After the wealthy made extraordinary profits (read more) by deceiving and coercing the general public into fighting, suffering and dying in WWI (read more), their financial speculation crashed the stock market, taking us into the Great Depression of the United States. These difficult economic times, of their own making, were tragic for the general public but a boon for them, accumulating assets from people struggling just to eat. These wealthy used government police and military to put down unrest of the starving.
My father was born in 1931, 2 years after the crash. He was the 7th of 9 children. From age 2 through 5 he was raised by a childless aunt and uncle as his parents struggled to feed their children. This greatly shaped his life. He accumulated items, many broken and discarded, to fix or use for parts. He never parted with anything and rarely bought anything new. He rarely ate at a restaurant and then grumbling.
To give a better understanding, I have attached some excerpts from “A PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES – 1492 – PRESENT”, 1980 by Howard Zinn.
If you still think that today’s government of the United States will help us through the climate emergency, take note of how our military was used against the starving WWI veterans. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide and George S. Patton was one of the officers.
A PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES – 1492 – PRESENT
1980 by Howard Zinn
Self-Help in Hard Times
The stock market crash of 1929, which marked the beginning of the Great Depression of the United States, came directly from wild speculation which collapsed and brought the whole economy down with it. But, as John Galbraith says in his study of that event (The Great Crash), behind that speculation was the fact that “the economy was fundamentally unsound.” He points to very unhealthy corporate and banking structures, an unsound foreign trade, much economic misinformation, and the “bad distribution of income” (the highest 5 percent of the population received about one-third of all personal income).
A socialist critic would go further and say that the capitalist system was by its nature unsound: a system driven by the one overriding motive of corporate profit and therefore unstable, unpredictable, and blind to human needs. The result of all that: permanent depression for many of its people, and periodic crises for almost everybody. Capitalism, despite its attempts at self-reform, its organization for better control, was still in 1929 a sick and undependable system.
After the crash, the economy was stunned, barely moving. Over five thousand banks closed and huge numbers of businesses, unable to get money, closed too. Those that continued laid off employees and cut the wages of those who remained, again and again. Industrial production fell by 50 percent, and by 1933 perhaps 15 million (no one knew exactly)—one-fourth or one-third of the labor force—were out of work. The Ford Motor Company, which in the spring of 1929 had employed 128,000 workers, was down to 37,000 by August of 1931. By the end of 1930, almost half the 280,000 textile mill workers in New England were out of work. Former President Calvin Coolidge commented with his customary wisdom: “When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results.” He spoke again in early 1931, “This country is not in good condition.”
Clearly, those responsible for organizing the economy did not know what had happened, were baffled by it, refused to recognize it, and found reasons other than the failure of the system. Herbert Hoover had said, not long before the crash: “We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.” Henry Ford, in March 1931, said the crisis was here because “the average man won’t really do a day’s work unless he is caught and cannot get out of it. There is plenty of work to do if people would do it.” A few weeks later he laid off 75,000 workers.
There were millions of tons of food around, but it was not profitable to transport it, to sell it. Warehouses were full of clothing, but people could not afford it. There were lots of houses, but they stayed empty because people couldn’t pay the rent, had been evicted, and now lived in shacks in quickly formed “Hoovervilles” built on garbage dumps.
Brief glimpses of reality in the newspapers could have been multiplied by the millions:
A New York Times story in early 1932:
After vainly trying to get a stay of dispossession until January 15 from his apartment at 46 Hancock Street in Brooklyn, yesterday, Peter J. Cornell, 48 years old, a former roofing contractor out of work and penniless, fell dead in the arms of his wife.
A doctor gave the cause of his death as heart disease, and the police said it had at least partly been caused by the bitter disappointment of a long day’s fruitless attempt to prevent himself and his family being put out on the street. . . .
Cornell owed $5 in rent in arrears and $39 for January which his landlord required in advance. Failure to produce the money resulted in a dispossess order being served on the family yesterday and to take effect at the end of the week.
