The Bonus Army: An American Epic

Paul Dickson, Author, Thomas B. Allen, Author Walker & Company $27 (370p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1440-4
Before the Million Man March, the Million Mom March or Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington, there was the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF): 45,000 WWI vets who, in 1932, swarmed Washington, D.C., in freight cars, crank-start jalopies, on motorcycles and even on foot from as far away as Portland, Ore., to demand payment of the bonus promised them at the end of the war. As Dickson and Allen show throughout this empathetic and well-researched volume, the BEF meant different things to a number of groups vying for power in the tumultuous political climate of the early '30s. Communist organizers saw the veterans as the shock troops of the emerging ""American Soviet Government""; the Hoover administration viewed them as mostly ""ex-convicts, persons with criminal records, radicals, and non-servicemen"" trying to strong-arm the government; and corporate America saw them as competition for dwindling government aid money. To most Americans, however, they were underdogs fighting the government and the corporate corruption that, in their minds, was responsible for the Depression. The book moves beyond these broad generalizations to find the personal stories of the march, fleshing out both minor and major players surrounding the BEF. And in describing the use of tanks, bayonets and tear gas to expel the unarmed vets and their families from Washington-as well as the deadly mistreatment of BEF members in government work camps after the march-Dickson and Allen highlight the sacrifices these women and men made on our own soil to win fair treatment for veterans of future wars. Their important and moving work will appeal to both professional historians and casual readers interested in the history of America's changing attitudes towards its soldiers.
Reviewed on: 12/01/2004
Release date: 12/01/2004
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