At the height of the depression, 17,000 Great War veterans and their families, dubbed the Bonus Army, encamped near Washington, DC to demand that the government make good on its promise to allow WWI servicemen to borrow on their Certificates of Service, a fund set up in 1924 by Congress to adjust their wartime pay. Servicemen were promised a dollar a day for each day they spent under arms in the Great War and $1.25 for every day they spent overseas.
Unlike today, where benefits are created out of thin air, Congress had scheduled payments of $112 million a year into a fund that would mature in 1945, but by 1932, the fund was already empty and the vets were angry. What ensued was ugly; two veterans were killed by the police when the Attorney General ordered the camp torn down. Then, the Army was ordered to evict the protesters and soldiers, led by General Douglas MacArthur, backed by tanks, commanded by George Patton, ran the protestors and their families out of the camps at saber and bayonet point. Fifty-five veterans were wounded and several family members subsequently died after exposure to chemical weapons used on them.
Senator John McCain went on record saying that military retirees are feeding too high up the hog and need to be prepared to pay their fair share.
If there ever was a time to tread lightly it is now. America can ignore the mostly twenty-something protesters of the Occupy movement and write off their earnest protests as naiveté, but they won’t ignore another Bonus Army. Dumping a generation of combat veterans onto the streets after a decade of war is not only immoral but idiotic. If you think the Occupy protestors are a pain in the butt, anger a half-million veterans.
Congress is being sorely tempted to take the easy way out of the challenges they face reducing the defense budget by dumping manpower and putting the screws to veterans instead of cutting wasteful procurement, slashing useless overseas bases and banning the use of contractors who have grown fat on government largesse over the past decade and sunk alot of their profits into keeping the men who fill their trough in office. It would be a shortsighted and disastrous course indeed; at best, veterans and their families would organize and run every one of the bums out of Washington, at worst, we’d see another Bonus Army that would make Occupy Wall Street look like a Sunday School picnic.
Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, it might be a good opportunity to contemplate what you want this country to look like in two years. The streets used to be filled with cars and trucks sporting bumper stickers that said, “Support our troops.” As we roll into another election year it is time to put your money, time and effort into electing officials who will take the moral and ethical path and take care of the veterans who have served so magnificently over the last ten years of continuous war.