During WWI, approximately 4.2 million young Americans served as part of the US Army. About half of those were drafted. As a soldier, young men could expect to be paid about $1.00 per day of service, while friends at home working were making 10 times that. As the war drew to a close, WWI veterans thought they deserved more pay and lobbied for an additional service bonus, something they received in 1924 when Congress passed a bill that promised veterans a cash bonus that would be paid out in 1945. Perhaps this promise would have satisfied the veterans had it not been for the Great Depression.
As the depression pushed on and people were unable to provide necessities for their families, WWI veterans pushed Congress for an early payout on their bonuses. Early in 1932, Representative Wright Patman introduced a bill to Congress that would do just that. Encouraged by the bill and inspired by their First Amendment rights, WWI veterans from all over the country traveled to Washington D.C. to petition Congress to pass the bill. Within a few weeks, over 20,000 veterans had set up camp along the Anacostia River. They called themselves the Bonus Marchers.
In June 1932, the bonus bill was passed in the House and then struck down in the Senate. The government expected that the Bonus Marchers would return home. But they stayed. The Washington police were sent in to evict the marchers from their camp along the river. Unfortunately, the altercation ended in violence and two Bonus Marchers were shot.
On July 28, 1932, President Herbert Hoover sent in the US Army, led by Army chief of staff Douglas MacArthur, to break up the camp. The army marched in and began burning the camp to the ground. Bonus Marchers fled as the army attacked with tear gas. As one might imagine, the images and newsreel of this eviction did not play well with American voters. President Hoover and MacArthur looked like the villains in the Bonus Marchers’ story. A few months later, Hoover lost the presidential election to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
4 years later, in 1936, the bonus bill finally passed, and the WWI veterans finally received their promised bonuses. In 1944, the GI Bill was passed, which helps veterans receive monetary and other benefits after their service.
On July 21, 1899, Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. A world-famous writer who championed a minimalistic writing style, he created a body of work that continues to inspire generations of readers.
After Hemingway graduated from high school, he longed for adventure. He took a position as a reporter in Kansas City as he repeatedly tried to enlist in the US Army. Eventually, he became an ambulance driver in World War I. This experience greatly affected his world view and his writing. It was also the inspiration for his famous novel, The Sun Also Rises.
After being discharged from the Army, Hemingway took a job as a foreign correspondent in France. There, he met a group of American expatriates often referred to as the Lost Generation. This group included Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Lost Generation, or those who were young adults at the end of WWI, were considered lost because they found themselves in a post-war society in which the values and teaching of their parents no longer made sense for their own situations. They struggled to advance in life, felt the weight of materialism, and were emotionally beaten down by their experiences. This life and attitude greatly influenced Hemingway’s works. He explored themes of war, masculinity, love, and the meaning of life. He wrote novels such as A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea. He also penned short stories like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
While his personal life was not without its struggles, including bouts of depression, his art with its pursuit of meaning and frank exploration of the human experience has resonated strongly with readers for the last 100 years. It’s possible that his work is even more relevant now among Millennials, a group who identify strongly with the Lost Generation. Are Millennials the new Lost Generation? What would Hemingway have to say about their sense of disenfranchisement? Pick up a Farewell to Arms and find out.