. Saluting 4,000 vets on the White House lawn

No, not in 2003. Not in 1971. In  1932.

The data caught up on me Friday, but May 29, 1932 was when the Bonus March arrived in Washington, D.C. — and laid the groundwork for how the U.S. currently pays veterans for their service in war.

These were veterans of the ‘Great War’,World War I: from our first really national army, two million strong. Many of these would push for justice, a stumbling, angry presence across class and race lines, even as the twenties were “roaring” around them.

And among them was Walter Waters, who would become the ‘commander’ of the BEF after losing his cannery job in 1929.By March 1932, he wrote years later, “we were not only penniless but had nothing left except a very scanty wardrobe.There were many days that winter when we experienced actual hunger.”

While job-hunting, Walters discovered many men like him – another ‘lost generation,’ rootless since the Armistice. “I found that a large percentage of these men in Portland were, like myself, ex-service men…Among these men there was profound discontent with conditions. There was a ravaging desire to change them but a complete and leaden ignorance of the way to do it….These men did think and talk a great deal about the so-called Bonus.”

Thus did Waters enter into another ongoing national debate: whether former soldiers deserved a permanent pension or a lump sum, known as “adjusted compensation” (usually expressed in its shorthand, “the bonus”). Veterans groups had long been split on the issue – the labor-oriented World War Veterans favored the bonus, while the anti-labor American Legion backed a proposal to pay it all out in government bonds. When the stock market crashed in 1929 the promise of those bonds seemed to evaporate, and with it the hopes of veterans who’d not been able to find their way.

Little of this veterans’ discontent traced back into opposition to war itself, especially as Adolf Hitler’s rise in Europe began to be notice. The Red Scare had dampened much of the progressive energy that had fueled much prewar resistance. But Waters was among those who didn’t let this one go, pulling together what became called the “Bonus Expeditionary Force.”

When thousands of veterans began to converge on Washington, D.C. in 1932, for a “bonus march,” their chant was more satiric than political, and set to the tune of the last decades’ greatest hit:

Over there, over there

Tell the world to beware

Cause the Yanks are starving, the Yanks are starving….

They marched in rleans, Poughkeepsie. Black and white veterans sometimes marched together. It wgroups of ten, of thirty, of several hundred; they marched from San Francisco, New Oas a march against invisibility, and an ever-escalating demand for recognition, as much as for a permanent pension. By the eve of a May 29 vote on a comprehensive package of veterans assistance, there were 4,000 veterans out in front of the White House, with an additional 3,000 on the way.

Calling their fort “Camp Marks,” the group published several issues of the newspaper BEF News.The national organizing committee included the Workers Ex-Servicemen’s League, a Communist front group that carried on the tradition started at Fort Leavenworth nearly 20 years earlier.

After six months, the growing and ever-more-militant protest moved Hoover to order colonel Douglas MacArthur to move against the encampments in 1933, claiming that the encampments endangered public safety. MacArthur went further than his orders, chasing down veterans all over the capital and leaving scores injured, actions that may have helped doom the Hoover administration in the 1933 elections.

When the next wave of bonus marchers got to Washington the following year, the Roosevelt administration was working to implement its New Deal and reserving spots in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for “Great War” veterans – thus treating them, as has been true ever since, like just another special-interest group. In turn, the veterans’ demands fueled the drive in Congress to provide some level of social insurance, to prevent war veterans from becoming a privileged class unto themselves.

Some of you may recognize the voice in the video, saluting the ragged vet troops: Maj. Gen, Smedley Butler, who went on to write War is a Racket. I’d originally conceived of this piece as drawing more explicit connnections to contemporary vets’ issues, from the VA to “pension reform.” But for now, I’ll take my cue from Butler and just call this a salute: To those sweaty, determined men whose struggle changed our world forever, even if the most fundamental of their demands remains unmet.

a bridge for Memorial Day

(The guy who sang the song above didn’t serve, but his dad Ernest sure did, spending the rest of his life in nightmares.)

The piece behind yesterday’s photos went up today at the Inquirer, with a small amount of reader mail. Ak of the latter (so far) was respectful, and some of it was of the sort that reminds one why this profession is worth something.  More than one was from people who were themselves soldier-dissenters —  some others local Quaker types, one of whom writes:

I really like your commentary.  It makes me feel better, more patriotic about Memorial Day.  It’s the sort of thing that’s needed annually to bridge us to those of us who oppose wars of choice and support defense with those who feel all wars we fight ought to be supported.

I guess that’s the point: you can say “Happy Memorial Day” if you note the huge losses the day was meant to honor.

Have a great weekend.

On Memorial Day, remember these priests, poets, politicos and pranksters!

That’s how I’ve tended to characterize the huge, diverse and boisterous movement working to stop the U.S, war against Vietnam, 1963-1975. I should have written an essay here about them last month, for the anniversary of the 1975 evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, but I could barely fit them in a chapter for the book.

