Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming: Kent State Shooting Anniversary

Today is the 41st anniversary of the 1970 National Guard killings of Vietnam War protesters at Kent State University. The enhanced audio tape released in 2007 provided evidence the Guards were ordered to shoot.

What precipitated the protest: On Thursday, April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon told the American people that we were sending troops into Cambodia. He had been elected on his promise to end the war. Rallies began around the country on May 1. [More...]

On why we shouldn't forget, by Mark Weisbrot of the Guardian, published in 2000:

To forgive is a virtue, but forgetting is an indulgence we can ill afford. Our foreign policy establishment remains addicted to empire, and is possessed by a hubris that is arguably even greater than the one that got us into Vietnam. Until they learn the lessons that the anti-war movement tried to teach them, we can expect more Vietnams ahead of us.

Here's Weisbrot's column yesterday on Osama bin Laden and the war on terror. He reminds us:

The "war on terror" was made to order for the post-cold war era, and enthusiasts such as then Vice President Dick Cheney noticed this immediately, before any wars were launched. Within five days of the 9/11 attacks, Cheney was on television proclaiming that the war against terrorism was "a long-term proposition": the "kind of work that will take years".

Indeed, it has, and with US drone strikes in Pakistan killing civilians and generating more hatred weekly, a cycle of violence is perpetuated that can go on for many years to come.

< Obama Won't Release Osama bin Laden Death Photos | Pakistani Officials Say Osama's 12 Year Old Daughter Injured in Raid >
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    regarding the war on terror (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by CST on Wed May 04, 2011 at 02:39:58 PM EST
    My sister is a high school U.S. history teacher, so last night I asked her what her students thought/knew about this, as they were 4-5 when 9/11 happened.

    For someone my age, 9/11 is clearly the catalyst that set all this off.  There is a "before" life, and an "after" life.  People who are older have had more of these moments, so I don't know that 9/11 was quite as big of a watershed moment.  For a high school kid today though, there is no real before.  They don't even register the fact that 9/11 is the start of this.  They know it happened but in context it's just another event.

    She said the main discussion was about how her students don't really understand why Osama is such a big deal (one student didn't know who he was) - and what they really didn't get was how 9/11 had anything to do with the current wars.  Because to them, the U.S. has simply always been at war.

    In other words, we've now raised a generation of kids who don't know what life is like without our country being at war.  And for the most part, they don't understand how or why we got here, they just accept it as the status quo.

    Perpetual War (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by MKS on Wed May 04, 2011 at 03:04:28 PM EST
    That is such a shame.....Never thought of it that way...but of course it is true for many younger folks.

    What Atrios said (5.00 / 0) (#4)
    by ruffian on Wed May 04, 2011 at 03:35:12 PM EST
    I concur. OBL was only the main boogie man for a year or so. How are the kids supposed to keep all the wars and enemies straight?

    You give us a stark, inescapable reminder here. (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by christinep on Wed May 04, 2011 at 04:58:37 PM EST
    Your sister knows, then (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by Towanda on Wed May 04, 2011 at 06:01:36 PM EST
    how wrong and misleading are the history textbooks for K-12 (and some for college level, too) on Kent State, Jackson State, and so much else in the era.  I recently looked at some textbooks and saw a sentence or so on Kent State, with only the implication that the antiwar students had caused the shootings -- and no mention that most of those shot (four dead, twelve wounded with one  paralyzed for life) were not protesters.  Classes were not canceled, but students were ordered not to leave campus.  So those living there were going to class, to the library, to the union for a meal.

    And I found no mentions of the killings at Jackson State, where one of the students killed was sitting in a dorm room.

    But I did find the standard mythology about the treatment of Vietnam vets upon returning home . . . with no mention that the worst treatment that they received was from their own government and/or some American Legion posts, where vets of other wars refused to welcome Vietnam vets.

    History teachers like your sister have such a  huge task, especially when handed textbooks that have to be approved by the state of Texas.  


    The victors... (none / 0) (#17)
    by kdog on Thu May 05, 2011 at 11:15:10 AM EST
    get to the write the history.  Might makes right.

    And as the Big Lebowski so bluntly put it...

    "Your revolution is over Lebowski!  The bums lost!"

    Obviously I disagree about who the bums actually were, but we did lose the war, won a few battles though.  And definitely something to be said for fighting the good fight and coming up short...beats the pre-emptive surrender we're rolling with now.

    Some Wisconsin teachers being an obvious recent exception:)


    it's not even about winners or losers (none / 0) (#19)
    by CST on Thu May 05, 2011 at 02:49:51 PM EST
    It's a cultural thing.

