Corps of Intelligence Police infiltrates Bonus Marchers
May 24, 1932
In 1932 the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression. Political tensions grew daily, as people grew more and more desperate and frustrated.
In May, a band of jobless veterans of World War I marched into Washington demanding early payment of the bonuses Congress had promised them for their service in the War. The bonuses were not supposed to be paid until 1945.
The group called themselves the â€œBonus Expeditionary Forces,â€ but became known simply as the â€œBonus Marchers.â€ The unofficial leader of the Marchers, Walter Walters, himself an out-of-work former Army sergeant, tried to maintain order while the group waited for legislation to pass, but by the end of June the movement had swelled to 20,000 tired, hungry, frustrated men who were getting no relief.
Meanwhile, the fear of a communist conspiracy to undermine the government of the United States was also increasing. Then Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, was convinced that â€œthe movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury.â€ He wasnâ€™t about to sit idly by under this â€œattack.â€
On May 25, 1932, a secret War Department memorandum was sent out to all Corps area intelligence officers directing them to investigate and report regularly concerning â€œbonus demonstrations by veterans.â€
At the same time, the Military Intelligence Division began sending a daily memorandum to the chief of staff describing the current status of the bonus marcher situation within the Nationâ€™s capital. The political implication of the U.S. collecting information on its own civilian population, particularly its veterans, was potentially explosive.
Eventually, MacArthur, acting on orders from the White House, cleared the area using mounted Army troops with sabers and tear gas, leaving behind images of fires and refugee veterans that hit all major news headlines the next morning.
President Herbert Hoover was much criticized for the severity of his eviction and his perceived insensitivity to the plight of the veterans and the nationâ€™s poor. The veterans got their bonuses, four years later. The average check per veteran was about $580; ultimately, nearly $2 billion was distributed to three million World War I veterans.
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