A surprising number of the above, though, were recent veterans of World War II, who then popped into mind during the anniversary of V-E Day; so I wrote something that will run tomorrow in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Given space constraints, I’m informed there won’t be a photo: so here’s a photo preview of those included in the piece, which wasn’t even all of those in the movement. An honor roll of some for whom Memorial Day was an open wound, in their hearts every day:

 

 

Rev. William Sloane Coffin, greeting POW Americans in North Vietnam.

Rev. William Sloane Coffin, greeting POW Americans in North Vietnam.

 

  • Former Army intelligence officer William Sloane Coffin, founder of the hugely influential Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV).

 

 

 

 

  • howardHoward Zinn, whose long career as an historian, organizer and inspiration to us all was preceded by the young (already anti-fascist) bombardier seen at right.

 

  • Burning draft cards in Catonsville. Md.

    Burning draft cards in Catonsville. Md.

    Philip Berrigan, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, shown here in prhaps the moment symbolizing his work during Vietnam — one of the first stops in a lifetime of anti-militarist  civil disobedience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • William_Kunstler_Former Army cryptographer William Kunstler, who followed his Pacific service by co-founding the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented war resisters from Berrigan, above, through the years to Gulf War objector Colleen Gallagher in 1991. In  1968, his face and voice became inescapable during the trial of the Chicago Seven, as at right.

 

 

 

 

  • Kurt-Vonnegut-US-Army-portrait (2)And this skinny little private was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, captured in the Battle of the Bulge, he became a prisoner of war — and turned that exoeriene into one of the strongest anti-war novels ever written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll post the link tomorrow, which includes more on all of these. There are so many more who I couldn’t squeeze l into 750 words: not Lew Ayres and the other World War II COs, not Rev. Paul Moore, who found his pacifism after the abbatoir of Guadalcanal. But I still think this is a fine Memorial Day tribute to those lost in all our wars.

#Bergdahl = Rashomon

It’s now more than two weelsm since the Army brought charges against Robert D. Bowdrie Bergdahl, known to most of us as Bowe.. In that time, journalists and commentators have rushed to characterize a young man most of us knew only from last years’ headlines, and photos of a skinny Army private in Arab robes squinting at the sun.

The charges against Bergdahl, who was released in June 2014 after 5 years as a Taliban prisoner, are stark: desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy” for leaving his Afghan post. But the charge sheet differs substantially from Bergdahl’s own account of what happened that week, which was released by his defense attorney Louis Fidell (co-founder of the National Institute of Military Justice).

 The media blitz has come before the upcoming Article 32 hearing, the military version of a grand-jury process, at which a wide range of evidence can be presented by either side for consideration. While most major outlets try to present a balanced picture, others have rushed to judgment, convicting or acquitting before all the facts are known. The truth likely has elements of each:

  1. Bergdahl’s a traitor (e.g. Fox News, National Journal.) Between his hippie dad (who spoke Arabic in the Rose Garden when Bergdahl was released) and Bergdahl’s own e-mails to that same dad (published by Rolling Stone in 2012) that said he was “ashamed to be an American,” conservative outlets from Fox News to National Journal have long been calling for the harshest punishment possible. This week they zeroed in on photos of Bergdahl seemingly joking with his captors, and interviewed members of Bergdahl’s unit who challenged his account of the week he was captured. Many quote those platoon-mates and others as substantiating the root of one of the “misbehavior” charges:, that lives were lost as his peers were ordered on search missions to find him.

  2. He’s a conscientious objector (e.g. The Nation, Democracy Now). The assertion may A make the most sense to veterans who actually achieved a discharge as objectors – something that happens only after a long process in which a soldier persuades his command that s/he’ sincere, not disturbed, and has gone through a “crystallization” in which military service became incompatible with his/her belief system. As a staffer in the 90’s with the Committee for Conscentious Objectors, I had the honor of helping a handful of such soldiers through that process; I’ve since met others, from more recent wars, who were quoted this week in articles positing that Bergdahl was a true dissenter from the war in Afghanistan. They cite Bergdahl’s statement that he was just trying to report some command misconduct and tag him a whistleblower; Veterans For Peace, some of whom are CO’s, issued a statement calling for “An End to the Persecution of Sgt. Bergdahl.”

  3. Just a screwed-up guy, who should never have been in the military in the first place (Military Times, countless editorial pages).These writers want neither to valorize Bergdahl nor execute him, arguing that “he’s been punished enough.” The case has been made that Bergdahl should never have been recruited after washing out of the Coast Guard,instead of being welcomed in 2008 by recruiting commands under pressure to fill the needs of a metastasizing war. Berg’s initial desire to serve appears to have been strong. What he was signing up for is less clear, given his original desire to join the French Foreign Legion and his father’s observation that a young Bowe thrived on hero narratives, that the young man is now was “[legendary British soldier/adventurer] Bear Grylls in his own mind.” There’s also been a pretty strong case made for dysfunction within Bergdahl’s unit, given the loose, unstable chaos seen in a BBC documentary filmed before his capture. Some writers point out his homeschooling and the poor grammar of his written statements, and speculate about whether he was prepared at all.

