Introduction

In spite of Hoover’s defense of his handling of the Bonus Army, his popularity reached a new low when reports of the “Battle of Anacostia Flats” reached the American public. The president made the situation worse by blurting out at a press conference, “Thank God, you have a government in Washington that knows how to deal with a mob.” The timing of the incident – just as the 1932 presidential campaign was getting underway – was particularly damaging to Hoover, as it played into the hands of Democrats seeking to portray him as indifferent to the suffering of the American people. Organizers of the Bonus Army Protesters – or “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” as they called themselves, recalling the name given to US troops sent to World War I, the American Expeditionary Force – lent support to the Democratic campaign. The following letter to Hoover from a leading figure in the B. E. F., which was also sent as a press release to the nation’s largest newspapers, is a perfect illustration of this.


Source: Letter to President Hoover from Philo D. Burke, Liaison Officer, B. E. F.; July 29, 1932, National Archives and Records Administration, Hoover Museum Digital Archives. http://www.ecommcode.com/hoover/hooveronline/text/3.html.


President Herbert Hoover,

White House,

Washington, D. C.

Mr. Hoover:

The day of all days in the history of the United States finally arrived yesterday when the President of the United States ordered our soldiers to attack the flag of our country, the symbol of our freedom – the freedom our forefathers gave up their lives to give us. The flag we love and will ever follow, in the hands of the veterans, the most loyal soldiers of the United States, has been attacked at the orders of Andy Mellon’s President.1 Had this cowardly attack occurred in any other country in the world, our government would have justly risen up in protest and, Mr. Hoover, I am not so sure that the people of this fair land of ours will not raise their voices in protest when they understand the truth of yesterday’s events.

We, the people of the richest land in the world, have been asleep at the polls too long. During the days before our prosperity was snatched from us by the thieving pack of wolves now in control of our land, we were too busy to care who looked after our affairs of state. Now that the ex-servicemen who came to the seat of our government to peacefully lobby for their just dues and better conditions for the common people of the country have been turned upon by the men at the head of our government I feel safe in predicting that the act of Mellon’s President will surely prove to be a boomerang. The people of the United States certainly will not stand by and see these boys who offered their lives and went through a hell known as “no man’s land” to protect this country blasted out of their peaceful, dingy shanties, which they so diligently erected for themselves and families while they were awaiting relief from the land they have served.

It is true the President had the power to misdirect our soldiers; the power to have a paid “RED”2 throw the first missile; the power to have these soldiers and police murder, beat and gas innocent men, women and children; the power to have these soldiers and police burn not only the meager huts and hovels that these patriotic men had constructed for themselves and their families, and also the power to have hundreds of American flags that were lowered to half-mast in honor of their murdered buddy, burned like so many pieces of rags.

He had the power, Mr. Hoover, to follow all this with unsheathed sabers, fixed bayonets, rifles, machine guns, tanks, gas bombs and arson. All directed against these defenseless, unfortunate ex-heroes of our country. During the war these same boys were equipped with gas masks to protect themselves that they might fight to protect the people and the wealth of the nation. They have not stopped fighting for American people and American principals, even though Mellon’s President has turned our soldiers against them in their time of need.

Did the President who is a great food administrator and engineer offer these boys or their wives and little children food, shelter or gas masks during their stay in Washington or before the disgraceful and cowardly eviction took place?

Most of these people lost their homes through the greed and lust of the few in power. Now these same few drive them out of their crude huts and hovels they had erected for shelter. They were cowardly acts, unpardonable sins, Mr. Hoover; don’t forget that, for I am sure the people of the country will be with you in remembering these depredations.

I don’t expect that this letter will ever reach your eye, nor do I expect it to be published in the press of our land, but I am giving the press a copy of it and, at the same time, I am dedicating the rest of my life to help put this country back into the hands of the people. I am counting on plenty of help, not as a leader but as a follower.

Since I am a disabled war veteran of the world war and a loyal patriotic citizen of the United States, I stand unafraid of our President and his tactics; his powers and cheap politicians that humble themselves to him, but will loyally support each and every true American who opposes him and the conditions that have been forced upon the people of our country during his administration. I am asking the press to check delivery and receipt of this letter.

Just so you will not mistake me for a “RED” or escaped convict, I am

Philo D. Burke,

Liaison Officer, B. E. F.,

Co. C, 350th Inf. 88th Div., A. E. F.

3228922 — C-469986,

Official Pilot’s License No. 6947

White Water, Cal.

Study Questions

A. What or whom does Burke blame for the plight of the country’s veterans? Why does he refer to Hoover as “Andy Mellon’s President”? Why does he believe that Hoover acted as he did toward the Bonus Army?

B. How does Burke’s account of the dispersal of the Bonus Army compare to that of Hoover in the Dispersal of the Bonus Army?

Footnotes

  1. Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury
  2. communist