Oppression and Suppression on the National Mall Today and Yesterday.

"Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats, Washington, D.C., burning after the battle with the military. The Capitol in the background. 1932." (ARC Identifier: 531102); Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, 1754 - 1954; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 - 1982; Record Group 111; National Archives.

“Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats, Washington, D.C., burning after the battle with the military. The Capitol in the background. 1932.” (ARC Identifier: 531102); Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, 1754 – 1954; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 – 1982; Record Group 111; National Archives.

Three Mystic Apes, Three Wise Monkeys, the proverbial “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” invoke different meaning and images for all.  Many diverse cultures have their own versions to impart this wisdom to others.

Teaching Political History in a college classroom or back in the office or at home analyzing a pending piece of legislation to find historical or procedural precedents, those wise monkeys increasingly make their presence known in today’s environment.  At first I thought I might be gaining wisdom with age but even though I’m supposed to be mature there are still active NFL football players older than me.  With wisdom not the answer, the idea of being crazy came to mind.  I most likely am, but my friends and many colleagues seem to experience the same sensations as well.

I guess the questioning of one’s senses results from understanding just enough about the past and present procedural processes to know that simple solutions and answers may exist on paper, in one’s mind, one’s words, but are not applicable in reality.  Context, time, and place are and have always been factors in where paths begin and end.

The WWII Memorial here in Washington along with other Federal monuments, parks, and other venues in many ways became the public symbol of the government shutdown.  It wasn’t the economic effect on people who have private businesses which depend upon the traffic generated by these sites.  It wasn’t on those workers who were furloughed.  The focus was on the inconvenience and government suppression of its citizens.

People cite arguments such as those in this Washington Times piece.  The famous public figure known in some cases by occupation such as this one or as anonymous source in others is quoted:  “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa called for investigative hearings to determine why an assault on personal rights by closing these monuments took place.

We learned the reasons as Chairman Issa and other Republicans on the committee questioned Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis about the closing of monuments in the National Mall.  Yes with the government shutdown, all the worker’s furloughed, the other economic impacts, the then pending debt ceiling drama, the House and this committee focused all resources on this outrageous inconvenience to Americans.  They concluded that Director Jarvis should resign.

Now another Politico article raised the questions of the feelings of those for whom the WWII Memorial is dedicated.  Several Honor Flights for veterans of the Second World War had been scheduled and took place during the shutdown.  How would these individuals who many call America’s Greatest Generation which is a descriptor to which I agree feel about this violation of their rights and freedoms that they fought to maintain and watched as friends and family sacrificed their lives in places such as Normandy, Midway, Iwo Jima, and places without proper names.  I had the privilege of conducting oral history interviews with a couple of these veterans when I was in graduate school.  This footage provided by WJLA brings a tingle along my spine.

The above is present day, and the professor side of me amongst the wise monkeys started thinking about a time when veterans of another World War came to Washington.  Their war was called the Great War because nobody knew that a sequel would take place following the expansion of NAZI Germany in Europe and a future attack on American soil by Japanese forces at Pearl Harbor.  These veterans or doughboys had fought in the trenches, endured poison gas, and out of gratitude for their service had been promised a financial bonus to be paid in the future.

The problem, however, was the financial difficulties of the country resulted in many of these veterans needing the money promised to be paid about a dozen years into the future to make retirement easier was needed then and not in 1945.  These veterans decided to exercise their rights and marched to Washington to make a plea to Members of Congress and President Herbert Hoover for the money which an earlier Congress had granted.

Some reading this may have heard of this Bonus Army or of their encampment at Anacostia Flats.  For reference beginnings, I’m linking an NPR story with an audio tape for background even though I personally am not in full agreement with degree of connection made to the future GI Bill to the outcome of the Bonus Army.

The Library of Congress offers this information and a photographic collection “Washington As It Was” by Theodor Horydczak here.  (In searching this photograph selection I advise multiple searches with different terms and combinations.  For example “Bonus Veterans” will pull up different sources than using a query such as “Bonus March” or using a term and different truncation symbols.

Another easy source from which one can expand is from the PBS feature on Douglas MacArthur linked here:

If you are not familiar with the government response to these veterans of WWI, ultimately they received a visit from government representatives.  Douglas MacArthur led these representatives along with individuals such as George S. Patton Jr. and Dwight D. Eisenhower and groups including Calvary, infantry, tank troops, and a mounted machine gun squadron.  Tear gas, bayonets, swords, and finally a roaring fire at the encampment became the means of negotiations.

Today a sign signals a suppression of rights and freedoms and an oppressive government according to many media sources.  It was less than 100 years ago, however, when military veterans saw an attack by the standing military with gas and blades as the government response.  We survived as a country.  Fought and defeated perhaps the most powerful and quickly formed military power in history in NAZI Germany, survived a bloody attack on Pearl Harbor, sacrificed many brave individuals on the Bataan Peninsula who lost their lives in the infamous Death March, and later saw situations where a blink could have ended the world as we know it during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Is it the respect I have for my Grandfather and his friends who have sadly passed away?  Is it the respect I have for my Dad and his generation who sadly are beginning to pass away?  Is that that why I fail to see what some tout as evil, fail to hear what some tout as evil, and fail to speak of this evil like it is the most dangerous anyone has ever faced?

I see ineptitude, lack of efficiency, laziness, selfishness, and taking things for granted whether intentional or unintentional by our elected leaders and people like me who voted to put them into office.  Only through knowledge of past events, thorough understanding of the various processes and systems, and making that reflection one sees in a mirror responsible will things improve.  It’s not Democrats or Republicans, not the President, but you and me who have to learn to communicate, cooperate, and overcome these hurdles.  By ourselves we’ve fallen, so why not try to learn from the past and find those common elements from which we can become our own great generation?

Are we the Mystic Apes or Wise Monkeys or are we ignorant of the lessons?

3 Wise Monkeys

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