Lest We Forget
Posted on November 11, 2014
My son plays soccer at Anacostia Field, across the river from Capitol Hill. It’s a short bike ride from the Capitol building and it was there that veterans of the Great War had assembled in 1932.
It had been a muddy swamp, but the grizzled ex-military men built a roads and a sanitation system and otherwise made it habitable.
About 43,000 American soldiers came to Anacostia to march on Washington. They were jobless, desperate and angry. And they wanted to redeem certificates granted to hem by the Congress in 1924 for a cash bonus. The certificates, a bond really, guaranteed them money for their service to the county in the bloodiest war the world had ever seen, the war to end all wars, the war that established America as the one indispensable nation.
In 1924, when Congress first granted these war bonus, over President Coolidge's veto, the economy grew briskly and granting the veterans some additional money in the form of a future bonus seemed like smart politics. But the boom period known as the Roaring Twenties would go bust in 1929 and the Great Depression muzzled the hopes of a whole generation of Americans.
Washington in 1932 was scared and broke. President Hoover was particularly tone dead in handling the financial crisis, and he was in no mood to give in to the demands of the Bonus Army.
He ordered General Douglass McArthur to break up the assemblage and McArthur, who would later become famous for vanquishing the Japanese, ordered Major George Patton, who would later become famous for vanquishing the Germans, to kick the Bonus Army out of Washington D.C, once and for all.
Dwight Eisenhower was there too, as McArthur’s top aide, and as he would later say, "I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there," he said later. "I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff."
This whole episode turns out to be a debacle for Herbert Hoover and helped to lead to his demise in the Presidential election of 1932.
Franklin Roosevelt would treat the veterans much differently when he came to the White House. He didn’t necessarily give in to their demands, but he did give them jobs as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and that helped to defuse a similar march in 1933.
Unlike in the rest of the world, on November 11th, America celebrates all of its veterans. We call it Veterans Day here, they call it Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in Great Britain.
Poppies mark the holiday in London, millions of them.
It was Canadian, John McCrae, who wrote the poem that forever changed how we look at the little flower:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In America, we celebrate the living and the dead.
There’s a new bridge connecting Anacostia Field to Capitol Hill. It connects right by the Navy Yard, where just last year, a terrorist gunned down 12 people who were serving our military.
Today, thousands of people are expected to flow through the Navy Yard metro stop to see a free concert on the National Mall.
Bruce Springsteen headlines an all-star roster of singers, rappers, rock and rollers and country crooners. They will sing to close to a million people, most of whom have no idea what happened at Ypres.
Put together by Tom Hanks, who starred in the memorable World War II movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, this free concert will be America’s way to celebrate all of those Americans who served their country in the armed forces.
Not exactly poetry, but it’s better than what usually happens in America, where frightfully few take the time to really understand the true meaning of November 11th in the annals of world history.
It was at the 11th minute at the 11th hour on the 11 day of November that the Great Powers concluded the Great War. Others would follow.