The Bonus Army: An American Epicby Paul Dickson, Thomas B. Allen
In the summer of 1932, at the height of the Depression, some forty-five thousand veterans of World War I descended on Washington, D.C., from all over the country to demand the bonus promised them eight years earlier for their wartime service.
President Herbert Hoover, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, and others feared the protesters would turn violent… See more details below
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In the summer of 1932, at the height of the Depression, some forty-five thousand veterans of World War I descended on Washington, D.C., from all over the country to demand the bonus promised them eight years earlier for their wartime service.
President Herbert Hoover, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, and others feared the protesters would turn violent after the Senate defeated the "bonus bill" that the House had passed. On July 28, 1932, tanks rolled through the streets as MacArthurs troops evicted the bonus marchers: Newspapers and newsreels showed graphic images of American soldiers driving out their former comrades in arms.
Through seminal research, including interviews with the last surviving witnesses, Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen tell the full and dramatic story of the Bonus Army and of the many celebrated figures involved in it: Evalyn Walsh McLean, the owner of the hope diamond, sided with the marchers; Roy Wilkins saw the model for racial integration here; J. Edgar Hoover built his reputation against the Bonus Army radicals; a young Gore Vidal witnessed the crisis while John dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis wrote about it. Dickson and Allen also recover the voices of ordinary men who dared tilt at powerful injustice, and who ultimately transformed the nation: The march inspired Congress to pass the G. I. Bill of Rights in 1944, one of the most important pieces of social legislation in our history, which in large part created Americas middle class. The Bonus Army is an epic story in the saga of our country.
“The account by Dickson and Allen recalls the subliminal force of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men with gaunt stories of character at the limits of dignity.” Taylor Branch, New York Review of Books
“A revealing and fascinating account . . . The book's most haunting aspect is its verbal and pictorial record of the marcher's individual experiences . . . For all the defeats that the Bonus Army endured, its struggle paved the way for the G.I. Bill of Rights. And it underscored the power that could be unleashed by the marcher who made himself 'a petition in boots.' Its legacy was of great importance to the World War II veterans whose homecomings were a far cry from the hardships and indignities of the 1930's. That legacy is all the more meaningful today.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The Bonus Army is one of those half-forgotten chapters in American history that not only richly deserves retelling, but allows you to tell plenty of other good stories along the way. And what a great pleasure it is to have it retold by two old pros like Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen . . . Exactly the kind of book publishers should be giving us more of--responsible popular history, researched to the footnoted standards of the academy but written for the pleasure of general readers who are looking for a good story . . . A rewarding book.” Kevin Coyne, Newsday
“The Bonus Army is a feat of research and analysis--a thoughtful, strong argument that these marches were among the most important demonstrations of the 20th century. Dickson and Allen speculate about why the episode is not more widely known. They cite as possible reasons the encampment's integration in segregated Washington, the ease with which the marchers could be dismissed as Communists, and the fact that no political party stood to gain from the movement's success or failure. Some critics suggest that the authors failed to prove any of these theories or provide any convincing reasons for the Bonus Army's eventual failure. But, Dickson and Allen do paint moving, harrowing portraits of individuals' plights and make clear how the corps' ordeal laid the groundwork for the legislation that became the G.I. Bill of Rights.” Bookmarks Magazine
“Here a demonstrator is clubbed and tear-gassed, but there real reforms are won: thus unfolds this memorable story of a now-forgotten episode in 20th-century history. The idea that WWI veterans should receive a bonus for their service took years to build and years more to fulfill. As popular historians Dickson and Allen write, part of the delay was a matter of political clout; whereas Civil War vets formed a powerful and populous voting bloc and agitated for pensions, by the time Woodrow Wilson sent troops off to war in Europe, his notion was that soldiers would pay for their own life insurance and 'there would be no demand for postwar compensation to those who were not injured during their service.' Veterans in Oregon thought otherwise, and soon African-American vets from Virginia and hill-country farmers from Tennessee would join in their call for what was now being called a 'bonus' for service. When neither Congress nor presidents would cough up, the vets began to organize nationally, and in 1932 thousands arrived in Washington to protest the Senate's defeat of a bill that would have funds for them. Sure that the leaders were Communists, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur sent in troops, routing the ethnically mixed protestors and killing some. On hearing the news, Franklin Roosevelt reportedly said to an aide, 'This will elect me,' and indeed it seemed one of the last straws for the Hoover administration. Ironically, the Bonus Army's leadership was far more inclined to the right than the left, so that even as MacArthur was blustering about the Reds, a group of financiers approached a retired Marine Corps general to lead an army of veterans to stage a coup. The general replied, 'If you get these 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you, and we will have real war right at home." The lesson the New Deal government took home: avoid ticking off discontented veterans, whence the GI Bill. A lively, engaging work of history.” Kirkus Reviews
