A Brief History
On September 21, 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin triggered the Russian Constitutional Crisis of 1993 by throwing out the constitution and dissolving Parliament. The resulting chaos included the worst riots and fighting seen in Moscow since the 1917 revolution.
Relations between Yeltsin and Parliament had been deteriorating for some time when Yeltsin decided to dissolve Parliament, although he did not have the power to do so according to the constitution. In turn, Parliament declared Yeltsin’s decision null and void, impeached him and barricaded themselves within the parliament building known as the White House. Both sides made desperate entreaties to the military asking for support. Yeltsin’s appeals prevailed, and the Russian Army decided to back him over the legislators. With the might of the armed forces behind Yeltsin, the opposition was put down by bringing tanks in that shelled the White House, allowing Yeltsin to consolidate power and create a new constitution and form of legislature. The entire event lasted from September 21st to October 4th.
The surreal scene of Russian tanks firing high explosive shells at the Russian White House was stunning. To think the second most powerful country in the world could be experiencing such events was chilling, especially when the vast Russian nuclear arsenal was considered.
Could such events happen in the United States? It does not seem likely, but in such situations events quickly spiral out of control and leave people wondering what exactly is happening. No country or empire lasts forever, and the U.S. will likely not be an exception. How long can the U.S. go before another civil war or revolution overwhelms it as well? The question is when and not if. Some people wondered what President Nixon would do back in 1974; if he would defy Congress and the Supreme Court and use the military to stay in power. To everyone’s relief, he went peacefully.
In 1989 the world watched as the Chinese government put down a budding insurrection in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese military killed at least hundreds if not thousands of civilians, mostly in the national capital of Beijing. The photograph of a lone dissenter standing in front of an oncoming tank best exemplified the crisis.
Within the past 25 years, we have witnessed the second and third most powerful countries in the world use tanks in their own capitals against their own people. What you may not remember being taught in history class is that in 1932 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Army used 6 tanks, tear gas, smoke bombs and machine guns to forcibly evict 17,000 U.S. veterans and their families who were demonstrating at an event known as the Bonus Army, killing 4 and wounding a thousand. So you see, it not only can happen in the U.S., it has happened in the U.S.!
Question for students (and subscribers): Does the thought of tanks on the streets of U.S. cities keep you up at night? If not, you probably do not need to worry about it. It may not happen again, but history does have a tendency to repeat itself. We will just have to wait and see what the future holds. Do you think it will ever happen in the U.S. again? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Allen, Thomas B. and Paul Dickson. The Bonus Army: An American Epic. Walker Books, 2006.
Remington, Thomas F. The Russian Parliament: Institutional Evolution in a Transitional Regime,1989-1999. Yale University Press, 2001.