Today in labor history: Army attacks protesting veterans in D.C.

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On July 28, 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, assisted by Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, led troops in burning to the ground a shantytown built near the U.S. Capitol by unemployed veterans.

The shantytown was built by thousands of unemployed WWI veterans, camping there to demand a bonus Congress had promised them but never paid. 20,000 ex-servicemen led by a former cannery worker named Walter W. Walters and calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces," had been camped out. Many were unemployed due to the Great Depression.

Cavalry troops and tanks fired tear gas at the veterans and their families and then set the buildings on fire. MacArthur and President Herbert Hoover said they had saved the nation from revolution.

This was a time when the great Depression worsened; thousands marched and rallied across the country for jobs. Communists, socialists, labor leaders and community activists led the struggles. Conservative government and military leaders were vehemently anti-communist and used the threat of "revolution" against people in terrible financial distress and needing immediate help.

"Flames rose high over the desolate Anacostia flats at midnight tonight," read the first sentence of the "New York Times" account, "and a pitiful stream of refugee veterans of the World War walked out of their home of the past two months, going they knew not where."

Read more about this incident at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/peopleevents/pandeAMEX89.html

"Few images from the Great Depression are more indelible than the rout of the Bonus Marchers. At the time, the sight of the federal government turning on its own citizens-veterans, no less-raised doubts about the fate of the republic. It still has the power to shock decades later."

Workday Minnesota contributed to this article.
Photo: The burning of the shantytown, Wikipedia,  Public Domain.

 

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