The US Government Assault on World War I Veterans and Their Families

The March of the Bonus Army

PBS (2013)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the brutal 1932 massacre of World War I veterans and their families by Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton.

Owing to insufficient volunteers (the army paid $1.25 a day), the US government was forced to initiate a draft when they first entered World War I in April 1917. When the war ended, veterans agitated for lost wages, leading Congress to authorize payment of a $1.25 bonus, to be paid in 1938.

With the 1929 Depression, unemployment rates for veterans were especially high, and an ex-GI from Portland organized a veterans march on Washington to demand immediate payment of their bonus.

After dozens of veterans occupied every Congressman’s office, the House passed the Bonus Bill.

As the Senate took up the bill, the veterans and their families set up an enormous tent and shack city in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington DC. They passed the time preparing communal meals, boxing, making music, preparing and visiting a library set up by the Salvation Army. One of the most remarkable features of the Anacostia tent city was the natural integration of black and white veterans in all aspects of daily life. During the war, black troops weren’t allowed to fight alongside white Americans, leading 100,000 African Americans to fight under the French flag.

The the Senate overwhelming defeated the Bonus Bill, Congress adjourned and Hoover ordered the evacuation of the 45,000 Bonus Army veterans from downtown Washington DC. After a battle broke out between city police and veterans, Hoover ordered and attack by 400 infantry, accompanied by tanks and armored vehicles to attack. General MacArthur ignored his order not to cross the Anacostia River, and he and his men burned the shacks and tents filled with the wives and children of Bonus Army members.

Congress ultimately passed the Bonus Bill in 1933. I was very surprised to learn that Roosevelt vetoed it and that the House and Senate overrode his veto.

 

The Great Depression: More Stuff You Didn’t Learn in School

The Great Depression Part 2 – The Road to Rock Bottom

PBS (1993)

Film Review

The second episode of the PBS Great Depression series deals mainly with the near collapse of the farm economy, when farmers burned their crops because they couldn’t cover their costs by selling them. The depression in the farm economy had started in the mid-twenties, prior to the 1929 Wall Street crash. World War I  created large demand for US agricultural exports. This led to a crisis of overproduction when the war ended.

With Hoover unwilling to provide government aid, the Red Cross took primary responsibility for providing food aid to starving families in Arkansas and other southern states.

This episode also explores the exploits of Pretty Boy Floyd, known as the Sage Brush Robin Hood, for sharing the proceeds of his bank robberies with families who couldn’t feed their children.

It finishes with the Bonus Army saga, in which 20,000 homeless World War I veterans and their families camped out in Washington DC to pressure Hoover and Congress to authorize early payment of the bonus they were promised in 1945. Under Hoover’s orders, Generals MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower led a military assault on the encampment. They burnt all the tents and shacks protestors were living in, injuring 55 veterans and killing a 12-week-old baby.

What They Don’t Teach in School About the US Labor Movement

 

Plutocracy IV: Gangsters for Capitalism

Directed by Scott Noble

Film Review

The fourth film in a series, Plutocracy IV essentially rewrites “mainstream” history about the birth of the US labor movement. In director Scott Noble’s depiction, what we see is virtual all out war between working people and corporate bosses and their government stooges.

Noble begins by tracing the downfall of the global anarchist movement, beginning with the violent crushing of the anarchist-driven 1871 Paris Commune.

Founded in 1901, the Socialist Party, would briefly replace anarchism as the main engine of worker organizing. Eugene Debs, a founding member of both International Workers of the World (see Plutocracy III: Class War ) and the Socialist Party, would run five times as a socialist candidate for president. In 1912 he won 6% of the vote, with  nearly a million votes.

In 1919, two-thirds of Socialist Party members voted to support the Bolshevik Revolution and were expelled by the party leadership, who favored democratic socialism. From that point on, the Communist Party (and fascism in Germany and Italy) drove most radical worker organizing.

Supreme Court Overturns Child Labor Laws

Noble describes 1921-1928 as extremely bleak for the labor movement – with most strikes being defeated during this period. Noble highlights the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where striking West Virginia coal miners were attacked by federal troops and the 1923 St Pedro longshoremen strike (California), which was crushed by police and vigilante Ku Klux Klan members.*

It was also during this period that the Supreme Court overturned federal child labor and minimum wage laws.

Things got even worse for US workers during the Great Depression, with corporate bosses using the fear of unemployment to reduce wages by 20%. In 1932, Hoover ordered federal troops to mow down the Bonus Army, World War I veterans and their families, when they camped out in front of the Capitol demanding payment of the Bonus they had been promised  (see The Wall Street Elites Who Financed Hitler)

General Strikes Force Roosevelt to Create National Labor Relations Board

In 1933, Roosevelt passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which theoretically gave workers the right to unionize (and strike). Although union membership increased substantially over the next several years, strikes continued to be brutally suppressed by armed corporate thugs, police and state National Guards. One example was the 1933 Ford Hunger Strike (aka the Ford Massacre) – in which 15,000 autoworkers when on strike when Henry Ford began to close factories. Despite being brutally attacked by armed guards and police (with four strikers killed and many injured), strikers persisted and won right to organize Ford Motor Company.

I was very surprised to learn there were four general strikes during 1934 in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Toledo. The San Francisco general strike was defeated by the union leadership (AFL) when Roosevelt condemned it. Workers were victorious in Toledo and Minneapolis, even though the Minnesota governor called out the National Guard in an effort to crush the city’s strike.

The fear that more general strikes would provoke generalized revolt (and/or revolution) led Roosevelt to create the National Labor Relations Board in 1935. His aim was to allow for a “peaceful” process of resolving strikes.


