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1932 Fifty Years Ago

April 2024
1min read


W ASHINGTON, D.C. : “What a pitiful spectacle is that of the great American Government, mightiest in the world, chasing unarmed men, women and children with Army tanks,” writes the Washington News on July 30, 1932.

The pitiful spectacle is the rout of the Bonus marchers, the B.E.F. (Bonus Expeditionary Force) as these veterans call themselves. With no jobs or money, they have been camped in Washington for two months; and though some of the twenty thousand who originally trooped into the city wandered home when Congress earlier voted down their demands for payment of their World War I bonuses, others have lingered on, joined in camps along the Anacostia by their wives and children.

By July 28 President Herbert Hoover has had enough of their nonviolent but morose presence. A flare-up with police, in which two veterans die, leads Hoover to call out the Army. That afternoon, General Douglas MacArthur, aided by Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major George Patton, move on the disheveled campgrounds with four troops of cavalry with drawn sabers, six tanks, and a column of infantry with fixed bayonets. They toss tear-gas bombs and fire the huts and tents the B.E.P. has been squatting in. A child is bayoneted in the leg as he tries to rescue his pet rabbit. A newborn baby is gassed and will shortly die. Washington is lit throughout the night by smoldering fire from the campgrounds.

Hoover defends his action as necessary to protect Washington from Communists and criminals, but little evidence is found to support his claim. A few months later, he will be disastrously beaten at the polls.

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