A History Lesson (Part Three) The Bonus Army

Katie Aguilera

They’re better off, I can hear whoever sent them say, explaining to himself. What good were they? You can’t account for accidents or acts of God. They were well-fed, well- ‘loused, well-treated and, let us suppose, now they are well dead. But I would like to make whoever sent them there carry just one out through the mangroves, or turn one over that lay in the sun along the fill, or tie five together so they won’t float out, or smell that smell you thought you’d never smell again, with luck. But now you know there isn’t any luck when rich bastards make a war. The lack of luck goes on until all who take part in it are gone.

Ernest Hemingway, Who Murdered the Vets? September 7, 1935

On July 28, 1932, the United States Army was ordered to oust thousands of US Army World War I veterans from the streets of Washington D.C.  Three tanks, 200 mounted cavalry with sabers drawn, and 300 infantrymen with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets, proceeded through the city, driving everyone from the streets.  They launched tear gas grenades at the crowds, and ignited fires in the makeshift camps the veterans and family members had erected over the previous months.  Different accounts of the event allege that at least one, possibly two babies died from tear gas inhalation during the attack, though the official investigation would later deny those claims.  Area hospitals were reportedly filled with injured people.

It was a violent attack largely condemned by Americans across the nation in the days that followed.  But it is a story that is mostly unknown to Americans today, 85 years later.

After World War I ended, many veterans returning to the states found it difficult to find employment.  The jobs they held before serving in the military were now filled by people earning higher wages than they had.  Veterans’ groups began to lobby Congress for what was then called “adjusted compensation.”  This push for additional compensation was derided by many as an effort to obtain bonuses the veterans didn’t deserve, and the veterans were often derogatorily labeled “bonus seekers.”

In 1922, Congress did consider a measure to provide additional compensation, but President Warren Harding vetoed the bill.  The veterans’ groups continued their efforts, and in 1924, Congress passed what was popularly known as the Soldier’s Bonus Act.  President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the bill, reportedly stating “patriotism which is bought and paid for is not patriotism.”  However, his veto was overridden, and the veterans were awarded bonuses.

According to this US history website, “Adjusted compensation was to be paid at the rate of $1.25 per day for time spent in foreign service and at the rate of $1 per day for domestic service.  The sum earned by veterans was not to be paid in cash, but was to be used to create a 20-year endowment; in the short term, participants were entitled to borrow up to 22.5 percent of the value of the fund.”

After the crash of 1929, and the resulting collapse of the US economy, many veterans found themselves destitute and they pushed to have the bonuses paid out immediately.  In 1932, Texas Representative, Wright Patman, introduced a bill into the US House of Representatives that would do just that.

Walter W. Waters, a former Idaho and Oregon National Guardsman, took notice of this bill and decided something should be done to bring more attention to it.  Waters was born in Burns, Oregon, and had served both in the Idaho National Guard in 1910 and the Oregon National Guard with which he went to fight in France in 1917.  He was living in Portland, Oregon when Patman’s bill was introduced, and Waters organized a march on Washington D.C. in support of the bill.  250 to 300 men from Portland joined him, and with a banner declaring “Portland Bonus March—On to Washington,” they set off in May of 1932.

The media took notice, and Waters’ group, calling themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, was given positive coverage in newspapers and radio broadcasts across the nation.  They were popularly referred to as the “Bonus Army” and gained wide support from the public, and sympathetic authorities.  Many more veterans traveled to Washington D.C. to join in, often riding the rails to get there.  Railroad men refused to turn the illegal passengers in, and supporters donated money and food to the veterans.

The Bonus Army veterans began arriving in Washington D.C. on May 25, 1932.  Most reports state the group was as large as 20,000 men.  They began establishing camps around the city. The largest camp, by the Anacostia River, was named Camp Marks.  Veterans and family members erected shelters from scrap material, and the camp was organized like a city with named streets.  They set up a post office, a library, and their own newspaper.  Waters was strict, and the camp didn’t allow drinking, begging, weapons or fighting.  Anti-government, radical talk and Communists were also forbidden.

