It was a hot summer in 1932, when a group of World War I veterans marched on Washington, DC. Back in 1924, these war heroes had been promised a bonus for their war efforts. However this bonus was in the form of an interest bearing certificate redeemable in 1945. That wasn’t worth much to these men who had been out of work since the Great Depression. The purpose of the march was to demand an immediate cash redemption of the certificate. The demonstrators called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” which was fashioned from the U.S Army’s name in World War I, the American Expeditionary Force.
On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shot at the protestors, and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover ordered the U.S. Army to clear the marchers' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded a contingent of infantry and cavalry, supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.
When Franklin Roosevelt ran for President in 1932, he too had opposed the veterans’ demand. So, soon after his election, they returned to Washington with their same demand. Roosevelt’s nuanced response differed greatly from Hoover’s, and we can learn much from it. Instead of sending in the army, he sent his wife Eleanor. Instead of burning them out, the administration set up a special camp for the marchers at Fort Hunt, Virginia. FDR provided forty field kitchens serving three meals a day, bus transportation to and from the capital, and entertainment in the form of military bands. Eleanor Roosevelt lunched with the veterans and listened to them perform songs. She reminisced about her memories of seeing troops off to World War I and welcoming them home. The most that she could offer was a promise of positions in a newly created public works program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). One veteran commented, "Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife."
In a press conference following her visit, the First Lady described her reception as courteous and praised the marchers, highlighting how comfortable she felt despite critics of the marchers who described them as communists and criminals. After his wife’s return, Roosevelt issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the CCC, exempting them from the normal requirement that applicants be unmarried and under the age of 25. They didn’t get their bonus, but they got a little hope. Apparently, that was enough because they went home to work in the CCC, building things that we still enjoy today.
Hoover was the “law and order” President. Roosevelt became, with Eleanor’s help, the “justice” President. Even I can see the difference.
I’ve written before how we as Christians seem to have differing perspectives of Jesus. He isn’t the same for all of us because we view Him through our own lens. This view shapes every aspect of our lives, particularly on days other than Sunday. It impacts where we live, what we drive, what news we watch and how we vote. To some of us, Jesus is very much concerned with law and order, so we are too. To some of us Jesus falls on the side of justice, as do we. When life gets complicated, those two ideals can contradict.
From my perspective, the law and order Jesus is easy to follow. It takes little introspection and no empathy. The law and order Jesus rules over a zero sum universe of scarcity with winners and losers. Obviously Jesus’s folks win, because that’s what God would want…by god. It’s the short game.
Following the justice Jesus is more difficult. The path is sometimes rocky and messy. Life is more complex. Justice becomes mercy; losers become winners. Good guys are humble, meek and poor in spirit. They’re servants. They get crucified, but still win. It’s the long game where love abounds.
Even I can see the difference.
In unrelated news, I’m proud to report that Freddy, the puppy I raised and trained for Canine Companions for Independence recently graduated from advanced training and is now serving a very deserving young woman in west Texas. He’s the only puppy to graduate in his cohort of 4 raised while I was at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. I was able to Zoom with Freddy and her last week. While the conversation got a little emotional for me and for her (ok, mostly me), Freddy seemed to be fine. He’s a true professional.