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A Protest That Shaped America

By Jack Stevenson. July 23, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — We have a constitutional right to assemble and a constitutional right to speak freely about political subjects.  We do not have a right to destroy property or block the movement of citizens.  Blocking a street or a bridge is, in a sense, holding people captive.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jack Stevenson is retired.  He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee.  He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).  Currently residing in Pensacola, FL, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and occasionally writes non-exclusive commentary for Blowing Rock News.

All opinions expressed by Mr. Stevenson are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Blowing Rock News or its managers and employees.

President Wilson’s campaign for re-election in 1916 touted the slogan “He kept us out of the war.”  But soon after Wilson was re-elected, he changed course and put America into the war in Europe.  It was a shock to many Americans who weren’t anxious to get involved in a European conflict.  Vigilantes apprehended young men and delivered them to induction centers.  Nine million men registered for the newly imposed draft.

The “Great Influenza” spread widely, killing 675,000 Americans and as many as 100 million people throughout the world.

During the scramble to train troops and send them to Europe, influenza appeared in the American Midwest and spread in military barracks.  Military authorities advised President Wilson to delay troop shipments to Europe.  Wilson declined that advise.  The soldiers were crammed onto troop ships for the long sea voyage.  The soldiers carried the disease to Europe.  The “Great Influenza” spread widely killing 675,000 Americans and as many as 100 million people throughout the world.

After the war, in 1924, the U.S. Congress passed legislation authorizing payment of a “bonus” to WW I veterans.  However, payment was to be delayed until 1945, 27 years after the war ended and, as it turned out, after yet another world war ended.  Only about a decade after the stress caused by WW I and the influenza pandemic, the Great Depression descended on the world.

In 1932, some 17,000 WW I veterans converged near Washington, D.C. to lobby the congress to advance the bonus payment date.  Some veterans brought their families pushing the number assembled to more than 40,000.  They built rudimentary shelters from scrap lumber and some tents.  The camp was disciplined and sanitation facilities were established.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to pay the veteran bonus early, when it was needed, in the midst of the depression.  The U.S. Senate voted against the bill by a margin of 3:1. The veterans were not violent or destructive, but they were there—right there in front of the news media.

FDR turned to an aide and said, “This will get me elected.”

Herbert Hoover was President of the United States.  Hoover entered office with respectable credentials, but he was unable to adjust to unexpected events, unable to change.  Hoover authorized General Douglas MacArthur to use military force to achieve a domestic political objective, that is, remove the irritating image of distraught veterans from Washington, D.C.  General MacArthur personally supervised the action contrary to the advice of a junior aid named Dwight Eisenhower. The ground military commander was George Patton deploying infantry, horse-mounted cavalry, and a few tanks to drive the veterans out of Washington and burn their encampment.

It was the fourth year of President Hoover’s term of office and the third year of the Great Depression.  Hoover was running for re-election.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was also running the for the presidency.  When Roosevelt read the news accounts of the military assault on the veterans and their families, he turned to an aid and remarked “This will get me elected.”  Something did get FDR elected.

During Roosevelt’s first term, the congress passed legislation authorizing early payment of the veteran’s bonus starting in 1939.  In 1944, near the end of WW II, congress passed the now famous GI Bill that paid college tuition and other benefits for veterans.  It provided the educated leadership that America needed to attain world prominence, and it became the foundation that produced American middle-class prosperity.  Some people think that it was the most beneficial legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress.


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