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Veterans for Standing Rock

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The peaceful protest that started it all

The year was 1932. WWI veterans had been issued redeemable stamps that entitled them to a 'bonus' for their service. However, the stamps were a future debt, not payable until 1945. That didn't help those veterans that had been suffering during the period of the Great Depression. The veterans then formed what came to be known as the Bonus Army, which had the mission of forcing the federal government to honor its commitments to the veterans sooner rather than later.

In the summer, the Bonus Army gathered near DC to protest government inaction. They set up an encampment in what is now Anacostia Park. Participation rules were strict--one must prove honorable service, participate in daily parades, and abide by camp sanitation rules, among others.

Attorney General Mitchell ordered the camp be removed. When the protesters closed ranks, police shot and killed two veterans. The government sent in some of its more effective but less gentle generals, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, to carry out the removal. Patton brought in six battle tanks, soldiers with fixed bayonets, and used chemical weapons to carry out the mission. Several people died, including a 12-week old baby. The camp was closed, but the careers of President Hoover and the generals never recovered. They were gone from public life in relatively short order.

The peaceful protest happening now, as we speak

Flash-forward to 2016. The Standing Rock Indian Reservation established the Sacred Stone Camp to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, which would cross land considered sacred to the tribe.

The camp has strict rules for inclusion and participation--among them, no weapons, no alcohol, no drugs--and no violence. This protest, as with the Bonus Army protest before it, is a right guaranteed to US citizens under the First Amendment.

Again as before, the government has ordered the camp to be closed. Both North Dakota Governor Dalrymple and the Army Corps of Engineers have issued evacuation orders: However, with a potential nod to history, both have indicated that no enforcement actions are planned.

However, in counterpoint, on October 27, EDM police and fire personnel used fire trucks (think tanks), rubber bullets and freezing water (think bayonets), and flash grenades & tear gas (think chemical weapons) to confront the unarmed protestors.

One woman may lose her arm. Another may be permanently blinded. One elder went into cardiac arrest. Hundreds were taken to hospitals or treated on-site for their injuries. One First American with medical training was arrested for treating wounded protesters, and remains imprisoned to date.

So we have to ask ourselves again: Would this be considered one of America's proudest moments? Would this be considered moral and ethical behavior by EDM professionals? Would this indicate that we've learned anything between 1932 and 2016? If so, what?

Veterans for Standing Rock--the shining light supporting American values

So I submit for your consideration and support the Veterans for Standing Rock organization. Admittedly, circumstances are a bit different. In 1932, soldiers were being used to attack and brutalize veterans. In 2016, EDM personnel are being used to attack and brutalize First Americans. The difference this time is that we have an educated and honor-bound corps of veterans who are dedicating themselves to protecting First Amendment rights. The Bonus Army sure could have used that.

So, without getting into the rightness or wrongness of corporate and political decisions surrounding the conflict, I think it's enough for me to say that I support the spirit of the Veterans for Standing Rock in their desire to protect fellow citizens and their right to exercise all freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. The corporate and political issues need to be resolved elsewhere and without violence--and certainly not with freezing water, mace, rubber bullets, and the like. So let's take the debate there.

And bravo to our veteran heroes!!

(Author's note: This post was submitted prior to the news of December 4 that the pipeline project has been stopped. However, that doesn't change the concepts elaborated in the post: Americans have First Amendment rights; those rights have been abused in our history; EDM personnel have occasionally been called upon to violate those rights; and it takes EDM heroes to protect our rights when no one else will. I hope those concepts still shine through.)

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.