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An American Epic

A-BonusArmyEminent historians Dickson and Allen present a detailed narrative of an episode rarely mentioned in history books. In 1932, during the Great Depression, more than 45,000 World War I veterans—black, white, urban, rural—marched en mass on Washington, D.C., to demand that the federal government pay the wages for their service overseas. Crying financial ruin, the government had promised to pay—but not until 1945. Believing that their presence would force the government to make good on its pledge, veterans dubbed "The Bonus Army" camped in "Hoovervilles" throughout Washington. But instead of compensating veterans for duty, military officials burned the encampments and ousted the veterans, ending a tragic chapter in American history but ushering in necessary G.I. reform.
Walker & Company. 370 pages. $27. ISBN: 0802714404

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This is by a far stretch the best-written account of the BEF. … In telling the story of The Bonus Army, in a gripping style packed with facts, Dickson and Allen do great honor to all veterans—and remind us that one of our most important battles was fought with blood and fire at the steps of our own government."
Joel Turnipseed

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"The Bonus Army is one of those half-forgotten chapters in American history that not only richly deserves retelling, but allows you to tell plenty of other good stories along the way. … [A] responsible popular history, researched to the footnoted standards of the academy but written for the pleasure of general readers who are looking for a good story." Kevin Coyne

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Dickson and Allen put faces on previously anonymous men who struggled to maintain their dignity and respectability in the face of deprivation and intimidation from both right and left." Luther Spoehr

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The authors’ analysis of the causes, meaning and effects of the BEF is better than their description of its activities, which is uninspired in some of the march’s exciting aspects and overlong in some of its tertiary ones. They do, however, give a full sense of the desperate times when upward of a third of the workforce was unemployed." Roger K. Miller

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… the book’s most haunting aspect is its verbal and pictorial record of the marchers’ individual experiences." Janet Maslin

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Extensively researched and documented, The Bonus Army provides a valuable historical record as well as a timely look at how this nation has treated its veterans and its homeless." Jewel Lansing

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The authors side implicitly with the bonus marchers, and if there is any weakness in the account it is that they are not much interested in the side that lost." Bruce Ramsey

Critical Summary

The Bonus Army is a feat of research and analysis—a thoughtful, strong argument that these marches were among the most important demonstrations of the 20th century. Dickson and Allen speculate about why the episode is not more widely known. They cite as possible reasons the encampment’s integration in segregated Washington, the ease with which the marchers could be dismissed as Communists, and the fact that no political party stood to gain from the movement’s success or failure. Some critics suggest that the authors failed to prove any of these theories or provide any convincing reasons for the Bonus Army’s eventual failure. But, Dickson and Allen do paint moving, harrowing portraits of individuals’ plights and make clear how the corps’ ordeal laid the groundwork for the legislation that became the G.I. Bill of Rights.