  4. Besides, what about… Last but not least are those who are less interested in Bergdahl himself than in using him to make a larger political argument, about the 2009 prisoner swap, what President Obama should or shouldn’t have done – or, like Jesse Ventura, to wonder aloud why Bergdahl is being charged long before military personnel who approved torture at secret prisons overseas.

This is all before anyone has seen the evidence headed for that courtroom. Most military journalists I know have urged me, and by extension all of us, to wait at least until the Article 32 hearings are over before coming to any conclusions. But the truth may be hard to come by, since some relevant evidence — intelligence findings about Bergdahl’s captivity – may be declared “classified” and thus closed to the press.

Nonetheless, I hope that as the case proceeds, a sharper picture of the young man in question will emerge, and that we can all shake off our preconceptions enough to see him.–

Bergdahl court-martial: Did he aim to misbehave?

I swore I wouldn’t write anymore about Bergdahl until I’d talked to his attorney. That may change soon. But for now, I can amplify that attorney’s voice:

That PBS NewsHour was one of the more useful of the reports I saw about Bergdahl being charged with desertion.  Some of others that are helping me think clearly as I consider actually writing about it for real:

IB Times on the basics: What does it mean and how serious is the charge? In the piece, they found numerous others who also walked off post, one of them a Marine aghast at the treatment of detainees.

AJC.com more usefully explains: What does a “misbehavior” charge really mean? (Apologies for the blog title. but the first thing the charge put in my head was the voice of Capt. Reynolds saying “I aim to misbehave.”)

saw about Bergdahl being charged with desertion.  Some of others that are helping me think clearly as I consider actually writing about it for real:

IB Times on the basics: What does it mean and how serious is the charge? In the piece, they found numerous others who also walked off post, one of them a Marine aghast at the treatment of detainees.

AJC.com more usefully explains: What does a “misbehavior” charge really mean? (Apologies for the blog title. but the first thing the charge put in my head was the voice of Capt. Reynolds saying “I aim to misbehave.“)

Today’s news is about Bergdahl’s account of his torture by the Taliban, but just as informative are his letters home from prison.

More later, undoubtedly.

Christine Ahn | Korea: Women Walk for Peace across the De-Militarized Zone

chrislombardi:

Including our Col. Ann Wright, and several Nobel laureates….

Originally posted on Rise Up Times:

 …former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said, “In almost any case when there are sanctions against an entire people, the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer least.”

By Christine Ahn  WAMM Newsletter  SPRING I  2015

One year ago, I wrote to the renowned American feminist author Gloria Steinem asking if she would consider walking with other women across the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea to help bring peace to Korea. She promptly replied, “Yes. My high school classmates went to war there.”

On May 24, 2015, 30 international women peacemakers from around the world will walk with Korean women, North and South, to call for an end to the Korean War and for a new beginning for a reunified Korea. Along with Gloria Steinem, our delegation includes Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire from Ireland and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, Patricia Guerrero from Colombia, former…

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A day late salute to St. Patrick’s Battalion

stpatsbattIn yesterday’s excitement at the Inquirer piece, I forgot to observe St.Patrick’s Day by saluting the dissenting soldiers who took that saint’s name as inspiration. These Catholic soldiers emerged amid the killing spree known as the Mexican-American War, 1845-47.

In a war staffed entirely by career staff and volunteers, morale started  low and got worse. Between nonexistent wages and politically appointed officers, many Volunteers eventually fled to Galveston, where “they easily found employment, one as a school-master at $60 a month,” a Boston newspaper reported.

Desertion was by far the best-known form of dissent in Polk’s war. More than 13,000 deserted, out of a total force of 100,000—surprisingly less among the state volunteers than among the longer-serving regulars.

As for the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, who crossed over to the Mexican side: John Reilly, who left Scott’s army in April 1846 without firing a shot, assembled the battalion from Catholic soldiers discomfited by the nativism and anti-Catholicism of most of the American troops. They were welcomed by the understaffed, under-trained, and under-equipped Mexicans, helped them hold Monterrey, and in 1847 became a foreign legion of the Mexican Army, the First and Second Militia Infantry Companies of San Patricio.

 However, after their defeat at Chiarabusco in September 1847, many were tried and some executed, whether or not they had actually fought against the United States. That September, fourteen “San Patricios,” including Reilly, were flogged and branded with two-inch “D”’s on both side of their faces.

You’ve heard the San Patricios saluted at many an Irish bar. If you’re lucky, you’ve also heard this version: