OP-ED: Appreciate the Vets; Damn the Politicians Who Misused Them

By Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick

As we wade through the massive bargain seeking throngs  for the annual Veterans Day events, it might be useful to remember the point it used to be:  appreciate the service and sacrifice of millions of men AND women in wars, some of which were questionably created to resolve political goals.

So, in the spirit of what is right, let us certainly celebrate, memorialize and appreciate those who have served…and, by the way, the many thousands who also served but wore no military uniforms.  And, as we show those respects, let us be clear about the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, thrust into combat to serve questionable political ends.

In other words, we have much for which to be thankful…and a lot for which we should be ashamed.

 For the WWI vets, tons of whom were also caught up in the eventual economic depression, it took until June 15, 1932, 14 years after the end of the war, for a bill offered by Texas Congressman Wright Patman to pass the House of Representatives.  Even then the vote that should have been virtually unanimous only passed 211-176.  Before that, veterans’ groups had unsuccessfully asked the Hoover administration to pay immediately a Congressionally mandated bonus scheduled for 1945!

The Republican Senate eventually defeated the proposal by a wide margin.

 The Bonus Army was the popular name of an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Its organizers called it the Bonus Expeditionary Force to echo the name of World War I's American Expeditionary Forces, while the media called it the Bonus March. It was led by Walter W. Waters, a former army sergeant.

Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each service certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their certificates.

Retired Marine Corps Major General (and Medal of Honor winner twice) Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time, visited their camp to back the effort and encourage them.  However,  on July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were wounded and later died. Veterans were also shot dead at other locations during the demonstration. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the army to clear the veterans' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

Democratic Congresses eventually saw to it that the awards were made.

Nevertheless, throughout the 1930’s war weary and isolationistic Americans wanted to hear no more about foreign entanglements until December 7, 1941, that brought America officially and virtually unanimously into WWII.  This appeasement of the Hitler regime was supported by some of the post powerful industrialists and their political allies, including  some of the most leading university presidents who happily welcomed major Nazi figures to their campuses.

But even as that conflict that tagged our forces as the Greatest Generation subsided and we theoretically moved to the hoped for peacetime economy, our military was destined to be deployed in conflicts not always universally supported by the people of the country.

At least, just ahead of WWII and right through the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts, the draft, though not always happily used, provided a continuing means to resupply military manpower.  That was suddenly stopped with the decision of President Richard Nixon to sign the bill ending the draft, national service tagged by its conservative opponents as equal to “involuntary servitude”, another term for slavery.

As a result of Nixon’s decision to set the terms of the new All Voluntary Army and the eventual conflicts in the Middle East, our men and women had little to no reserve on which to call and were deployed and redeployed so frequently military suicides grew to record rates as did family breakups because of the unpopularity of wars having men and women far from home for such protracted periods.  That they were also deployed to risk their lives and our tax money for countries unwilling either to do battle or offer funding for our efforts in their behalf.

That circumstance continues to prevail with still newer military commitments for puzzling reasons and for purposes not only difficult to explain but for periods impossible to determine…and of course at costs impossible to calculate.

So, as Veterans Day 2014 is here, and we should rightly celebrate the millions who have served under all sorts of circumstances and dangers and for all sorts of reasons, let us similarly hold some irresponsible political figures up to the light: few of whom had to assume the massive  personal impact of war.

Say a kind word to a veteran and apologize as well.  And, yes, the men of my family did serve as volunteers, not as draftees….believing we should.

      * * *

Honick is president of GMA International Ltd with offices on Bainbridge Island, WA.  He is an international consultant to business and writes on a variety of public affairs issues.

Comments powered by Disqus