“A fascinating and readable book. Recommended.” William D. Pederson, Library Journal
“As Dickson and Allen show throughout this empathetic and well-researched volume, the [Bonus Expeditionary Force] meant different things to a number of groups vying for power in the tumultuous political climate of the early '30s. Communist organizers saw the veterans as the shock troops of the emerging 'American Soviet Government'; the Hoover administration viewed them as mostly 'ex-convicts, persons with criminal records, radicals, and non-servicemen' trying to strong-arm the government; and corporate America saw them as competition for dwindling government aid money. To most Americans, however, they were underdogs fighting the government and the corporate corruption that, in their minds, was responsible for the Depression. The book moves beyond these broad generalizations to find the personal stories of the march, fleshing out both minor and major players surrounding the BEF. And in describing the use of tanks, bayonets and tear gas to expel the unarmed vets and their families from Washington--as well as the deadly mistreatment of BEF members in government work camps after the march--Dickson and Allen highlight the sacrifices these women and men made on our own soil to win fair treatment for veterans of future wars. Their important and moving work will appeal to both professional historians and casual readers interested in the history of America's changing attitudes towards its soldiers.” Publishers Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
The Bonus ArmyAn American Epic
By Paul Dickson Thomas B. Allen
Walker & CompanyISBN: 0-8027-1440-4
Chapter OneOver There
EX-SERVICE MEN DEMAND JOBS
No one knows
No one cares if I'm weary
Oh how soon they forgot Château-Thierry
-From Newsreel XLVI,
The Big Money, a volume in the USA Trilogy
by John Dos Passos
President Woodrow Wilson and his wife rode in an open carriage from the White House to the Capitol for his second inaugural on the morning of Monday, March 5, 1917. For the first time since the Civil War, a president was given special protection on Inauguration Day. Letters threatening the president's life had alarmed the Secret Service. Agents had inspected every building on Pennsylvania Avenue along the mile-long route. Soldiers were stationed eight feet apart on both sides of the broad avenue.
Wilson, running on the campaign slogan "He kept us out of war," had been reelected by a slim margin. Now he had to speak of the nearness of war. In the inaugural address he said, "We are provincials no longer. The tragic events of the thirty months of vital turmoil through which we have just passed have made us citizens of the world. There can be no turning back."
Those months of turmoil traced back to June 1914, when an assassin killed a man few Americans had ever heard of-Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, slain in Sarajevo, Serbia. The murder reverberatedthrough Europe and erupted in a war whose causes bewildered Americans; in Wilson's words, the events "run deep into all the obscure soils of Europe." Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany declared war on Russia and France and invaded Belgium. Britain declared war on Germany. Bulgaria and Turkey allied with Germany. German troops advanced into France and threatened Paris. By the end of the year, both sides were fighting from trenches along the 350-mile Western Front that extended from Switzerland to the English Channel.
Wilson kept America officially neutral while U.S. factories shipped arms to Britain and France, defying German U-boats. The war seemed far away to most Americans until May 7, 1915, when a U-boat torpedoed, without warning, the British passenger liner Lusitania. Some 1,200 men, women, and children -including 128 Americans-were killed. A few days before the sinking, Americans had read about a horrible new weapon-poison gas, used by Germany for the first time on the Western Front. The sinking and the gas intensified anti-German sentiment while simultaneously producing a plea for continued neutrality from German-Americans, one of the nation's largest and oldest immigrant groups.
Between the time of the election and his inauguration in March 1917, German submarines shattered Wilson's hope of ending the war through mediation, a noble idea he called "peace without victory." No country was interested. Germany declared a U-boat blockade of Great Britain and in a note to the United States warned that any ship entering the embargo zone would be sunk without warning. Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. Then Wilson obtained from British sources a copy of a telegram sent by German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico, instructing him to offer Mexico an alliance with Germany with the promise of "an understanding" that Mexico would reconquer and keep Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. British code breakers had decrypted the telegram. Wilson arranged for the telegram to be released on March 1 by the Associated Press. The German plan to ally with Mexico stunned and infuriated Americans.
