US army on streets against protesters: 1932 version

Submitted by AWL on 10 June, 2020 - 4:21 Author: Barrie Hardy
Bonus Army under attack

The broadcast media in the United States are bound by no rules of impartiality and in many respects reflect the views of one or the other of the two dominant capitalist parties.

The notorious Fox News promotes the right-wing Trump agenda, spiced up with far-right conspiracy theories. On the other side, CNN and MSNBC do actual serious reporting, but are not immune from ideological myths.

Those liberal news outlets now promote the idea that Trump’s threat to use the military against the American people is an aberration such as never happened before in American history, and that the US military is somehow above politics.

History throws up several counter-examples. Most notable is the attack on the “Bonus Army” in 1932 (pictured above, under attack from the police).

In 1924, American soldiers who’d fought in the First World War had been given compensation certificates for each day they served, with 4% interest each year before the payout was made. So if you’d been in Europe for a year you were owed around $400. The catch was that the certificates were redeemable only in 1945!

In 1932, when the Great Depression was at its height, many vets were broke and wanted the money in the here and now.

Around twenty thousand veterans and their families descended on Washington to demand their money. The US army had been segregated, but in the protest movement black and white Americans were united.

The Republican-dominated Senate and President Hoover weren’t having any of it, though. The demonstrators were branded “red agitators” and the army was called in to put them down.

Key figures in the assault on the protesters would later become very familiar. Presiding over the action was Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, who branded the Bonus Army “traitors bent on overthrowing the government”. His aides also had names that would become well-known: Eisenhower and Patton.

George Patton was a particularly nasty individual. When he encountered his former valet, Joe Angelo, among the protesters he refused to recognise him, despite Angelo having earned a medal during the war for saving Patton’s life.

Patton told those under his command: “A few casualties become martyrs, a large number an object lesson... When a mob starts to move...use a bayonet to encourage its retreat”.

That’s essentially what happened. The protesters were tear-gassed and bayoneted. Their camp was burnt down. Two veterans were killed and countless others suffered gas-related injuries.

Hoover lost the 1932 presidential election, but the Democrat Roosevelt administration didn’t change much. FDR refused to pay the bonuses and by reappointing MacArthur as Army Chief of Staff only added insult to injury.

Such historical examples demonstrate that the military arm of the state is not neutral and above politics. It serves the interests of the ruling class.

Yet repressive institutions can be riven by sections of it going over to the people. Demilitarisation of the police forces in the United States needs to be a major demand in turning back attacks on the working class.

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