    In MA at least, you better believe they still teach this stuff in school.  But that's on the teacher.  It just so happens that the culture in MA promotes that type of thing.  So in that sense, the left "won" MA.

    But textbooks are pretty much all created to pass the Texas school board criteria, because once you pass that that's hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank for the textbook creator.  And Texas tends to have a very right-wing point of view on history.  The only state that can compare money-wise is California, who for whatever reason, is unable or unwilling to push the fight in the other direction.  Texas is by no means unwilling to change history for their students, so they usually end up winning the textbook war.

    Textbooks are not the only way to teach history though.  It's the individual teacher to make sure these things are taught.  So in a way, the war is never really over.  It's still being fought daily in classrooms across the country.


    I was senior in high school (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by loveed on Wed May 04, 2011 at 03:03:00 PM EST
    and had many friends attending kent.I never thought our goverment would shoot college kids. But they did.

    I was a college kid then (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Towanda on Wed May 04, 2011 at 04:00:18 PM EST
    and never have been the same since.  Like Jeralyn, I always mark this day with sadness -- and go to the Kent State site built since by students to see again the horror, and to again remember those who ought to be nearing retirement now (except that the student in ROTC and heading to a military career could have retired 20 years ago).

    And they ought to be heading to a happy retirement after having kids of their own who would be college students now.


    So was I, Towanda (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Zorba on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:08:40 PM EST
    It (and Jackson State ten days later) profoundly affected me.  My friends and I were involved in the Vietnam War protests, and all we could think at the time was "That could have been us."  What kind of a country kills its young people who are protesting an egregious wrong being perpetrated by the government?  I suppose, the same kind of country which continues to send our young people off to kill and be killed in endless wars, to kill innocent civilians in our name, to continue to hold people in Guantanamo without anything resembling Constitutional American judicial proceedings, and on and on.  I wept for my country then, and I'm still weeping.

    Still a time to weep... (5.00 / 4) (#8)
    by kdog on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:24:15 PM EST
    indeed, because we've been housebroken.

    Now when the man goes to squashing a protest, we scatter...if we weren't caged up in a "free speech zone" to start.

    And Kent State is a big reason why...cuz push comes to shove they will gun you down. Message received.

    But your generation gave the bastards a scare they haven't had since...and for that I'm eternally in awe.  


    I wish that I could believe (none / 0) (#12)
    by Zorba on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:59:13 PM EST
    that we gave them a scare, although I do think that the Vietnam War would have gone on even longer if not for all the protests.  But in the end, what did we gain?  A temporary reprieve, possibly, but it doesn't seem to have had any permanent effect.  We still have meaningless wars, we're still killing innocents with no good reason, and, if anything, the police state tactics in our own country have gotten even worse- not in killing protesters, but in making people too afraid to protest (with a few exceptions, the protests in Wisconsin being a recent example), in snooping into our private communications, in making us accept virtual strip searches when we travel on airplanes.  Ah, well.

    I would concur with (none / 0) (#18)
    by JamesTX on Thu May 05, 2011 at 12:30:29 PM EST
    with the conclusion that we didn't really scare them. But we did make them change their strategy. They always had the power to subdue us, but they couldn't use it because the movement, however chaotic and ineffective it may appear even to those of us who were there, was spreading and growing. The biggest problem they had was the draft. The draft is what affected enough people to hold the youth movement together with unity of purpose.

    The government had to do something or the movement would eventually win. But, like all good governments, they had a many contingency plans in place. What they did was recognize that the draft was the underlying cause that held it all together. They were already studying the concept of an all volunteer high tech military, and that is the solution they chose. Ending the draft and withdrawing from Viet Nam dissolved the common cause of the movement, and it was over within a few months.

    There is nothing to compare to it today, and I am not sure how anything to match it could arise. The internet is the primary means of communication for young people now days, and that allows them to gather real time intelligence and time to react to any emerging grassroots cause. The 60s and 70s appear to be the last real effective democratic social revolution.


    I will never forget Kent State, (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by caseyOR on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:35:09 PM EST
    or Jackson State. Within only 10 days in May of 1970, the U.S. military shot U.S. college students while on campus.

    I was a senior in high school. In the space of 7 short years I had seen the assassinations of Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I had watched on television as civil rights marchers were assaulted with vicious dogs and fire hoses. I had waited, holding my breath, to learn the fate of Andrew Goodwin, James Chaney and Micheal Schwerner, three young civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi. I reeled at the news that Fred Hampton had been slaughtered in his bed by our law enforcement officers.

