For the last few years, we on the Right, we who believe the Constitution is the law of the land, have been more than a little bit worried about the intentions of our federal government towards its citizens. Our constitutional rights are being eroded away a an alarming rate; especially since the passage of the so-called Patriot Act and a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that essentially makes US soil part of the battle field in the War on Terrorism. The NDAA gives the president the discretion to have Americans detained without due process if, in the president’s opinion, a citizen is a threat to national security.
So, it’s not unreasonable for Americans to ask under what conditions would the federal government use its military might against American citizens. It’s not like the federal government doesn’t have a history of using military force against American citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died in our terrible Civil War. Some would argue that the Civil War was for the noble cause of freeing the slaves. Is that true or was the emancipation to the slaves just a ruse to gain support for a war being conducted to save the federal government? The Federal Government’s only source of revenue in those days was from tariffs import/exports and 75% of those tariff revenues came from ports of the southern states. Besides, I think if you look-up and read Emancipation Proclamation you will find that Lincoln was only offering freedom to slaves in the Confederate States and not to slaves in states that supported the Union.
Okay, maybe we can console ourselves that the Civil War was a special case. What about the federal government’s interment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII? What about the time that National Guard troops were turned looses against anti-war protesters at Kent State University in 1970?
Possibly the most shameful example of the federal government using its military forces against American citizens occurred in 1932. This ugly bit of history seems to have purged from most books on American history. I know it was never taught in any history class that I took. I found this lesson in American history at Monty Pelerin’s World and I thank them. So, let me share with you what I learned in the last couple of days.
Have you ever heard of the Bonus Expeditionary Force? Let me take you back to 1932. Herbert Hoover is President and America is three years into the Great Depression. Millions of Americans are destitute. Many with no jobs, with no homes, and with out enough to eat. Included among those millions were a great many veterans of World War I and their families. From this source we learn:
In 1924 Congress had passed the Adjusted Compensation Act which promised World War I veterans a bonus of about $500 a piece. The legislation stipulated, however, that the payment would not be made until 1945. The thousands who had come to Washington in summer 1932—out of work, out of luck, hungry, and in many cases homeless—wanted Congress to dispense the bonus now. Newspaper writers christened the veterans “the Bonus Army,” although the veterans called themselves “the Bonus Expeditionary Force.”
You’ll find an excellent summary about the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF) at EyeWitness to History. The article explains that by spring of 1932 some 20,000 people had descended on Washington, D.C. to demand that the government pay the veterans the promised bonus immediately to help relieve their suffering. The 20, 000 included veterans and their wives and their children. They built shanty camps in various parts of the city with the biggest concentration being at the at Anacostia Flats across the river from the Capitol.
Discipline in the camp was good, despite the fears of many city residents who spread unfounded “Red Scare” rumors. Streets were laid out, latrines dug, and formations held daily. Newcomers were required to register and prove they were bonafide veterans who had been honorably discharged. Their leader, Walter Waters, stated, “We’re here for the duration and we’re not going to starve. We’re going to keep ourselves a simon-pure veteran’s organization. If the Bonus is paid it will relieve to a large extent the deplorable economic condition.”
Many in Congress were sympathetic to the cause of the veterans. Not so President Hoover. He believed that many of the protesters were communist instigators. In fact there were some communist amongst them. However, when identified, the vets would throw them out of the camps and burn their pamphlets. Their motto was “eyes front not left”.
The House would eventually pass a bill approving the immediate payment of the promised bonus of $500. A princely sum in those days. On June the Senate was to vote on the bill. It was estimated that more than 10,000 of the Bonus Forces were gathered at the steps of the Capital awaiting the results.
Walter Waters, leader of the Bonus Expeditionary Force, appeared with bad news. The Senate had defeated the bill by a vote of 62 to 18. The crowd reacted with stunned silence. “Sing America and go back to your billets” he commanded, and they did. A silent “Death March” began in front of the Capitol and lasted until July 17, when Congress adjourned.
The Bonus Expeditionary Force did not give up. They stayed in their camps and the streets of Washington hoping that the politicians would succumb to their pleas. Here is the is the piece of history most of us have never heard:
A month later, on July 28, Attorney General Mitchell ordered the evacuation of the veterans from all government property, Entrusted with the job, the Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two marchers killed. Learning of the shooting at lunch, President Hoover ordered the army to clear out the veterans. Infantry
Troops prepare to evacuate the
July 28, 1932
and cavalry supported by six tanks were dispatched with Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur in command. Major Dwight D. Eisenhower served as his liaison with Washington police and Major George Patton led the cavalry.
By 4:45 P.M. the troops were massed on Pennsylvania Ave. below the Capitol. Thousands of Civil Service employees spilled out of work and lined the streets to watch. The veterans, assuming the military display was in their honor, cheered. Suddenly Patton’s troopers turned and charged. “Shame, Shame” the spectators cried. Soldiers with fixed bayonets followed, hurling tear gas into the crowd.
By nightfall the BEF had retreated across the Anacostia River where Hoover ordered MacArthur to stop. Ignoring the command, the general led his infantry to the main camp. By early morning the 10,000 inhabitants were routed and the camp in flames. Two babies died and nearby hospitals overwhelmed with casualties. Eisenhower later wrote, “the whole scene was pitiful. The veterans were ragged, ill-fed, and felt themselves badly abused. To suddenly see the whole encampment going up in flames just added to the pity.”
So, the was the end for the veterans of World War I. An ugly chapter in American history that I only just learned. There is an excellent video of the events here that I hope you will take time to watch (about seven minutes long).
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
… whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …
Does anybody believe that today we still have that right? Is the federal government on the eve of the year 2014 more or less arrogant and tyrannical that it was in 1932? If our federal government was willing to use its military might against its own veterans, imagine how easy it would be for them to use that might today against common citizens. The oath taken by those that serve in the military is similar to the oath taken by all who serve in our government : “to uphold and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic. It does seem, with each passing day, that our government sees those of us on the Right as “domestic enemies”. Should we fear our government?
Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?