*In one vignette, Native American Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes how Woodrow Wilson and state and local officials supported the rise of the KKK in the north to crush strikes. Many members of the Portland police were KKK members during this period, and Colorado judges, police and elected officials belonged to the Klan in Colorado.

 

 

Dupont: A Textbook Case in Corporate Criminality

DuPont Dynasty: Behind the Iron Curtain

Gerald Colby

Prentice Hall (1984)

Book Review

If you want a precise understanding of how a major corporation sets out (and succeeds) in corrupting all aspects of democratic government, Behind the Nylon Curtain is for you. If it doesn’t convince you that democracy is impossible in a capitalist economy, I don’t know what will. This 800+ page book traces every bribery and corruption scandal; every flagrant violation of labor, environmental and trading with the enemy laws; every frivolous lawsuit (eg challenging the EPA’s ability to regulate air and water pollution); every instance of war profiteering and gouging the US taxpayer; and every case of electoral fraud the DuPont company has engaged in their 215-year history.

DuPont’s Role in Potting 1934 Coup Against Roosevelt

In addition, Colby details the prominent role DuPont played in the formation of the American Liberty League and the 1934 fascist coup the group plotted to remove Roosevelt from the residency; in re-arming the Third Reich prior to World War II; in arming private vigilante groups to attack union organizers and strikers; and in secretly building the nuclear facilities supplying uranium and plutonium to the Manhattan Project. In the mid-seventies (when DuPont workers and Delaware residents began dying of cancer in unprecedented numbers), they successfully blocked a bill to require safety testing on all new chemicals before they could be marketed.

Colby also enumerates numerous efforts by Congress, unions and consumer advocates like Ralph Nader to challenge DuPont’s overtly criminal behavior. Owing to the company’s long time control over local and national media, the Delaware State government and the executive, legislative and judicial branch of the federal government, it has been virtually impossible to sanction DuPont for their illegal activities.

How DuPont Came to Own Delaware

Historically the DuPonts have totally controlled Delaware (government, newspapers, radio, TV, colleges and newspapers).  Thanks to DuPont, Delaware has the lowest business tax in the country and the lowest cost of incorporation. It’s also the only state allowing Delaware corporations to hold out-of-state stockholder and board meetings. The majority of Americans largest corporations are incorporated in Delaware.  In 1980 governor Pierre DuPont successful introduced a law enabling Delaware banks to circumvent other states’ usury laws by setting credit card interest rates that are binding on out-of-sate residents. (see How Banks Use Credit Cards to Rip Us Off )

Roosevelt: More Pro-Corporate than Pro-Labor

I found Colby’s revelations about Franklin D Roosevelt – a significant departure from the pro-labor image promoted by the Democratic Party – the most illuminating. Prior to reading this book I had no idea that Roosevelt

  • imposed wage freezes during a period that prices increased by 45%
  • tried to pressure sit-down strikers at General Motors (then owned by DuPont) to settle with GM on management’s  terms
  • vetoed a law authorizing World War I veterans to be paid the Bonus Bond they were promised (the military assault Hoover ordered on Bonus Army protestors was instrumental to his defeat in 1932).
  • triggered a new economic depression in 1937 by implementing across the board austerity cuts.

*DuPont also blocked distribution of this book for 40 years. Although initially published by Prentice Hall in 1974, DuPont fought Colby in the courts for 30 years to block its distribution (Colby describes his legal ordeal in the introduction). In 2014, he finally released the 1984 edition as an ebook. Although Prentice Hall still owns the print rights, the author retains electronic rights. Used print editions are available from Amazon. The Kindle edition is $9.99.

 

 

The Wall Street Elites Who Financed Hitler

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel B

Directed by Oliver Stone

Film Review

Prequel B starts with the period of social repression that followed the return of GIs from World War I. US leaders were extremely concerned they would spread the oral sex techniques they had learned from French women. Alcohol prohibition, a crackdown on prostitution, rampant antisemitism (even Harvard restricted Jewish admissions) and anti-immigrant sentiment, and the eugenics movement (accompanied by forced sterilization of convicts, the “feeble minded” and promiscuous women) were all typical of this intense repression.

During the same period, Wall Street banks greatly reduced their investment in agriculture and manufacture, preferring the easier profits to be had from cheap credit and speculation. In 1929, a disastrous decision by central banks to increase interest rates triggered a deadly global depression, setting the stage for the rise of fascism in Europe.

Back in the US, Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton charged 40,000 World War I veterans and their families with infantry and tanks and burned their tents. The latter, calling themselves the Bonus Army, were demanding immediate payment of the bonus they had been promised for serving in World War I.

Stone describes the 1930s as a radical period of social experimentation, in part due to Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal social reforms (including Social Security, unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies, aid to dependent children and Federal paid work schemes), and in part due to aggressive industrial unionization and intense interest on the part of American intellectuals in Russia’s experiment with communism. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would join the Communist Party, while numerous prominent writers (including Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis, Richard Wright, Clifford Odets, and Sherwood Anderson) were communist sympathizers.

During the same period, the America’s wealthy elites were more inclined to support Hitler. Key individuals who helped finance the Third Reich include Henry Ford, Prescott Bush, William Randolph Hearst, the Morgan brothers, Allen Dulles (first CIA director) and John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State under Eisenhower). The key US banks involved were Bank of International Settlements, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan and United Banking Corporation (Brown Brothers Harriman). Specific US companies that provided Hitler with armaments, military vehicles, aircraft, oil and other material support include Kodak, ITT, Dupont, Westinghouse, Standard Oil, Singer, GE, Pratt and Whitney, United Fruit, Singer, Douglas Aircraft and International Harvester.

In 1933, some of these same industrialists would also try to instigate a coup – foiled by General Smedley Butler – to remove Roosevelt from office.