From Pepper Spray to Plowshares, or at Least a Good Bloody Mary

The Bonus Army at the Capitol

“I told that dumb son-of-bitch not to go down there.”  Major Dwight D. Eisenhower voicing his opposition to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s decision to personally lead troops against the Bonus Army.   

At the present moment, I fall into that majority of polled Americans that is somewhat bewildered and ambivalent as to the motivations and strategies of those in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Although, I must say that I certainly hold  those benevolent drum beating squatters on private ground in New York City in higher regard than most of the pandering podium thumping politicians that now, or hope to after the next election–occupy public space in Washington D.C.

Regrettably, in too many instances in our nation’s past, those that have sought redress outside the established norms have been shunned, marginalized  and accused of being less than American by those whose lives are unaffected by the harsher realities of the times. This branding of the reasonable assemblage has often been used as an excuse to justify the use of unreasonable force.

 On July 28th, 1932, infantry, cavalry and mechanized armor acting on orders from President Hoover, and under the direct command of  General Douglas MacArthur, launched a deadly assault against the World War I veterans, their families, and supporters that had set up an encampment  in the capital earlier that spring. Some 43,000 demonstrators had come to Washington to protest the brutal conditions created by the Great Depression, and to demand that military service bonuses due to be disbursed in 1945 be paid immediately to help offset the long-term unemployment. 

Buring of Bonus Army Encampement - Public Domain Photo

Actions on that day by both police and the army resulted in the death of two veterans, a miscarriage,  fifty-five injured, 135 arrests, the burning of the encampment, and the later passing of a three-month old infant that had been exposed to tear gas.  MacArthur defended his heavy-handed tactics by claiming that the protesters were part of a Communist plot to overthrow the government of the United States.  

Once again as our leaders and institutions  become ill at ease with those disconcerting voices that speak to the inequalities and injustices of the times, there are claims of un-American like behavior being leveled at those who have publicly displayed their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. Whether or not the cause of those in the streets is substantive or valid should not be at issue. In America we can not roll tanks, swing batons or use pepper spray against those citizens engaged in peaceful protest.

In fact to my way of thinking, the only acceptable use of the fruit of the Capsicum genus is in a warming bowl of chili, or a good Bloody Mary!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Takin it to the Streets

THE CONFRONTATION - ENOCH ROBERTS' TAVERN IN QUAKERTOWN - MARCH 6, 1799 - A PAINTING DEPICTING THE FRIES REBELLION BY JAMES MANN

“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds..”–Samuel Adams

As a dedicated student of the American Revolution and one who came of age during the 1960s, I certainly hold in my heart a place of fondness for those amongst the populace that engage in public protest when the conditions and circumstances call for it. But even as I watched my classmates and contemporaries take to the streets to rally against the real and perceived injustices of that turbulent decade, my youthful fervor was tempered by a certain cautious scrutiny of those forces that stirred the masses to action. And as I consider the activities of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, I am left with some of the same unease and distrust that I felt for the Tea Party advocates. Having spent as much time as I have in taverns, I know that once we take our differences and quarrels with each other outside there is little chance of achieving a reasonable or peaceful resolution. And even though our history is replete with those instances when a bit of outdoor insurrection made a measurable difference, much like Benjamin Franklin’s old Philadelphia Junto Society, I prefer to inspire and encourage change from inside the agreeable surroundings of a good pub.

Hopefully, there will come a day when we only need to see one man’s poverty to know that too many people are poor—one man’s hunger to know that too many people are starving—and one man’s hardship to know that too many people are hurting. And that the transformation of our society will come about not because of the anger and anxiety of the masses, but because of the conduct and concern of dedicated individuals. 

Posted by: Chris Poh

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