Occupy Wall Street demonstrators camping out on private property arouse the ire of many who believe they should make their point and go home. “What’s their point?” is one charge leveled against these demonstrators. Responses pointing to corporate greed and the excessive influence of lobbyists seem more complaint than plan.
This is an appropriate time to recall another encampment of disgruntled citizens. In 1932, early in the Depression, 43,000 Bonus Marchers gathered in our capital, including 17,000 veterans who served our nation in war. These veterans had a plan. Their plan was that a bonus for service, included in the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924, and redeemable in 1945, be paid immediately – 13 years ahead of schedule – because most of them were unemployed.
The Bonus Marchers camped out on government property. President Herbert Hoover ordered the U.S. Army to drive them away. An infantry force led by Gen. Douglas D. MacArthur, including Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Maj. George Patton, plus cavalry and tanks, destroyed the veterans’ encampment.
World War I veterans eventually did receive their bonuses a few years early. But their most significant accomplishment was to make government aware of challenges faced by men and women returning from war.
A Great Example
Sixteen million Americans served in World War II. Our “boys” coming home (and hundreds of thousands of female veterans) were entitled to benefits authorized by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, one of the greatest examples of constructive federal legislation in United States history. Almost 8 million veterans used GI Bill benefits to further their education. More than 2 million servicemen used loan provisions to buy a home. In spite of too much war debt, the spending authorized by the GI Bill’s education and housing provisions helped speed economic recovery and fertilized progress in postwar America.
Those advocating the systematic gutting of government often create “original intent” by ignoring history. The first Boston Tea Party demonstration was about tax resistance. Yet in 1794, President George Washington raised and led an army of more than 10,000 militiamen to suppress tax resistors. Washington’s reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion demonstrates his “original intent,” including a decisive commitment to strong and active federal government.
Honor Our Veterans
An excellent three-part documentary about the Bonus March is available on YouTube: