The 1932 Bonus Army scandal was always communist propaganda
You high school history textbook was lying to you
On July 28, 1932, what has been called one of the most shameful incidents in American history occurred. Months earlier nearly 40,000 protestors from all over the country had descended on Washington, DC. A little less than half were veterans, nominally there to advocate that Congress redeem bonuses that they had been granted for WWI service.
When the bill granting the bonuses first passed it specified that the bonuses would only be redeemable 20 years after they were issued (maturing in 1945). However, in light of the ongoing Great Depression, the veterans thought they should try their luck and see if they could get the bonus term altered. Once fully mature, the bonuses would be worth a significant amount of money—a maximum of $19,170 in 2023 dollars.
The Bonus Marchers encamped in vacant lots and abandoned buildings all over Washington, DC, hoping that Congress would take up their cause. They ran tent revivals and had their own library operated by the Salvation Army. Boxing matches and baseball games were held. Full racial equality was achieved. Congress and the Hoover administration, by that point consisting of the Monopoly Man and a hodgepodge of WASP eugenicists (Nazi), coldly rejected their demands for early payment.
Weeks passed. Then, on the fateful day of July 28, US Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur ordered his terror troops to attack the peaceful Marchers unprovoked. He likely wanted to disrupt the racial harmony emerging from the new favela enriching the streets of the nation’s capital. Scores of casualties (don’t look too hard into this) occurred. A shack was burned, its image famously reproduced in every contemporary article on the Bonus Army ever written.
This dark day happened to benefit the political fortunes of New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), President Hoover’s opponent in the upcoming 1933 election. The cruel slaughter inflicted on the Bonus Marchers, splashed across front pages and newsreels all over the country, proved disastrous for Hoover. FDR was elected in a landslide and would go on to act as America’s longest serving President, radically transforming the country in virtually every respect (for the better!).
The Conundrum Cluster is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
This is the story that most Americans are taught in public schools. It’s faithfully recorded on many US government websites. Commentators looking to puff populist credentials will cite the Bonus Army as an example of how an out-of-control government was willing to use force against its most noble and diverse citizens for the crime of meekly protesting against injustice. The problem is, this story is fake.
The Bonus Army scandal was not an example of government run amok, but rather of quick-thinking officials standing resolute in the face of revolutionary activity sponsored from abroad. How do we know this? One of the lead organizers admitted it.
John T. Pace was a Communist Party operative assigned as an organizer for the Workers’ Ex-Servicemen’s League of Michigan. The League was a veteran’s organization created and controlled by the Communist Party. Pace worked with the League’s unemployment council but quickly rose through the ranks to other duties.