After vainly seeking assistance elsewhere, he was told during the day by the Home Relief Bureau that it would have no funds with which to help him until January 15.
A dispatch from Wisconsin to The Nation, in late 1932:
Throughout the middle west the tension between the farmers and authorities has been growing . . . as a result of tax and foreclosure sales. In many cases evictions have been prevented only by mass action on the part of the farmers. However, until the Cichon homestead near Elkhorn, Wisconsin, was besieged on December 6 by a host of deputy sheriffs armed with machine-guns, rifles, shotguns, and tear-gas bombs, there had been no actual violence. Max Cichon’s property was auctioned off at a foreclosure sale last August, but he refused to allow either the buyer or the authorities to approach his home. He held off unwelcome visitors with a shotgun. The sheriff called upon Cichon to submit peacefully. When he refused to do so, the sheriff ordered deputies to lay down a barrage of machine-gun and rifle fire . . . Cichon is now in jail in Elkhorn, and his wife and two children, who were with him in the house, are being cared for in the county hospital. Cichon is not a trouble-maker. He enjoys the confidence of his neighbors, who only recently elected him justice of the peace of the town of Sugar Creek. That a man of his standing and disposition should go to such lengths in defying the authorities is a clear warning that we may expect further trouble in the agricultural districts unless the farmers are soon helped.
A tenement dweller on 113th Street in East Harlem wrote to Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia in Washington:
You know my condition is bad. I used to get pension from the government and they stopped. It is now nearly seven months I am out of work. I hope you will try to do something for me. . . . I have four children who are in need of clothes and food. . . . My daughter who is eight is very ill and not recovering. My rent is due two months and I am afraid of being put out.
In Oklahoma, the farmers found their farms sold under the auctioneer’s hammer, their farms turning to dust, the tractors coming in and taking over. John Steinbeck, in his novel of the depression, The Grapes of Wrath, describes what happened:
And the dispossessed, the migrants, flowed into California, two hundred and fifty thousand, and three hundred thousand. Behind them new tractors were going on the land and the tenants were being forced off. And new waves were on the way, new waves of the dispossessed and the homeless, hard, intent, and dangerous. . . .
And a homeless hungry man, driving the road with his wife beside him and his thin children in the back seat, could look at the fallow fields which might produce food but not profit, and that man could know how a fallow field is a sin and the unused land a crime against the thin children. . . .
And in the south he saw the golden oranges hanging on the trees, the little golden oranges on the dark green trees; and guards with shotguns patrolling the lines so a man might not pick an orange for a thin child, oranges to be dumped if the price was low. . . .
These people were becoming “dangerous,” as Steinbeck said. The spirit of rebellion was growing. Mauritz Hallgren, in a 1933 book, Seeds of Revolt, compiled newspaper reports of things happening around the country:
England, Arkansas, January 3, 1931. The long drought that ruined hundreds of Arkansas farms last summer had a dramatic sequel late today when some 500 farmers, most of them white men and many of them armed, marched on the business section of this town. . . . Shouting that they must have food for themselves and their families, the invaders announced their intention to take it from the stores unless it were provided from some other source without cost.
Detroit, July 9, 1931. An incipient riot by 500 unemployed men turned out of the city lodging house for lack of funds was quelled by police reserves in Cadillac Square tonight. . . .
Indiana Harbor, Indiana, August 5, 1931. Fifteen hundred jobless men stormed the plant of the Fruit Growers Express Company here, demanding that they be given jobs to keep from starving. The company’s answer was to call the city police, who routed the jobless with menacing clubs.
Boston, November 10, 1931. Twenty persons were treated for injuries, three were hurt so seriously that they may die, and dozens of others were nursing wounds from flying bottles, lead pipe, and stones after clashes between striking longshoremen and Negro strikebreakers along the Charlestown-East Boston waterfront.
