THE INCIDENT described above occurred in Washington, DC, on
July 28, 1932.
The military commanders who executed the removal of the “Bonus
Expeditionary Force,” as the protesters called themselves, were
three of the United States’ greatest heroes: Douglas MacArthur,
Dwight Eisenhower, and George Patton. Eisenhower later became
one of the most popular USA Presidents and defined an era that emphasized
order and conformity.
There were no television cameras and satellites to relay images
of what happened in the USA capital that summer day.
A few newspapers condemned President Hoover’s response but the
event was quickly put to rest. Since then, there have been no anniversary
remembrances and there is no monument in Washington, DC, to the
Most Americans have never heard of the Bonus Army and its fate.
Neither the USA nor China has much experience handling large unsanctioned
demonstrations. Riots are rare in both countries but when
they occur they are often put down with brute force.
When Chicago police fought protesters at the Democratic Party
national convention in 1968, crowds chanted “the whole world is
watching.” The young protesters believed television would
shame the authorities by broadcasting their actions.
But two years later students were gunned down during protests
at Kent State University in Ohio.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s riots were put down in USA
cities, including the capital, with troops and tanks.
It had been almost twenty years since that era, and almost two
generations since the 1932 suppression in the USA capital, when
world audiences watched the protests in Tiananmen Square unfold
on television in the Summer of 1989.
Western media, frustrated by Russian restrictions on covering
the "glasnost" movement in the Soviet Union, diverted all attention
to the growing crowds in Tiananmen, assisted by an almost uncontrolled
flow of information via fax machines, email, and even cell phones.
The ensuing media blitz created the allure of a Chinese "Woodstock"
complete with rock music, motorcycle riders (the "Flying Tigers,"
Beijing's "Hell's Angels" who patrolled the square), and
a heady dose of "flower power."
When the Chinese government decided to order the army to end the
demonstrations and dispel the crowds, which it believed were out
of control, most viewers were horrified.
The prize winning Associated Press
photograph of a lone
Chinese man standing down a tank in the square has come to define
China for many Americans. What an awful place, they believe,
to send in tanks when all the people want is change.
Of course, the question is how would the government of the USA
or any other government respond if over one million people were
camped out at the very seat of power, demanding an overthrow of
In Washington, DC, such an event is an impossibility. Marches
on the USA capitol must be approved and coordinated in advance with
the assistance of Congress, several police forces (city, Park Service,
Capitol Police, Secret Service) with preparations for toilets, parking,
crowd and traffic control in place.
If a spontaneous protest on the scale of Tiananmen ever did occur
in Washington, DC, it would be dealt with no differently and probably
much more swiftly.
This June marks the twentieth (20) anniversary of the end of the
Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Anniversaries are important
in the USA where each decade is marked as though it was a distinct
Each year at the anniversary of the riots, the American press
prepares special reports in every major newspaper, television news
show, and news web site to mark the occasion.
When this article was first posted, on the tenth anniversary in
1999, the USA press was certain that remembrance would spark several
news stories in China. But the anniversary passed, in China at least,
largely without notice.
In Tiananmen Square that year, a man tossed leaflets about corruption
and was detained, another displayed slogans on an umbrella. The
square itself was under extensive renovation in anticipation of
the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic and
closed to the public.
In the years since June 1989 China has changed enormously.
Since that time the USA and the world have witnessed several genocides
Yet Americans are peculiarly fixated on what happened in Tiananmen
Square that summer in 1989.
It is time to stop dwelling on this one particular event in modern
Chinese history. We must look at our own past, see our own
experiences, and not pass judgement blindly.
In the words of the memorial to the Kent State massacre, we should
"Inquire, Learn, Reflect"
©Ben Calmes for Sinomania!, 1999-2007.
All rights reserved.