On the evening of Monday, April 2, Wilson again traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to address a joint session of Congress, this time in a car escorted by a squad of cavalry, sabers drawn. The cavalrymen, ceremonial troops from Fort Myer, across the Potomac, routinely rode out for funerals and occasions of state. As the car turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, the dome of the Capitol could be seen ahead, glowing, illuminated for the first time by a new system of indirect lighting.
At eight-thirty, in a light spring rain, cavalrymen eased their horses into the silent crowd on the Capitol Plaza, opening a path for Wilson's car. He got out and, alone, walked up broad stairs that had been cleared of picketing pacifists. The building and grounds were guarded by cavalry troopers, U.S. Marines, Secret Service agents, postal inspectors, and uniformed police.
Senators marched into the House carrying little American flags. The galleries were packed with people who had been issued special passes by jittery security men. Justices of the Supreme Court sat before the Speaker's platform. Foreign diplomats, in formal evening attire, sat to the side, invited to a joint session for the first time in memory.
As Wilson walked down the aisle, the justices rose and led the Senators and representatives in applause, cheering and yelling for two minutes and giving Wilson the kind of reception he had never received before. Holding the speech he had typed himself, at first not looking up, Wilson began describing Germany's "warfare against mankind." He spoke to silence until he said, "There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making; we will not choose the path of submission."
Chief Justice Edward White, who had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, suddenly rose, dropped his hat, raised his hands above his head, and clapped them once. Then from the Congress, a reporter wrote, came "a cheer so deep and so intense and so much from the heart that it sounded like a shouted prayer." More cheers came when Wilson said, "Neutrality is no longer feasible.... The world must be made safe for democracy."
When Wilson finished his thirty-six-minute speech, he slowly walked out of the chamber to more cheers, more flag-waving. Back in the White House, he said to his secretary, "Think of what it was they were applauding. My message of today was a message of death for our young men." Then, by one account, he put his head down on a table and sobbed.
Early in the morning of April 6, following an 82 to 6 vote in the Senate, the House voted 373 to 50 to declare war. Wilson received a similarly overwhelming response in letters and telegrams, including a congratulatory message from London signed by forty-year-old Herbert C. Hoover, chairman of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium. Hoover, a millionaire mining engineer, had taken over the task of feeding the Belgians, whose food supplies had been sharply curtailed after German troops invaded the small kingdom in 1914. He directed a mammoth effort that saved Belgium from starvation. When America entered the war, Hoover returned home, and Wilson immediately made him U.S. food administrator, increasing his reputation and bringing his name into everyday use: housewives who aided the war effort by serving nonwasteful meals said they were "Hooverizing."
When a song-and-dance man named George M. Cohan read the "war declared" headlines, he was on a train heading for New York City from suburban New Rochelle-only "forty-five minutes from Broadway," according to one of his songs. He began humming a tune, and by the time his trip ended, he had written a song that would echo the cocky patriotism of the nation. That night Cohan telephoned Nora Baye, a star of vaudeville, and on May 12 she sang the song for the first time to a cheering audience. Most Americans heard it on their Victrolas or gathered around their pianos, reading the words from a song sheet with a cover by Norman Rockwell, then twenty-four years old. He would soon be in the U.S. Navy.
Over there, over there Send the word, Send the word over there That the Yanks are coming, The Yanks are coming, The drums rum-tumming Ev'rywhere....
When Congress declared war, the Regular Army had 127,588 officers and men to send into a war of attrition, where in a single month 300,000 British soldiers had been killed, wounded, or gassed.
