THE BONUS MARCH
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THE BONUS MARCH

By Jeff Elkins

Long before Waco, long before Homeland Security, there was an incident that will help you better understand what we will likely be facing in the near future, as far as police state activities are concerned. We go back to the summer of 1932 to get a glimpse of just how brutal and evil our own government can be. It is mostly forgotten today, but the Bonus March incident of 1932 provided one of the more instructive lessons in the naked power of the State and just how meaningless the State views its laws and contracts with citizens. Returning doughboys from President Wilson's World War One had been voted a "bonus" in 1924, basically a government bond with payment due in 1945.

Many of those same veterans were numbered among the victims of the depression. Industry had secured its own "bonus" through passage of the infamous Hawley-Smoot Tariff and the hard-pressed ex-doughboys wanted one as well. Not in far off 1945, but then, when they needed it. A populist movement of the former soldiers developed to demand premature payment of the deferred bonus voted by Congress. They called themselves the Bonus Army. The Bonus Army movement was widespread and thoroughly lambasted by the powers-that-be of the time. President Herbert Hoover viewed them as a mixture of "hoodlums, ex-convicts and Communists" with a sprinkling of veterans as mere leavening. The movement alarmed the leaders of the nation's military who were afraid that the insurrection could spread into the enlisted ranks of the standing armed forces. Government secret police under the command of J. Edgar Hoover investigated and attempted penetration of the diverse group as well, a pattern repeated through the history of that august organization.

Their efforts were akin to an attempt to stop the wind. Bonus protests were nationwide and culminated in a massive march on Washington, DC, by tens of thousands of disgruntled veterans. At this troubled point in history, a revolution by the masses of unemployed was one of the worst fears of the political masters of the United States. Depression riots had already erupted in many large Northeastern cities. The sight of thousands of angry citizens openly defying the State at the very fountainhead of its power was terrifying.

By the end of June, the marchers numbered more than 20,000 men, women and children. The Bonus Army was tired, hungry and defiant and the State was fearful of revolution. The nation watched in horror, not knowing what the culmination of events would be. A blowup was inevitable. The House of Representatives had passed the Patman bill for veterans relief on June 15, despite promise of a presidential veto. But on June 17 the bill met defeat in the Senate, and shortly thereafter orders were given to begin active measures to disperse the marchers. President Hoover ordered the Secretary of War to "surround the affected area and clear it without delay."

Army Chief of Staff MacArthur was convinced that "the movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury" and in fact, was a communist-led attempt to overthrow the government. Assisted by his aides Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major George S. Patton, Jr , MacArthur led Army troops and cavalry in an advance on veterans marching on Pennsylvania Avenue, with tear gas, naked bayonets and swords drawn. Hundreds were injured and a baby was killed by gas. Fearful that the State might look too oppressive, Secretary of War Hurley sent orders to MacArthur, containing President Hoover's direct command that he did not wish the Army to pursue the Bonus Marchers across Anacostia River into their main encampment, which had been caustically named "Hooverville" by its residents. MacArthur saying that he was "too busy," and did not want to be "bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders," ignored the presidential commands and led troops into "Hooverville" anyway. They burned it to the ground, injuring hundreds more and driving the remainder of veterans from the nation's capital. The Bonus Army was crushed and the movement dead.

We will never know the true death toll from the violent military suppression of the Bonus Marchers. While immediate deaths were only a handful, injuries were high and the marchers were massively dispersed to many different areas of the country. This was a time when medical care was crude by today's standards and before the advent of antibiotics. Pneumonia and infections were often a death sentence. The butcher's bill from the aftermath of the attack was undoubtedly not minimal. The use of military forces against unarmed, peacefully demonstrating American citizens was a direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. However, that was not the first time military had been used against American citizens and we know that it was not the last. Starting perhaps with the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, leading armed troops against citizens has been a tradition of the American State. Troops have been used not only to crush political and religious dissent (Kent State, Waco), but to advance corporate interests as well, in well-documented incidents of strike suppression.

Today, the situation is more perilous than at any other time in our Nation's history. Rather than a limited and rather small standing army, we are faced with literally millions of federal soldiers under arms, augmented by the forces of the various "National Guards," in actuality federal troops under nominal control of state governors. Our police, once local peace officers, are now merely a subset of the overall forces arrayed against liberty. Soldiers in everything but name, local police are funded, trained and armed by the federal Leviathan and are in truth just as much a part of it as the lowest ranker in the US Army.

















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