In spite of this strict rule, however, communists did enter the camps to argue their cause.  According to this article on Waters and the Bonus Army, the veterans “seized the communists, held trials, and sentenced them to fifteen lashes.  More than two hundred communists were expelled from Bonus Army camps.”  This article states, “rumors about communist revolutionaries soon spread throughout the city, and deeply affected the highest levels of government.  At the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation labored to find evidence that the Bonus Army had communist roots, evidence that never existed.”  This would later be used as justification for the July 28 attack on the camps.

On June 15, 1932, the US House passed the bill sponsored by Representative Patman, to pay $2.4 billion in bonuses to veterans immediately.  It passed with a margin of 211 to 176 one day after Tennessee Congressman Edward Eslick dropped dead from a heart attack while giving a speech in favor of the bill in Congress.  The bill went before the Senate on June 17, 1932, and as many as 8,000 veterans waited at the Capitol Building for the decision.  The city police had succeeded in keeping another 10,000 veterans from entering the city by raising the Anacostia drawbridge.

It wasn’t until 9:30 that evening that the decision was announced.  The bill was defeated by a vote of 62 to 18.

In the days that followed, some of the Bonus Army veterans left the city, but many stayed, vowing to continue the protest until the bonuses were paid.  Numerous politicians, President Herbert Hoover included, grew increasingly concerned that the protests would become violent.  According to this article, “depression had settled in, the government had been fearful of the possibility of an armed insurrection against Washington.  Even before the arrival of the Bonus Army, the army had developed a plan to defend the city with tanks, machine guns, and poison gas.”  President Hoover ordered the police to evict the protestors, and on July 28, 1932, the police attempted just that.

A violent clash erupted.  One veteran was killed and three policemen were injured.  The police chief, Major Glassford, determined that the police could no longer control the situation and agreed to assistance from federal troops.  Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the army to put its plan into action, and the US Army hit the streets in force.

General MacArthur held a press conference that night and stated, “had the President not acted today, had he permitted this thing to go on for twenty-four hours more, he would have been faced with a grave situation which would have caused a real battle.  Had he let it go on another week, I believe the institutions of our Government would have been severely threatened.”

President Hoover said, “a challenge to the authority of the United States Government has been met, swiftly and firmly.  After months of patient indulgence, the Government met over lawlessness as it always must be met if the cherished processes of self-government are to be preserved.  We cannot tolerate the abuse of Constitutional rights by those who would destroy all government, no matter who they may be.  Government cannot be coerced by mob rule.”

He would order an investigation into the events by the justice department, which ultimately concluded that, “the prompt use of the military to outnumber and overawe the disturbers prevented a calamity.”  The investigation report, submitted by Attorney General William D. Mitchell, concluded by stating, “The right to peaceably petition Congress for redress of alleged grievances does not include assemblage of disorderly thousands at the seat of the government for purposes of coercion.”

While the investigation report conceded that the Bonus Army protestors were law abiding and peaceful up until the Senate vote, it focused much attention on the numbers of protestors who had not served in the military during World War I, those that had criminal records, and those that were communists, radicals, and anti-government.  It also downplayed the actions of the police and the federal troops, and the number of injuries.  The public’s negative opinion of the attack on the Bonus Army wouldn’t change however, and the event certainly didn’t help President Hoover in his re-election bid which he lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt months later.

World War I veterans continued to lobby Congress for the bonuses in the years that followed, returning to Washington D.C. annually.  The number of transient veterans in the city was increasingly viewed as a problem and many veterans were sent to rehabilitation camps in the Florida Keys.  These were work camps for road construction projects, a way to provide jobs for the men.  Unfortunately, hundreds of the veterans were killed by the September 2, 1935 ‘Labor Day Hurricane’ when the camps were not evacuated before the storm.  Their deaths prompted Ernest Hemingway to pen his 1935 piece, Who Murdered the Vets?  Investigations into whether the deaths were the result of negligence were conducted.  One such investigation concluded that there had been negligence, but the report of that investigation was suppressed for decades.

It wouldn’t be until four years after the Bonus Army protest of 1932 and several months after the deaths in Florida that the veterans were finally successful.  3.2 million veterans were paid the bonuses in 1936.

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A History Lesson (Part Two) The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

In the early hours of July 28, 1914, the man who was then first in line to take the throne of Austria, along with his wife, left Philipovic army camp of Bosnia in a line of automobiles, on a drive that would end with death, and start a cascade of events that led to world war.  An initial attempt at killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand that morning by throwing a bomb at his car failed, but later that day, the Archduke and his wife, Sophie, were fatally shot in their car in front of Moritz Schiller’s food store on Franz Joseph Street in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  It was an assassination that would trigger global conflict, four years of unprecedented death and destruction.