At first, people believed that the army sent off to fight the Germans, like the army raised for the Spanish-American War, would be made up of volunteers. Teddy Roosevelt offered to lead a volunteer force, as he had done in that "splendid little war." But this war needed men by the millions, and the only way to get them was by a draft. Pacifists, radicals, and patriots found themselves on the same side in opposition to the draft. Anarchist Emma Goldman, later jailed and deported for her opposition to conscription, predicted the draft would bring civil war. Speaker of the House Champ Clark, advocate of an all-volunteer army, declared that in his state of Missouri there was "precious little difference between a conscript and a convict." Conscription was given a soothing label-Selective Service-and the act passed. President Wilson signed it on May 18, and it would be the basis for conscription in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
The act outlawed the Civil War practice of buying one's way out of the draft. During the Civil War, wealthy men could legally duck the draft for three hundred dollars-this at a time when a typical laborer was making less than five hundred dollars a year. That inequity had touched off the New York City draft riots of 1863, in which as many as two thousand may have died, and similar, less deadly riots in other cities.
More than nine million men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one registered on June 5, 1917, and placed their fate in the hands of local, governor-appointed "boards of responsible citizens." Each draft board had a set of numbers to bestow on the selectees (a term that vied with draftee). On July 20, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, himself a pacifist, was blindfolded as he stood next to a large glass bowl. He pulled from it a small piece of paper bearing the number 258. The drawing kept up throughout the day until more than 10,000 numbers had been drawn. For American young men, a life of chance had begun. "Your number came up" entered the language.
They began their military lives in hastily built training camps that sprouted in twenty-three states-white men and black men who had never been on a train before, college boys, farmers' sons, and slum dwellers. About 18 percent of them were immigrants of forty-six nationalities, many of them unable to speak English. By the beginning of October, more than 500,000 men were in the camps, which were mostly in the South. Regulations said that the men, about 70 percent of them draftees, were to be turned into soldiers in four months of seventeen-hour days. Many of the recruits had only wooden guns, and many would go to the front without ever having aimed or fired a rifle.
Most of the junior officers were either National Guardsmen or recent college graduates given a few weeks of training in officer candidate schools. The senior officers were of a different type-Regular Army officers who had learned their soldiering on the parade grounds of West Point, men who had gone to war against Spain in Cuba in 1898, or chased Pancho Villa across the Mexican border, or fought guerrillas in the Philippines.
The Regular Army had four Negro regiments, which traced their lineage to the freed slaves of the Civil War. They boasted a legacy that included the Indian-fighting "Buffalo Soldiers" of the Old West and the 10,000 black troops who fought in the Spanish-American War, some under Captain John J. Pershing, giving him his nickname Black Jack. Some African-American leaders believed that service in the Great War would do nothing to advance black civil rights. But in 1918 William E. B. DuBois, editor of the Crisis, official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote, "first your Country, then your Rights!" His belief was that loyalty and courage in wartime France would inevitably produce equal rights and opportunity in peacetime America.
Men of the American Expeditionary Force, the AEF, first reached France in May 1917, a short time after the triumphant arrival of General Pershing and his stirring salutation to France. Standing at the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War, a spokesman for Pershing exclaimed, "Lafayette, we are here!" On his staff was Captain George S. Patton Jr., whose sister Anne was secretly engaged to Pershing, a widower. Patton, bristling at the implication of favoritism, was trying to get off Pershing's staff and into action. A cavalryman with a love for horses, Patton was transferred to a new kind of cavalry unit called the tank corps.
As Americans continued to pour into France and made their way to the front, they fought alongside French forces at Belleau Wood and on the river Marne. Among them were the black American regiments not attached to U.S. forces but assigned to French divisions made up of Africans from French colonies. They wore French helmets and fired French rifles. One such unit was the 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, dubbed by the French the Harlem Hellfighters.
In August Pershing set up an American front along what the battle maps called the Saint-Mihiel salient, a sharp angle in the German line. The salient looked like a dagger aimed at Paris, with the town of Saint-Mihiel, on the river Meuse, as its point. General Pershing decided to hurl three hundred thousand American troops against the salient, which the Germans had controlled since the hell of trench warfare had begun in 1914. Then he would shift those troops, along with hundreds of thousands more, to the battle line known as Meuse-Argonne. There, in 1918, he would open what he hoped would be the decisive campaign of the war. As he later wrote, he had launched with practically the same army and within twenty-four days "two great attacks" on battlefields only sixty miles apart.
