Monday, July 28, 2008

July 28

The Great Depression descended into state-sponsored violence on this date in 1932, as President Herbert Hoover oversaw the eviction of the Bonus Expeditionary Force (popularly known as the "Bonus Army") from its shantytown on the swampy flats of the Anacostia River, just southeast of the federal core in Washington, DC.

The marchers, consisting of 15-20,000 Great War veterans and their families, had come to the nation's capital in June to ask for early payment of certificates worth roughly $1.00 for each day served during the war. The certificates were set to mature in 1945, but the Bonus marchers asked Congress to release the funds more than a decade early, when the veterans needed them most. Although the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill to grant the veterans their wishes, the Senate defeated a similar measure by an overwhelming margin of 62-18. (The whole legislative drama was irrelevant, as Hoover most certainly would have vetoed any bill that made its way through Congress.) By this point, the BEF had set up a temporary camp on the Capitol grounds, and a number of demonstrators had occupied federal buildings that had been vacated for the hottest part of the summer.

On July 28, Herbert Hoover ordered his attorney general to remove all demonstrators from federal property. Although Hoover evidently did not want the Anacostia Flats encampment to be cleared, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, believed that communists were responsible for the demonstrations and that "the [bonus] movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury." Pursuing the war veterans across the river, MacArthur's infantry and cavalry units (including six tanks) trashed the Bonus encampment, scattering the marchers with fixed bayonets and tear gas, asphyxiating two infants. Hundreds of others were injured, and two veterants were shot.

Time magazine reported on one of the deaths:
When war came in 1917 William Hushka, 22-year-old Lithuanian, sold his St. Louis butcher shop, gave the proceeds to his wife, joined the Army... Last week William Hushka's Bonus for $528 suddenly became payable in full when a police bullet drilled him dead in the worst public disorder the capital has known in years.
President Hoover's tough stand against Lithuanian and other veterans did nothing to help his campaign for re-election. In November, he lost to Franklin Roosevelt by nearly 20 percentage points in one of great landslides in presidential history.