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April 30 , 2008

The Bonus Army

An American Epic


In the summer of 1932, at the height of the Depression, some forty-five thousand veterans of World War I descended on Washington, D.C., from all over the country to demand the bonus promised them eight years earlier for their wartime service.

President Herbert Hoover, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, and others feared the protesters would turn violent after the Senate defeated the "bonus bill" that the House had passed. On July 28, 1932, tanks rolled through the streets as MacArthur's troops evicted the bonus marchers: Newspapers and newsreels showed graphic images of American soldiers driving out their former comrades in arms.

Through seminal research, including interviews with the last surviving witnesses, Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen tell the full and dramatic story of the Bonus Army and of the many celebrated figures involved in it: Evalyn Walsh McLean, the owner of the hope diamond, sided with the marchers; Roy Wilkins saw the model for racial integration here; J. Edgar Hoover built his reputation against the Bonus Army radicals; a young Gore Vidal witnessed the crisis while John dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis wrote about it. Dickson and Allen also recover the voices of ordinary men who dared tilt at powerful injustice, and who ultimately transformed the nation: The march inspired Congress to pass the G. I. Bill of Rights in 1944, one of the most important pieces of social legislation in our history, which in large part created America's middle class. The Bonus Army is an epic story in the saga of our country.
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