During this campaign, individuals who would play key roles in the events of 1932 first revealed themselves. Among the units at Saint-Mihiel was the Yankee Division, formed by National Guardsmen from all six New England states. Like other divisions, the Yankee had Regular Army officers in key commands, including Colonel Pelham D. Glassford. Because his men had no cannon of their own, they had to learn to fire French 75-millimeter guns and the heavier 155 guns. Glassford's men could not match the French on accuracy, but he could speed up the firing by teaching his Yankees the dangerous feat of loading on the recoil. They learned to fire forty shells a minute-so fast that some German officers insisted the Americans were armed with machine-gun cannons. One of Glassford's guns became famous as Betsy the Sniper, aimed by a man who had been a star pitcher for Yale. He treated the gun like a rifle, picking off targets at seven thousand yards. His men could fire and load so fast that they could have four of Betsy's shells in the air at one time.
Excerpted from The Bonus Army by Paul Dickson Thomas B. Allen Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Paul Dickson is the author of Sputnik: The Shock of the Century and numerous books about history, the American language, and baseball. He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland.
Thomas B. Allen is the author of The Blue and Gray; War Games; George Washington, Spymaster; and many other books of military and intelligence history. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
Paul Dickson is the author of more than forty books, including The Joy of Keeping Score, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Baseballs Greatest Quotations, and Baseball: The Presidents Game. In addition to baseball, his specialties include Americana and language. He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland.
Thomas B. Allen is an author whose writings range from articles for National Geographic Magazine to books on a variety of subjects. Allens most recent books are George Washington, Spymaster, which tells how espionage helped to win the Revolutionary War, and Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. Allen is the co-author, with Paul Dickson, of The Bonus Army: An American Epic, the story of the ill-fated World War I veterans who marched on Washington in 1932 and were driven out by Army troops under command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The book will be published by Walker and Company in February 2005. It is a selection of the History Book Club. The New York Public Library has selected George Washington, Spymaster, as one of the 100 best childrens books of 2004. An earlier Allen book, Remember Pearl Harbor, also published by National Geographic, was selected as one of the Notable Books of 2001 by the American Library Association. Spy Book, co-authored with Norman Polmar, is the principal source book for the International Spy Museum. The revised 2003 edition has more than 100 new entries. As a frequent contributor to National Geographic Magazine, he has written on such subjects as Xinjiang China, Mongolia, and Turkey. His World War II articles covered D-Day, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Eighth Air Force, and the Battle of Midway. Other articles: the search for the giant squid, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, and the search for Cubas sunken treasure ships. The Geographic articles have been published in the Japanese, Israeli, Greek, and Latin American editions of the Magazine. He also lectures on National Geographic Expeditions to the sites of historic events, such as Pearl Harbor and D-Day. Allen was Associate Chief of the National Geographic Societys Book Service from 1974 until 1981, when he left the Society to freelance as a writer and editor. After leaving the Society he wrote for several Society books, including Field Guide to North American Birds, Inventors and Discoverers, Journey Into China, Into the Unknown, Exploring England and Ireland, Liberty: the Statue and the American Dream, Americas Outdoor Wonders, Photography Then and Now, and We Americans. During his career at the National Geographic Society, Allen worked as an editor and writer on twenty-eight Society books. Allen was a consultant and on-screen speaker for the Documedia series "Secrets of War" for the History Channel. He has frequently appeared on television as an authority on military and intelligence subjects. He has also produced editorial contributions to web pages of the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Geographic Society, and Kodak. His book Possessed reveals in detail the real exorcism that was the basis for the movie "The Exorcist." Possessed was adapted for a Showtime movie of the same name. His Shark Attacks is an authoritative analysis of attacks throughout the world. Prior to his work at the National Geographic Society, Allen was, from 1964 to 1965, Managing Editor, Trade Book Division, Chilton Books. From 1956 to 1963, he was a feature writer on The New York Daily News. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter and columnist for the Bridgeport (Conn.) Herald and served two years in the U.S. Navy. He and his wife Scottie, a potter and member of Creative Partners Gallery, live in Bethesda, Maryland.
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Fabulous! I am quite interested in World War I, and Dickson and Allen provide an excellent analysis of what those veterans faced when they returned. We too often forget the veteran once the war is finished, but The Bonus Army reveals how this Nation was finally forced to recognize the veterans and eventually legislate benefits for those who have served our country. The WWI vets were treated abysmally, but their fight for recognition and just recompense for their military service brought about the GI Bill. The Bonus Army provides an astonishing look at the inner workings of the U.S. Government where our veterans are concerned.