, I ask myself sometimes - freedom to send our young off in repeated historical wars to be killed and maimed and scarred for life and with just a thank you Sir and then are as quickly as one clicks the remote to change the tv channel the 'new veterans' are forgotten? Freedom to maintain freedom by sending our young repeatedly generation after generation to war? I have to wonder when freedom isn't freedom but an act of an extreme kind of selfishness. Why is it that only our country deserves the largess?
No, I don't want to move to another country and I'm sure many would be happy to invite that opportunity if I am so dis-satisfied with my own country. And no, I don't want to live under a dictatorship or other forms of government that are oppressive in nature. Besides, I've had a husband and now a son-in-law and nephew pay my price of freedom and freedom to speak since they have been in combat over two wars - Vietnam and Iraq. Oh, and my nephew was also in Bosnia - you remember Bosnia? Clinton years?
But, just because we, in this country, have some mythical definitions of what it is to be a democracy and those definitions are bathed and perfumed in nostalgic and patriotic dressing, doesn't mean we should accept that as the satisfactory bar or standard of what it means to be a democracy. We should strive for better, yes, and we should re-examine our definitions and we should, perhaps improve on those definitions, and we should stop sending our young generations to be killed in the name of democracy and freedom, or at the very least get a clearer sense of what constitutes a 'threat' and imminent danger to our country. .
Quoting President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who witnessed and participated in routing out the Bonus Army - U.S. troops against U.S. veterans:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Don't think for a moment, that our Congress today, our Administration today does not well know the lessons of history. Which is exactly why Congress refusing to act against an Administration who refuses to listen to the advice and warnings of his war experts is beyond deplorable as static energy - moving neither forward or backward, perpetuating more of the same by doing nothing different. When did 'stay the course' become a patriotic nomenclature? How is that bravery or wisdom in the face of foolishness?
I truly do not wish to see the two in our family go back to Iraq this year - they returned alive, not necessarily well, but alive from their first 15 month deployment in 2003-2004. Believe me, none in our family will consider it a noble sacrifice for them to go back, and their deaths will not honor them or us, rather it will be remembered that this Administration and Congress in concert did, in fact, exploit and dishonor our brave young service men and women.