I think that most Americans, like me, were taught very little about World War I in school.  Just a quick, passing overview, the gist of which was something about Germany attempting to take over the world, lots of men dying in trenches, and Americans swooping in at the last minute to save the day, to save the world.  And there was a little something about some duke or something who was killed.  But there was never any explanation, there was no understanding of just how the assassination of one man and his wife could launch the entire world into such a bloody, devastating war.

World War I, known mostly as the Great War before World War II, began a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and then invaded.  There had been increasing tensions between these countries, and surrounding countries, for decades.  Several treaties and agreements had been struck, creating a divisive and increasingly hostile atmosphere throughout Europe and Russia.  Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Italy had formed a Triple Alliance, agreeing to militarily support each other in the event that either of the three was attacked by any other powerful nation.  The Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland answered with an agreement of their own, the Triple Entente.  The dominoes were lined up in place, just waiting for the proper catalyst.

When Ferdinand’s car came to a stop outside the store where Gavrilo Princip had just stopped in to buy a sandwich after his fellow assassin, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, had attempted to kill the archduke with a bomb, Princip reacted quickly, and fired two shots.  He hit both the Archduke, and his wife Sophia, who sat next to him in the open car.  Both died shortly thereafter.  This gave Austria-Hungary the excuse it wanted to issue an ultimatum with several demands to Serbia, an ultimatum that was not expected to be agreed upon.  When Serbia agreed to all the demands except for one allowing Austria-Hungary’s participation in an internal investigation into the Archduke’s assassination, the dominoes fell and war was declared.  The countries of the world lined up and took their places in the battle, based on the alliances previously formed.

Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized during the Great War.  More than 9 million combatants were killed, and at least 7 million civilians died as well.  It was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the world.  So, just who was this man, Gavrilo Princip, who fired those two shots in Sarajevo that set the world aflame?  What led him to do it?

Gavrilo Princip was born on July 25, 1894 to Serbian parents whose family had been in Bosnia for centuries, according to Wikipedia.  His father was a farmer who earned additional income by transporting mail through the mountains between Bosnia and the Dalmatia region of Croatia.  Gavrilo was a good student, and at the age of 13 he moved to Sarajevo to be enrolled in school there.  In 1911, Gavrilo joined an organization known as Young Bosnia that wanted Bosnia freed from Austria-Hungary’s control and united with Serbia.  In 1912, Gavrilo was expelled from school after involvement in a demonstration against the Austro-Hungarian authorities.  He traveled to Belgrade, Serbia and volunteered to join the guerrilla groups under the leadership of Major Vojin Tankosic that were fighting the Turks.  He was rejected because he was small, and he returned to Sarajevo, humiliated, but traveled back and forth to Belgrade and eventually he met one of the founders of the Serbian Chetnik Organization, Zivojin Rafajlovic, who had him sent to Vranje where the Chetnik training center was located.  There Gavrilo trained to fight and use weapons.  This made him a good candidate for the assassination plot against Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Major Vojin Tankosic, who had rejected Gavrilo for his small size and would later admit to supplying the weapons used in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, was a member of an organization known as Union or Death, commonly referred to as the Black Hand.  This group formed on May 9, 1911, and by 1914, when Gavrilo Princip would cross paths with them, they had several hundred members, possibly thousands.  Their goal was to bring about the creation of a Greater Serbia, in any way necessary, including the use of guerrilla fighters and saboteurs, and terrorism.  Many Black Hand members were also leaders in government positions, and as a result, the Black Hand had influence over government appointment and policy.  Even Crown Prince Alexander was a supporter.  The Black Hand decided to kill Archduke Ferdinand after learning of his planned visit to Sarajevo, and Gavrilo was recruited for the job, along with two other Young Bosnian members, Nedjelko Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez.

