Government violence toward peaceful demonstrators is not new: the American military assault on the Bonus Army 1932

S. Stasov

During the desperate early days of the Great Depression, tens of thousands of jobless World War I veterans marched across the country with their wives and children to the Capitol in Washington DC. They were intent on petitioning Congress for an early cash payout of the bonus certificates that had been promised to them for their service during the war. The so-called bonuses had been granted as compensation for lost income ($1 for each day served, based on an average factory wage) while the men fought overseas. The certificates were to be redeemed in 1945, but hunger and poverty drove the veterans to demand immediate payment.

The protestors set up peacefully maintained tent camps around the Capitol from May through July, 1932. They met opposition to their demands from the Senate and from Republican President Herbert Hoover, who ordered the army to evacuate the camps. Subsequently, General MacArthur and his aid, Dwight Eisenhower, led their troops in a violent attack on the veterans. Two hundered cavalry men, including Major George Patton, raised their sabers and surrounded the veterans. Behind the cavalry were 400 infantry, armored vehicles and tanks. The army began hurling tear gas grenades at the veterans; troops advanced toward them with thrusting bayonets. Not since the Civil War had so many fighting troops been gathered in Washington. The troops were ordered to destroy all the tents and possessions of the protesters, sending the encampments up in a raging conflagration.

The public reacted in horror to this violent military raid on peacefully demonstrating American citizens. The assault took place three months before the next presidential election, and is considered to be an influential factor in Hoover’s defeat by FDR.

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