Can you frontpage this? My spouse doesn’t read comments but he needs to read this about FDR and Butler
Americans did not revolt and attempt to overthrow the government at any point during the Great Depression. The closest thing that existed to a mass movement against the Hoover administration was the Bonus Army, also known as the Bonus Expeditionary Army orthe Bonus Marchers. A group of WW I veterans who were trying to get the bonus payment they’d been promised disbursed to them. During May and June of 1932 they marched, often with their families, hitching rides on trucks and trains, from all over the continental US to DC where they set up camp on the Anacostia flats. They tried to get a meeting with Hoover, who refused. Congress rushed through enabling legislation, for the second or third time, to give them their $500 bonus ahead of the scheduled payment, which was still a decade off. The closest they got to meeting with a senior leader was when Major General Smedley Darlington Butler went to their camp and spent hours talking to each of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who wanted to speak to him. Butler had been passed over for his next assignment several years before– Commandant of the Marine Corps – and threatened him with false charges of insubordination for his public comments opposing Mussolini and the rise of fascism. Butler retired the year before the Bonus March.
As for the Bonus Army, they didn’t get their bonuses. They also, desperate as they were, didn’t try to overthrow the US government or even just the Hoover administration. They just quietly kept doing what they were doing: camping in DC, accepting what charity in terms of food aid was offered, and quietly pressuring the Hoover administration to give them what they were owed. For this, Hoover put MacArthur in charge of clearing them out as they were irritating him. MacArthur, because he was MacArthur and because the infiltrators he’d put into the camps told him that 1/3 of the marchers were Jews and 1/3 were black and all of them were communists, which was reinforced by J. Edgar Hoover who was already undertaking his plans to turn the Bureau of Investigation into the FBI, ordered the 20,000 Bonus marchers and their families cleared out. Five tanks, 200 cavalry, and several hundred infantry cleared out the marchers who were trying to evacuate peacefully on foot. Tear gas grenades were used on the Bonus marchers and their families. Some were run down by the cavalry and beaten with the flats of their sabres. Eisenhower told MacArthur he was an idiot and refused to participate. Patton, being Patton, clicked his heels and carried out MacArthur’s orders. The irony is that one of the veterans in the Bonus marchers driven out that day, Joe Angelo, was the Soldier who pulled Patton to safety on the battlefield in France, thereby saving his life.
Through all of this – the Depression, Hoover’s and MacArthur’s violent attack on peaceful veterans who merely wanted the bonus payment they’d been promised repeatedly, Hoover’s continued mishandling of the Depression through the election and the inauguration of FDR – Americans did not rise up and revolt. There was no backlash.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a backlash, to the election of FDR. And it wasn’t led by those who had been so brutalized by the Depression or Hoover’s failures as president or by MacArthur on the Anacostia flats in July of 1932. It was led by the wealthiest of the wealthy. The men who had actually made money during the Depression. The men who had picked America’s bones almost clean.
In 1933 a group of wealthy financiers and corporate owners decided that the US could not continue as a self governing democratic-republic if they and their peers were going to continue to profit. They decided that the US should instead become a fascistic oligarchy with a democratic facade. After sending a trusted agent to meet with the emerging fascist leaders in Italy, France, and Germany they determined that the easiest way to accomplish their goals in the US was to encourage and promote street level violence and disorder, culminating in widespread attacks in DC to pressure FDR and force him to accept their hand picked co-president. A co-president who would rule the US on their behalf from the shadows while FDR continued on the face of a faux democracy.
In order to achieve these objectives these wealthy financiers and captains of industry and investment determined that the remnants of the Bonus Army of WW I veterans would make the perfect foot soldiers in their campaign of disruption. They approached MajGen Smedley Darlington Butler, who was beloved by these veterans, to lead them. Fortunately, Butler recognized exactly what game was being played, gathered as much information as possible, and then took it to Congress and the news media. While Butler’s actions successfully stymied what we now call the Business Plot, Congress and the news media largely covered it up. As a result it is unclear even today exactly which, if any, elected or appointed officials might have been involved. The known coup organizers and plotters, however, were not some fly by night, nouveau riche group of amateurs. Their leaders included George Herbert Walker and Prescott Bush Sr. The grandfather and father of one president and great-grandfather and grandfather of a second.
They did this despite FDR winning 90% or so of the Electoral College vote and having gigantic majorities in both the House and the Senate. If I recall correctly the Democratic congressional majorities were something like 68 out of 96 senators and upwards of 300 members of the House. FDR’s electoral mandate was enormous and yet they still attempted a coup…
Here’s the Universal Newsreel of MajGen Butler calling out the plotters in an attempt to force Congress and the news media to actually take this seriously and do something about it.
For all of our vaunted lip service and fealty to our revolutionary past, Americans have consistently shown for the past 100 years that there is nothing you can do to them that will make them push back. Let me clarify that: white Americans have consistently shown the past 100 years that there is nothing you can do to them that will make them push back. Hell, as we’ve seen repeatedly over the past 100 years, a significant portion of them will actually be actively involved in creating and perpetuating the problem while another significant chunk will just stand on the sides and tut tut all of the upheaval. And those of good conscience, like all of you (and I mean that sincerely, whatever our disagreements, you’re all good people), will, of course, be willing to put themselves on the line for positive change.
You can’t out organize an extreme gerrymander. Nor extreme voter suppression. If just the Florida and Texas redistricting maps are allowed to stand, it won’t matter what happens in any other state, the Republicans will retake the House. The Senate map, while favorable to the Democrats for the 2022 elections, is still going to be a huge lift. And this is the last favorable Senate map for the Democrats. From 2024 on it gets worse and worse for them.
Those of us that keep beating this drum aren’t telling you all this because we want to be mean. Or because we want to upset you. We’re telling you this because we want everyone to understand just how dangerous this moment is. Just how precarious things are right now. And, as with the history lesson at the beginning of this comment, just how absolutely normal it is in America for extremely wealthy conservative interests to seek to overthrow the constitutional order and establish a fascist system running behind a facade of democracy.
Time will tell if I and the others sounding the alarms are right or wrong. I’d love to be wrong. I’d love for all of you to spend weeks and months dunking on me after the 2022 elections are over and, again, after the 2024 elections are over. Goku got started a bit prematurely in last night’s comments…
But until then, I will beat this drum until we are out of danger.