With the advent of social media we have witnessed mass protest gatherings around the world. Here in this country we witness protests against political candidates, racial injustice and other causes which bring people out to align with the cause.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s a number of protests erupted across college campuses. The impetus was the Vietnam War and the draft of 18 year olds to go to a foreign locale to fight an enemy on their home turf which would make them impossible to defeat, as history has shown.
It was a foreign policy which young people did not understand. The containment of Communism was a noble pursuit, but as Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, later wrote
“The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.”
The War was a powder keg waiting for a match. On April 30, 1970 President Richard Nixon addressed the nation that he had authorized military strikes inside Cambodia, even though, unofficially, there had been a number of incursions into Cambodia to fight the “enemy.”
“My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed. Small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.
“If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.
“It is not our power but our will and character that is being tested tonight. The question all Americans must ask and answer tonight is this: Does the richest and strongest nation in the history of the world have the character to meet a direct challenge by a group which rejects every effort to win a just peace, ignores our warning, tramples on solemn agreements, violates the neutrality of an unarmed people, and uses our prisoners as hostages?
“If we fail to meet this challenge, all other nations will be on notice that despite its overwhelming power the United States, when a real crisis comes, will be found wanting…”
The reaction from those who the President viewed as “anarchists” was swift. College campuses erupted in protests.
It would be on May 4, a spring day in Ohio, where students had assembled on the Kent State campus that tragedy would strike and the War become more than a topic of discussion. What happened there was a poignant reminder to the nation and world that the young die both at home and abroad.
Plainview, New York native Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20, a transfer from Michigan State University to Kent State; Cincinnati, Ohio native William Knox Schroeder, 19; Cleveland, Ohio-born Allison Beth Krause, 19; and Youngtown, Ohio native Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20, were killed by the Ohio National Guard. Nine other students were wounded: Donald Mackenzie, Joseph Lewis, Dean Kahler, Thomas Grace, Robert Stamps, John Cleary, James Russell, Alan Canfora, and Douglas Wrentmore.
Kent State was closed and students were ordered to leave. Other campuses across the country closed as well.
“The Kent State massacre prompted the largest national campus protest strike in history, involving four million students nationwide. A sense of collective trauma followed as it registered with the Vietnam generation that this could have been any one of them. These were ordinary American students, no different from many of you, who were balancing a deep concern for their country’s role in aggression in Southeast Asia with simpler, teenage worries like dating, getting good grades, and what the coolest new clothes looked like. To this day I cannot believe my sister was taken at that moment.
“In experiencing Kent State first hand since I was 15, I was shocked when the American leadership blamed my sister and other Kent State students for the violence, the bloodshed, and the massacre. We heard them say that the students brought it on themselves and that the guard should have shot more. My family heard the last quip as we identified Allison’s dead body at Robinson Memorial Hospital. Kent State survivors, stakeholders, and just about every young American had to hear this traumatic propaganda in our grief over what our government did to us. It was a two-fold injury that permanently sealed the trauma of this day.” Laurel Krause, https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/flowers-are-still-better-bullets-45-years-after-kent-state-massacre
For many, especially the family members, the wounds have not healed. In many ways the nation has not recovered from what began with policy decisions concerning Vietnam and the goal of stopping of Communism.
Those policy decisions behind closed doors in Washington resulted in the deaths and mangling of many young lives lost in foreign locales over the last half-century. They damaged many young lives in this country that had the courage to challenge the status quo of old men and their wars. Many paid a high price for their protest for justice and truth in the 60s and 70s.
Allison Krause the day before her murder said,
“What’s the matter with peace? Flowers are Better than Bullets”
Peace! For the last 16 years wars have waged and many lives have been lost in foreign locales and the city streets of this country. Each day the innocents both of the youth and the women and children face the indignities that “war” brings to the table of human suffering.
In our next post we will travel from Kent State to Jackson State. We will revisit the tragic events of May 14-15, 1970.
G. D. Williams © 2016
Chronology of Events, May 1-4, 1970
4 Kent State Students Killed By Troops
But a bizarre atmosphere hung over the campus as a Guard helicopter hovered overhead, grim-faced officers maneuvered their men to safeguard the normally pastoral campus and students, dazed, fearful and angry, struggled to comprehend what had happened and to find something to do about it.
Students carrying suitcases and duffel bags began leaving the campus this afternoon. Early tonight the entire campus was sealed off and a court injunction was issued ordering all students to leave.
A 5 P.M. curfew was declared in Kent, and road blocks were set up around the town to prevent anyone from entering. A state of emergency was also declared in the nearby towns of Stow and Ravenna.
THE MAY 4 SHOOTINGS AT KENT STATE UNIVERSITY: THE SEARCH FOR HISTORICAL ACCURACY
Nine Kent State students were wounded in the 13-second fusillade. Most of the students were in the Prentice Hall parking lot, but a few were on the Blanket Hill area. Joseph Lewis was the student closest to the Guard at a distance of about sixty feet; he was standing still with his middle finger extended when bullets struck him in the right abdomen and left lower leg. Thomas Grace was also approximately 60 feet from the Guardsmen and was wounded in the left ankle. John Cleary was over 100 feet from the Guardsmen when he was hit in the upper left chest. Alan Canfora was 225 feet from the Guard and was struck in the right wrist. Dean Kahler was the most seriously wounded of the nine students. He was struck in the small of his back from approximately 300 feet and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Douglas Wrentmore was wounded in the right knee from a distance of 330 feet. James Russell was struck in the right thigh and right forehead at a distance of 375 feet. Robert Stamps was almost 500 feet from the line of fire when he was wounded in the right buttock. Donald Mackenzie was the student the farthest from the Guardsmen at a distance of almost 750 feet when he was hit in the neck.
Kent State Incident
Another, similar incident took place ten days later, on May 14, at Jackson State University, an all-black school in Mississippi. During a student protest, police and state highway patrolmen fired automatic weapons into a dormitory, killing two students and wounding nine others. No warning had been given and no evidence was ever found of student sniping that might have justified the shootings. Nevertheless, unlike the Kent State episode, this incident evoked little national attention, embittering many blacks who felt that the killing of black students was not taken as seriously as that of whites.
President Richard Nixon – Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia
OHIO: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young