Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GI's and the Great Depression

The Bonus Army was an assemblage of about 17,000 World War I veterans, accompanied by their families and other affiliated groups, who demonstrated in Washington, DC, during the spring and summer of 1932. The marchers were seeking immediate cash payment of Service Certificates granted eight years previously by the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. Each Service Certificate issued to a qualified soldier bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus interest. The sticking point was that the certificates, similar to bonds, were set to mature a full 20 years from the date of their original issue. Thus, under existing law, the certificates could not be redeemed until 1945.

The Bonus Army veterans were led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant, and were encouraged in their demand for immediate monetary payment by an appearance from retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time. The marchers were cleared and their camps were destroyed by the 12th Infantry Regiment from Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment under the command of Major George S. Patton from Fort Myer, Virginia, under the overall command of General Douglas MacArthur. The Posse Comitatus Act, prohibiting the U.S. military from being used for general law enforcement purposes in most instances, did not apply to Washington, DC, because it is one of several pieces of federal property under the direct governance of the U.S. Congress (United States Constitution, Article I. Section 8. Clause 17). Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a member of MacArthur's staff, had strong reservations about the operation. Troops carrying rifles with unsheathed bayonets and tear gas were sent into the Bonus Army's camps. President Hoover did not want the army to march across the Anacostia River into the protesters' largest encampment, but Douglas MacArthur felt this was a communist attempt to overthrow the government. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several were killed, including William Hushka and Eric Carlson; a wife of a veteran miscarried, and other casualties were inflicted. The visual image of U.S. armed soldiers confronting poor veterans of the recent Great War set the stage for Veteran relief and eventually the Veterans Administration.

About Smedley Butler

Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940), nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker" and "Old Gimlet Eye," was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and, at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.

During his 34 years of Marine Corps service, Butler was awarded numerous medals for heroism including the Marine Corps Brevet Medal (the highest Marine medal at its time for officers), and subsequently the Medal of Honor twice. Notably, he is one of only 19 people to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor, and one of only three to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor, and the only person to be awarded a Marine Corps Brevet Medal and a Medal of Honor for two different actions.

In addition to his military career, Smedley Butler was noted for his outspoken anti-interventionist views, and his book War is a Racket. His book was one of the first works describing the workings of the military-industrial complex and after retiring from service, he became a popular speaker at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists and church groups in the 1930s.

In 1934, he informed the United States Congress that a group of wealthy industrialists had plotted a military coup known as the Business Plot to overthrow the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.