Detroit, November 28, 1931. A mounted patrolman was hit on the head with a stone and unhorsed and one demonstrator was arrested during a disturbance in Grand Circus Park this morning when 2000 men and women met there in defiance of police orders.
Chicago, April 1, 1932. Five hundred school children, most with haggard faces and in tattered clothes, paraded through Chicago’s downtown section to the Board of Education offices to demand that the school system provide them with food.
Boston, June 3, 1932. Twenty-five hungry children raided a buffet lunch set up for Spanish War veterans during a Boston parade. Two automobile-loads of police were called to drive them away.
New York, January 21, 1933. Several hundred jobless surrounded a restaurant just off Union Square today demanding they be fed without charge. . . .
Seattle, February 16, 1933. A two-day siege of the County-City Building, occupied by an army of about 5,000 unemployed, was ended early tonight, deputy sheriffs and police evicting the demonstrators after nearly two hours of efforts.
Yip Harburg, the songwriter, told Studs Terkel about the year 1932: “I was walking along the street at that time, and you’d see the bread lines. The biggest one in New York City was owned by William Randolph Hearst. He had a big truck with several people on it, and big cauldrons of hot soup, bread. Fellows with burlap on their feet were lined up all around Columbus Circle, and went for blocks and blocks around the park, waiting.” Harburg had to write a song for the show Americana. He wrote “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Once in khaki suits,
Gee, we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodle-de-dum.
Half a million boots went sloggin’ through Hell,
I was the kid with the drum.
Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al—
It was Al all the time.
Say, don’t you remember I’m your pal—
Brother, can you spare a dime?
It was not just a song of despair. As Yip Harburg told Terkel:
In the song the man is really saying: I made an investment in this country. Where the hell are my dividends? . . . It’s more than just a bit of pathos. It doesn’t reduce him to a beggar. It makes him a dignified human, asking questions—and a bit outraged, too, as he should be.
The anger of the veteran of the First World War, now without work, his family hungry, led to the march of the Bonus Army to Washington in the spring and summer of 1932. War veterans, holding government bonus certificates which were due years in the future, demanded that Congress pay off on them now, when the money was desperately needed. And so they began to move to Washington from all over the country, with wives and children or alone. They came in broken-down old autos, stealing rides on freight trains, or hitchhiking. They were miners from West Virginia, sheet metal workers from Columbus, Georgia, and unemployed Polish veterans from Chicago. One family—husband, wife, three-year-old boy—spent three months on freight trains coming from California. Chief Running Wolf, a jobless Mescalero Indian from New Mexico, showed up in full Indian dress, with bow and arrow.
More than twenty thousand came. Most camped across the Potomac River from the Capitol on Anacostia Flats where, as John Dos Passos wrote, “the men are sleeping in little lean-tos built out of old newspapers, cardboard boxes, packing crates, bits of tin or tar paper roofing, every kind of cockeyed makeshift shelter from the rain scraped together out of the city dump.” The bill to pay off on the bonus passed the House, but was defeated in the Senate, and some veterans, discouraged, left. Most stayed—some encamped in government buildings near the Capitol, the rest on Anacostia Flats, and President Hoover ordered the army to evict them.
Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six tanks assembled near the White House. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide. George S. Patton was one of the officers. MacArthur led his troops down Pennsylvania Avenue, used tear gas to clear veterans out of the old buildings, and set the buildings on fire. Then the army moved across the bridge to Anacostia. Thousands of veterans, wives, children, began to run as the tear gas spread. The soldiers set fire to some of the huts, and soon the whole encampment was ablaze. When it was all over, two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week-old baby had died, an eight-year-old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas.
The hard, hard times, the inaction of the government in helping, the action of the government in dispersing war veterans—all had their effect on the election of November 1932. Democratic party candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover overwhelmingly, took office in the spring of 1933, and began a program of reform legislation which became famous as the “New Deal.” When a small veterans’ march on Washington took place early in his administration, he greeted them and provided coffee; they met with one of his aides and went home. It was a sign of Roosevelt’s approach.