An old American tradition: Occupy Washington

In 1932,  unemployed and denied payment of the wartime bonuses they’d been promised, 43,000 WWI veterans from all over the country, calling themselves The Bonus Army, marched on Washington, DC. There, they built and occupied an encampment (from local rubbish) known as Hooverville. Many had their wives and children with them since they were otherwise homeless anyway.

While they were there, the  Senate voted down a bill to pay the bonuses, and the police were ordered in to break up Hooverville, which they did, killing two vets. But when the police raid failed to break up the camp, President Hoover ordered the army in.

At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, two regiments, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch. The Bonus Marchers, believing the troops were marching in their honor, cheered the troops until Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the spectators to yell, “Shame! Shame!”

Shacks that members of the Bonus Army erected on the Anacostia Flats were left burning after the confrontation with the military.

After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and gas . . entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped.

However Gen. MacArthur, feeling the Bonus March was a Communist attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested.[9] A veteran’s wife miscarried. When 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack . . .

During the military operation, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, later President of the United States, served as one of MacArthur’s junior aides.[14] Believing it wrong for the Army’s highest-ranking officer to lead an action against fellow American war veterans, he strongly advised MacArthur against taking any public role: “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there,” he said later.

This was not the first time MacArthur, a figure of adulation – especially on the right, ignored his Commander in Chief. He did ther same to Truman in the Philippines after WWII. Truman, being Truman, just fired him. If America had ever fallen to a fascist military dictatorship, MacArthur would probably have been the guy at the top.


29 responses to “An old American tradition: Occupy Washington

  1. Wow, great post! And isn’t it amazing – to have so much visual documentation from historical events before our own lifetimes? Makes the past in some ways just like today.

    And MacArthur… his infamous answer to the chinese 300.000 men counter-attack in Korea in 1952; Drop 50 nukes on China. Insisting on 50 at once. All the big cities and population centers.


    • That nuke thing is astonishing. Sheer insanity to think that could help the national security of the US.

      When I hear gasbags today complain that Obama doens’t listen to his generals, I am comforted that he does not (except for that damn surge in Afghanistan). Someone once said there’s never been a general in history who didn’t want more troops and more weapons.


  2. Where is ‘give em hell Harry,’ when we can use a guy like him right now.


  3. Don.

    President Truman, was an even better Democrat than you realize. He seized the US steel industry in 1952 to prevent a strike. He failed. The seizure was actually to support the Steel Workers. In the end the union was the winner.


    • Wow, what a reading of history Alan. Amazing.

      The seizure came when the union threatened to shut down the industry which Truman said he woudn’t allow because the Korean War was udnerway and he would not allow an interruption in the flow of steel to weapons manufacturers. He reversed himself under public and legal pressure (ACLU anyone?) and but when the unions tried again, Truman again threatened to nationalize. That time the mill workers and owners came
      to the bargaining table and the crisis passed.

      To say he did it to protect the Steel Workers is delusional.


  4. The people here at Occupy Portland are also camped in the same downtown square where there used to be a Hooverville decades ago. History really does repeat itself, more than I suspected.


  5. Wow …I just did a historical post on Reagan!…..

    Good minds think alike!


  6. are your quotes from the Jane Mayer article?


  7. No. The link in the first paragraph is to the wikipedia entry I took it from.


  8. Fascinating! I had not thought of looking at Occupy as a Hooverville revival, nor that there had been more than just the one in Washington. The similarities between today and the thirties just get stronger. Really enjoyed the post.


  9. This is a remarkable look back in history. I didn’t realize that the Occupy movement (and the brutal response to it) had such a recent historical precident.


  10. Don’t forget about the protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, when Mayor Daley ordered the cops to go on a head bashing rampage. Remember there was the Chicago Seven, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and others, that was there.


    • That event was huge, but I don’t think those protests actually made anything happen – except perhaps creating the sterotype of ‘out of control hippies’ that plague the left to this day. Except for Hayden, I think those other guys were more anarchist than they were reformers. What do you think?


  11. Pingback: The Class War Has Begun And The Very Classlessness Of Our Society Makes The Conflict More Volatile, Not Less | Shift Frequency

  12. Pingback: Occupy Washington...Circa 1932....Whatever Works....

  13. Pingback: 1932 Bonus March – Re Patton; MacArthur; Eisenhower, etc. « ~ BLOGGER.GUNNY.G.1984+. ~ (BLOG & EMAIL)

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