Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940), was at the time of his death, the most decorated marine in the United States. However, the final years of his life were spent in publicly denouncing wars, which he decided were being fought for corporate interests; speaking at pacifist rallies and advocating for veterans.
On August 21, 1931, invited to address an American Legion convention in Connecticut, he made the first no-holds-barred antiwar speech of his career. It stunned all who heard it or read it in the few papers that dared to report it:
I spent years . . . being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. . . .; I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1931. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall StreetIn the spring and summer of 1932, a large group of WWI vets, their families and affiliated groups, marched on Washington to demand that their war bonuses, which were not redeemable until 1945, be paid immediately, since many were then unemployed and suffering after the Crash, that led to the Great Depression.
In China in 1927 1 helped see to it that Standard Oil [now Exxon] went its way unmolested.... I had ... a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotions.... I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate a racket in three cities. The Marines operated on three continents... (1)
Known as the Bonus Army, or Bonus Expeditionary Force, it was led by Walter W. Waters, a former army sergeant, but was boosted by the presence of Butler, then the most popular military figure in the country. 20,000 members strong, they "occupied" Washington, setting up camp at Anacostia flats. Their request for early payments were denied, but they soldiered on.
On July 28, 1932, two bonus marchers were shot by police, causing the entire mob to become hostile. President Hoover ordered their eviction, and General Douglas MacArthur, with his cavalry, went on the attack.
After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, an arsenical vomiting agent, entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. However Gen. MacArthur, feeling the Bonus March was a Communist attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested. (2)Time magazine told of one vet, William Hushka, who had joined the group, jobless and penniless. Last week William Hushka's Bonus for $528 suddenly became payable in full when a police bullet drilled him dead. (3) Two month old Gertrude Mann, died of malnutrition in Washington's Gallinger Hospital and in the same hospital, Bernard Myers, 11 weeks old, affected by tear gas, would also succumb.
The entire thing was blamed on Communists and the media painted MacArthur as a hero, but not everyone was impressed. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then an aid to MacArthur said, "I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there..." and Butler declared himself a "Hoover-for-Ex-President-Republican".
It would appear that the "Occupy Washington" movement of 1932 was a failure, but the sight of American soldiers attacking American veterans, resonated in the court of public opinion, and Hoover lost the 1932 election in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When a second march and occupation took place in May of 1933, FDR provided the marchers with a campsite in Virginia and dished out three meals a day. He later issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public relief program, exempting them from the normal requirement that applicants be unmarried and under the age of 25. Congress, where Democrats held majorities in both houses, passed the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act in 1936, authorizing the immediate payment of the $2 billion in WWI bonuses.
The incident also impacted Eisenhower, who would later, as Butler did, warn of the Military-Industrial Complex, and wars fought for corporate interests. Unfortunately, few listened, and the practice has only escalated.
Demonstrators in the Occupy Movement, face evictions everywhere, the latest in Los Angeles. They are tear gassed, shot at with bean bags fired from rifles, hit with rubber bullets, kicked, drenched and arrested, but they are simply not going away.
And the message is resonating with the public. This is not an attack on the rich, but a message to governments to stop pandering to the 1%, and pay attention to the rest of us. We are the citizens, the voters, the taxpayers, the human capital, who far too often become targets when spending cuts are needed.
This has the potential to be a major political movement and if politicians ignore this, they will be Hoovered. (voted out, not attacked with a vacuum cleaner)
My little three-year-old grandson, when he feels that he's not getting our attention, will indignantly proclaim that we are not "using our ears". He's a pretty smart guy. Maybe he should address Parliament, Congress, the Senate, and everyplace else, where people are not using theirs.
1. The Plot to Sieze the White House: The Shocking TRUE Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR, By Jules Archer, Syhorse Publishing, 1973, ISBN: 10-1-60239-036-3, p. 118-119
2. HEROES: Battle of Washington, Time Magazine, August 08, 1932