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.

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.