The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

90 Years Ago:
U.S. Troops Attack U.S. Veterans

Aug 1, 2022

By 1932, the Great Depression had seen millions laid off, unemployed and desperate, with only charity soup kitchens as possible aid. Shantytowns, filled with tents and makeshift shacks had sprung up across the country. Often, they were called “Hoovervilles,” as President Hoover opposed doing anything for the millions who had lost their jobs.

At the end of World War I, when perhaps two million soldiers came back from fighting in Europe, they found an economy shrinking and few jobs to be had. Over a million had served in combat units, with thousands suffering not only bullet wounds but the effects of gas in the trenches, and including shell shock, now known as PTSD. The government had to open 10 new military hospitals and five psychiatric centers for all the wounded vets returning.

In 1926, eight years after that war had ended, Congress finally voted a bonus to veterans of the war period—but it was not to be given to the veterans until 1945! In other words, thanks for risking your lives and limbs, but the government cannot pay you for 25 or more years. The bonus was worth $8,500 in 2016 dollars.

In January of 1932, some 25,000 unemployed people from Pennsylvania walked to Washington, D.C. to protest for the unemployed and farmers, already suffering from three years of depression.

Veterans sought at least partial payment of the promised bonus. Led by a veteran, some 20,000, along with their wives and children, went to Washington, D.C. to protest in May that year. They put up shacks or tents on an empty field across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. in Anacostia, Virginia. President Hoover referred to them as a bunch of bums and thugs—yes, veterans of the Great War.

On June 15, 1932, a Congressman got a bill for partial payment of the bonus passed in the House of Representatives, but U.S. senators turned the vets down two days later. Hoover sent out the police and military to use tear gas and bullets on protesters near the Capitol. Half the families left.

Meanwhile, the president acted as if the nation were facing a siege, by unarmed vets and their families. He accused them of being communists, trying to undermine the government when they asked for some relief.

On July 28, General Douglas MacArthur, aided by Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major George S. Patton, leading four cavalry troops, four infantry companies, a machine gun squadron and six tanks, went across the bridge into Anacostia, where they shot tear gas and then live bullets at about 10,000 people remaining in the camp. A baby died and a boy was partially blinded. An estimated 1,000 others sought help at area hospitals. Two were said to have died.

President Hoover was not re-elected that November.

The bonus did not pass Congress, over President Roosevelt’s veto, until 1938, twenty years after these men came back from world war.

Veterans of subsequent U.S. wars could also tell tales of horrible treatment by the government that wants us to constantly “thank” these latest vets. And this same government wants young people to line up for their next war, too.