Bonus Army Counterattacks
by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present the second story from Jeff Provine's
excellent blog This
Day in Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this
post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
July 28th 1932,
on this day the tensions arising from the unresolved conflict over long
overdue payments to Great War Veterans escalated into horrifying violence
when the so-called Bonus Army counterattacked the US Government.
The Great Depression had ground on for years. While President Herbert
Hoover had enacted breadlines and other minor alleviations for the
out-of-work populace, the country as a whole continued to suffer
unemployment and lack of cash. The people themselves began to call for
direct aid, and none more vigorously than the veterans of the World War.
In 1924, Congress had voted a bonus for each soldier in recognition of
their service, giving one dollar for every day of domestic time ($1.25 for
each day abroad) to a maximum of $500 ($625 abroad). The bonuses were paid
via certificates and a trust fund, giving percentages until full payment
was achieved in 1945.
"This is Turtledove-quality stuff..." - readers
commentBy the troubled year of 1932, one-third of the payments had
been made, and now Congress hoped to aid out-of-work veterans by advancing
the payment to full. Hoover and his Republican allies were opposed to the
idea, saying that it would strain the budget of the Federal government and
take away funds needed for other relief programs. Veterans, however,
pressed their representatives for the payment, and the House passed the
Patman Bonus Bill to accelerate the giving of the money.
In June of 1932, the bill went before the Senate, and veterans marched on
Washington to show their support for it. Seventeen thousand veterans came
to the capital, bringing their families with them to total nearly 43,000
people. Most of them lived in Hooverville camps outside Washington proper,
the biggest one being across the Anacostia River. Rather than
disease-ridden slums, the camps were well organized with streets, clean
water, sanitation facilities, and even parades. Despite the public
support, the Senate blocked the bill, and now the "'Bonus Army,"' as they
called themselves, began to protest in earnest for the funds that were
By July 28, the government had taken their fill. Protesters had marched on
the White House, leading to a scuffle that resulted in police brutalizing
several of them. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the removal
of all protesters from government property on grounds of trespassing.
Police tried to clear a camp, but the veterans resisted. Shots were fired,
and two veterans were left dead.
"The bonuses were not supposed to be paid until
1945, and the Congress repeatedly refused to change that" - reader's
comment When he heard of the violence, Hoover decided to clear the
district before things turned worse. He called General Douglas MacArthur
from Fort Howard in Maryland with infantry and tanks from Fort Myer,
Virginia, commanded by Major George S. Patton. The Bonus Army was in the
midst of a march when the army arrived and took the appearance of the
troops as a show of support. Instead, the cavalry and infantry charged,
Washingtonians who had come out to watch were horrified, crying "'Shame!"'
at the army, but the soldiers took little notice. The veterans were chased
back to the Anacostia Flats on the other side of the river, and Hoover
ordered the troops to stop. MacArthur, however, ignored the President and
took it upon himself to clean out the "'communists."' Gas attacks, fire,
and violent soldiers chased the veterans and their families out of the
"Hoover could not have been reelected had the
Democrats nominated Satan" - reader's commentBefore midnight,
however, the veterans began to regroup. Making sure their families were
safe in Maryland where the Federal troops did not have jurisdiction, they
collected weapons and covertly marched back into Washington. As the army
and police were busy breaking down the camp, the veterans organized their
mob into ranks on the Washington Mall. Just as locals began to become
suspicious of the nighttime activity, they charged into the Capitol and
seized the building. Securing all exits, they advised the clerks,
officials, and congressmen working late that they were not hostages and
were free to go at any time.
MacArthur returned to Washington and began an assault up the main steps
with his infantry. With shotguns, hunting rifles, and sheer moxie, the
veterans held the doors and finally forced back the infantry, injuring
many. As MacArthur began to call for artillery to blast open the Capitol,
Hoover stopped him and removed him from command for disobeying orders. The
infamous general would never serve with the United States Armed Forces
Major Patton offered to force entry with his tanks, but Hoover declined.
Instead, a day-long standoff began as Washington police and Federal
soldiers circled the building, but could not get close. Government
workers, however, were allowed in, and the Senate was finally called to
order. The block on the Bonus Bill was lifted, and the veterans collected
their money and left peacefully. As soon as they were outside, they
allowed themselves to be arrested.
National outrage over the incident poured into Washington. Some called for
execution of the rebellious soldiers as traitors, but most were angry with
the president and army for being so callous toward the veterans. Hoover
would save face by shifting blame, dismissing Attorney General Mitchell
and turning his whole campaign into the "'cleansing"' of the federal
government. While his budget suffered greatly from the two-billion-dollar
shortfall, he refused to go over-budget more than absolutely necessary.
Touting thriftiness and earning wherever possible, as well as gaining a
great deal of support from veterans, Hoover would narrowly win the 1932
election over New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt.
Hoover's next term would be four more years of struggle for the country.
Prohibition would be overturned by Congress in 1933, but the economic
issues would not be solvable by mere tenacity. Relief efforts struggled to
keep up with unemployment. In the elections of 1934, people had had
enough, and Democrats were voted into power in Congress. The Great
Depression did nothing but worsen.
In 1936, FDR came into office overwhelmingly, and he brought his New Deal
into full swing. Ignoring budget constraints, FDR started enormous works
projects to employ as many of the unemployed as possible. The changes were
radical, which was just as well since radical groups became increasingly
powerful over the country. By 1940, people said that the US was all but
socialist in name with resources in food, oil, electricity, public water,
and health insurance all regulated by the government.
While the populace was suspicious of such control in the Land of the Free,
World War II would solidify FDR's political maneuvers. Through the second
half of the twentieth century, so much of the basics of American life
would be guaranteed that LBJ's New Society would create a welfare state of
nearly one-half government employees (or, as many social critics would
call them, "'government slaves"').
In 2002, President Albert Gore would even expand American human rights to
guarantee Internet service.
says in reality, the veterans did not regroup and counterattack. The
Bonus Army maintained a presence in Washington, but they did not trifle with
protests against Hoover again. The incidents would haunt Hoover and doom him
in the 1932 election. FDR and his New Deal programs would alleviate much of
the poverty of the Great Depression, though it would balance against
capitalism and private innovation that Americans have always taken as a part
of the national spirit.
To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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