The assassins were trained, and a short time before Ferdinand’s scheduled visit, they traveled back to Sarajevo with the help of Serbian military personnel, and were joined by four more men.  They were supplied with bombs and army pistols from Serbian arsenals.  It seems apparent that they had plenty of support from authorities, and the Black Hand’s activities were not very secret to the Serbian government, given its large number of government and army members.  Eventually, Prime Minister Pasic learned of the plan, and in hopes of avoiding conflict with Austria-Hungary by keeping the involvement of the Black Hand secret, a rather lack-luster attempt was made to stop the assassins with a recall order.  The essay, The Assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand: Trigger For War says this:

This ‘recall’ appears to make Apis (Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic) look like a loose cannon, and the young assassins as independent zealots. In fact, the ‘recall’ took place a full two weeks before the Archduke’s visit. The assassins idled around in Sarajevo for a month. Nothing more was done to stop them. The extensive network of contacts that smuggled them into Sarajevo, fed and housed them, was not utilized to stop them. This calls into question the Black Hand’s and the Serbian government’s desire that the plot truly be cancelled.

Pasic then decided to warn the Austrians.  Like the recall order, this was basically an effort to cover himself and the Serbian government, giving them a measure of deniability.  But it was a very vague and empty warning.  Jovan Jovanovic, the Serbian Minister in Vienna, simply said to Dr. Leon von Bilinski, the Austrian Minister of Finance, that Ferdinand should not go to Sarajevo because, “some young Serb might put a live rather than a blank cartridge in his gun and fire it.”  The implied warning was missed or ignored, and no further warnings were given.

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered in Sarajevo, and the event was used to trigger the armed conflict that had been brewing for some time, that had in fact already been occurring in some areas.  It was just the excuse that was needed.  And it was delivered to the leaders of these countries through the hands of a young, idealistic man who believed he was fighting for his people, and was willing to die for that effort.

It can be easy, looking back, to speculate that the Black Hand, the Young Bosnia group, any of these secret societies, may have been manipulated and used in order to create desired events, to create the necessary trigger.  After all, this has occurred repeatedly throughout history.  There are enough examples to keep me busy writing history lessons for some time.  But, speculation aside, it is known that members of the Serbian military, and government knew of the assassination plan, and in fact, assisted in various ways to ensure that at least one of the seven assassins would succeed.  And for me, that is the most important lesson to be learned from this piece of history.

 

A History Lesson (Part One) The Internment of Japanese Americans

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When I see an article like this  (and now this 1/28/2017 article) and begin seeing renewed calls to stop the refugees our wars in the middle east have caused, I start to think it might be time for a history lesson.  Because, as Edmund Burke clearly stated, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”  And I fear we are forgetting a past mistake, and toying with repeating it (admittedly, not for the first time exactly).

In February of 1942, the US Army General in charge of Western Defense Command (which commanded the defense of the entire west coast of the USA), John L. DeWitt, made a request for expanded authority within this area of command.  Initially this was to impose curfews and restrictions on Japanese-Americans living on the west coast.  His request was granted with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9906. Ultimately, this led to the order in May of 1942 that anyone of Japanese descent who resided within 100 miles of the west coast would be required to either relocate from this region or report to detention centers.

The US government defended this action by saying it was necessary for national security.  DeWitt argued it would be impossible to determine a Japanese-American’s loyalty to the United States.  The media fueled the fire by promoting the idea that the Japanese-American citizens couldn’t be trusted, stirring up fears all along the west coast.  The result was that over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were moved to various internment camps around the west, where they remained during the war, and even for some time after the war was over.  They were forced to leave behind property, businesses, farms, much of which was sold at great loss.  They were never accused of any crime, they hadn’t committed any.  They were simply detained in camps on the slim chance that any one of them would commit some traitorous action, or attack, against America.

Whether this action was Constitutional was challenged twice in Supreme Court cases, Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States.  The Supreme Court held in both cases that it was.  This meant that they protected the legal authority of the military to decide what was necessary for national security during war, not the elected representatives of the people, or the people themselves.  Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote:

…the validity of action under the war power must be judged wholly in the context of war.  That action is not to be stigmatized as lawless because like action in times of peace would be lawless.  To talk about a military order that expresses an allowable judgment of war needs by those entrusted with the duty of conducting war as an ‘unconstitutional order’ is to suffuse a part of the Constitution with an atmosphere of unconstitutionality.

I have been to Tule Lake, where one of the internment camps was located, many times.  I have seen homes made from camp barracks.  I find it to be a depressing place, flat and brown.  I can’t imagine being forced to spend years there, behind guarded wires.  I certainly can’t imagine being forced from my home, from my community, to be incarcerated as an act of national security.  The effects were heartbreaking.

