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Smedley Butler’s fiery speech to WWI veterans is still relevant today 

By James Clark
via the Task and Purpose web site

Eighty-eight years ago thousands of U.S. military veterans gathered their belongings and began a long march across the country to Washington, D.C. Once there, they pitched their canvas tents in neatly ordered rows and dug in for a long fight.

Smedley ButlerA screenshot pulled from a Fox Movietone recording of retired Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler's July 19, 1932 speech to Bonus Army marchers at the Anacostia flats camp in Washington, D.C. (Fox Movietone News Collection at the University of South Carolina)By the summer of 1932, what began as a small movement in Portland, Oregon had burgeoned into a national demonstration, bringing together a socially, economically and racially diverse coalition under a single banner, with each participant bound by a shared experience: When their country called them to arms, they answered.

Numbering as many as 25,000-strong, with families and children in tow, they called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, but colloquially, became known as the Bonus Army. These World War I veterans, like many demonstrators before and since, gathered to demand that the government keep its word. In their case, it was the early payment of a bonus they had been promised following victory in the First World War.

Through the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924, the funds were set to be doled out in 1945. Originally the bonuses were to be paid immediately, but for budgetary reasons, they were delayed by two decades. Five years after the bill was passed, the Great Depression hit, and by 1932, the financial crisis had reached its peak. Amidst the economic fallout, the promise of deferred payments amounted to a shriveled carrot dangling from the end of a very long stick.

On July 19 of that year, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler took to the stage at the largest Bonus Army camp, located at the Anacostia Flats, a swampy stretch of ground outside of downtown D.C. There he launched into a fiery tirade that remains relevant to military veterans, and Americans at large, even to this day.

The first time I watched the scratchy black and white footage, which was recorded by a local news crew, I couldn’t take my eyes off Butler. Up there in front of that crowd, with his trousers hiked high up on his waist, with his suspenders and tie, and his sleeves — one rolled, the other rebellious cuff slipping down on his arm from all the animated fist-pumping and gesticulating. He was like a righteously furious Marine Corps Mr. Rogers.

But then I listened to what he was saying.

Read the entire article on the Task and Purpose web site.

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