Of course there was the devastating loss of property and personal belongings.  That included items that were placed in government storage that were stolen or destroyed.  But more important  were the effects on the people detained.  Some died due to inadequate medical care, seven were even shot and killed by guards.  Dillon S. Myer, the director of the War Relocation Authority that ran many camps, observed that the detainees were becoming “increasingly depressed” and were “overcome with feelings of helplessness and personal insecurity.” Satsuki Ina writes,  in her May 27th, 2015 article entitled, “I Know An American ‘Internment’ Camp When I See One:”

In my work with Japanese-Americans who had been incarcerated as children, many reported struggles with anxiety and depression as adults.  Particularly key was the environment in which they were held and the torment and suffering that they witnessed their parents experiencing.

(I highly recommend reading her powerful article about South and Central American women and children being held in Texas facilities, found here.  Another heart breaking detention crisis.)

It took far too many years to admit that it had been wrong to relocate and detain Japanese-Americans during World War II, and even longer to redress the mistake.  In 1983, Korematsu’s conviction that the Supreme Court had upheld was overturned because material evidence had been withheld.  That evidence included the Ringle Report, a report submitted by an Office of Naval Intelligence officer, Kenneth Ringle, in January of 1942.  In this report, he stated that the majority of Japanese-Americans were loyal to the United States and did not present any danger.  Any that might present a danger could be “individually identified and imprisoned.”  He argued against mass relocation and internment.  It wasn’t until 2011 that the justice department formally concluded that the case no longer stood as legal precedence.

In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided financial reparations to those affected by the internment.  $1.6 billion was paid out in $20,000.00 increments to 82,210 Japanese-Americans according to this report.  Internment was expensive.  The reparation costs are on top of what it cost to build, staff and operate the internment facilities, and whatever economic loss that may have occurred as a result of the sudden removal of such a large portion of the work force.  So, if you can’t see it as an awful thing to do to people, if you can’t see the cost to humanity, look at the financial cost.

Sadly, it hasn’t taken us very long to forget that it was wrong.  And it hasn’t taken us very long to forget those distressing images of dead children on beaches that had so many people crying out to help Syrian refugees.  The attacks in Paris have once again raised the cries to close borders and round up the refugees who have already come, in the name of national security.

Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney, from South Carolina, said on Tuesday,

Even amongst the most pro-immigration wings of the Republican party, there is a sense that national security absolutely has to come first.  So, we’re trying hard not to over-react.  But, at the same time, if there’s a threat to national security that has to take priority.

See the full article here, in which Speaker Ryan calls for “a pause in Syrian refugees.”

I understand that we are talking about refugees coming from another country, not our own citizens, in this current debate about the refugee crisis in the middle east and Europe.  But how can we make it okay, again, to punish an entire race of people on such a massive scale (it isn’t okay on any scale and I know it happens all the time here) on the small chance that a few of them will cause, or has caused us harm?  Consider what Professor Eugene Rostow, later dean of the Yale law school, wrote in 1945 regarding the internment of Japanese-Americans:

The idea of punishment only for individual criminal behavior is basic to all systems of civilized laws.  A great principle was never lost so casually.

(Same could be said for our wars of aggression!)

And also consider what Justice Black said after Korematsu’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court:

I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism.  Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life.  It is unattractive at any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.  All residents of the nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land.  Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States.  They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

What happens when that race is your own?  What happens when it is your belief system?  How many US mass shooters have been white, US born and bred?  How many were legal gun owners?  Should we round up all the gun owners?  How many of them were Christian?  Should we round up all the Christians?  Should we round up all the Catholics because some in the church raped children?  All for national security?

Yes, I’m taking that to a ridiculous degree, but if you really consider the implications of collective punishment, how can you not consider how ridiculous, and dangerous, it actually is?  If you continue to let the government undermine and remove the rights of others, eventually it will get around to undermining and removing yours.  I dare say it already has.

Additional links and sources

Internment history, supreme court cases, etc

Wikipedia on the internment

A portion of John DeWitt’s letter regarding the internment

Brief biography of Kenneth Ringle

And, the book in the photo, a cherished signed copy of Silent Siege II, by Bert Webber, published in 1988 by the Webb Research Group