    I had seen Chicago erupt in a police riot. I had watched Detroit and Los Angeles and D.C. and so many other cities explode in riots. Every night, just before dinner, I saw the seemingly endless parade of flag-draped coffins coming back from Viet Nam, and I saw, again and again, the horrific and now iconic photos from that war: the naked napalmed screaming child running for her life, the Buddhist monk setting himself afire, the Vietnamese man shot in the head pointblank by a South Vietnamese officer.

    I was 18 years old, and just when I thought I had seen it all, I watched as the National Guard turned and opened fire into a crowd of American college students out on the quad at noon on a sunny spring day.

    My great continuing sorrow is that we, as a nation, seem not to have learned very much at all from that time in our history.


    Oh Casey...I remember that too (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by christinep on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:47:06 PM EST
    Pretty much the same way, and with the same feeling. It still hurts to think of it, to read your potent retelling of that time. (I was Indiana in college during Kent State; it seemed so close; it still does.)

    In one significant respect, I differ: I believe that we have learned a lot as a great nation. We may well be emphasizing different events since the 60s & early 70s...because while there is a lot to be sorrowful for, to gape at in angry disbelief (and I certainly have with the corporate/wall-street shenanigans that followed & with the brazen SCt election of Bush with his brazen Iraq military invasion)....Yet, we have been spared the horror of those killings of our young students & our public servants in the years that followed.  It may be apples & oranges, but I find reason for optimism because so many say now, and know, and believe in a betterment of humans than what my youth saw.


    Thats only because... (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Thu May 05, 2011 at 03:24:10 PM EST
    our students and our working classes aren't sticking up for ourselves like we once did...if we did, you bet your arse we'd be getting tased at the very least.  And if high voltage didn't do the trick...tear gassed.  And if that failed?  "Soldiers are gunning us down...."

    The state ain't changed...we citizens have.  More docile, defeated, not expecting much besides the shaft.


    also, we need to get over the (none / 0) (#22)
    by jondee on Thu May 05, 2011 at 04:10:41 PM EST
    hang-up about being subjected to any level of coercian whatsoever in the interests of organized resistence, when we're facing so much potentially massive, well-organized coercian on the part of the corporate state..

    dog, I noticed that Jim got to you a couple of weeks ago with his faux-libertarian argument against closed shops..as if the average workplace would be some paradise of freedom if only no one had to pay union dues.  


    And at Jackson State (none / 0) (#11)
    by Towanda on Wed May 04, 2011 at 05:55:18 PM EST
    hundreds of bullet holes still mark dorm walls -- as one of the students killed there, a young father, was in a dorm room when shot dead.

    can you imagine (none / 0) (#14)
    by kmblue on Wed May 04, 2011 at 09:06:30 PM EST
    Nixon made his announcement, demonstrations began immediately.
    Nowadays Obama proposes some new outrage and everyone is too busy looking for work to protest.

    It was sort of shocking -- (none / 0) (#15)
    by brodie on Wed May 04, 2011 at 09:14:42 PM EST
    Nixon had begun slowly winding down US involvement w/Vietnamization  policy for over a year, then suddenly he veers off course and decides to invade another country.  People thought it crazy, a re-escalation of the war that went against all the admin had told us before that.

    I remember just starting HS then, and having a violent argument with a RW student who was using the excuse to shoot live rounds the fact that rocks had been thrown by the demonstrators.  

    Thank the Watchers for that bold, creative Canadian singer-songwriter who memorialized the tragedy with such a memorable song.


    It's not just May 4th (none / 0) (#16)
    by jbindc on Thu May 05, 2011 at 10:42:20 AM EST
    It's the whole week leading up to May 4th, including vandalism and looting on May 1, the arson of the ROTC building on May 2, an imposed curfew on May 3, and finally the shootings on May 4th.

    Interesting thing about the audiotapes - there was gunfire heard before the Guard fired - many think it came from a student, although no one can say for sure if the two events were connected.

    Though the tussle and pistol shots, if authenticated, match some key details of a confrontation several witnesses reported seeing or hearing involving a pistol-waving Kent State student named Terry Norman, they raise many new questions.

    Norman was photographing protestors that day for the FBI and carried a loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 36 five-shot revolver in a holster under his coat for protection. Though he denied discharging his pistol, he previously has been accused of triggering the Guard shootings by firing to warn away angry demonstrators, which the soldiers mistook for sniper fire.

    The apparent order for the Guardsmen to fire that is captured on the recording, as well as passage of more than a minute between the last supposed pistol shot and the Guard's gunshots, raises doubts about a connection between the two events.

    "I think it's premature to make any conclusions at this point," said Alan Canfora, a protester who was wounded by the Guard gunfire and who unearthed a copy of the long-forgotten audio tape in a library archive in 2007. "All these questions add to the pressure on the U.S. and Ohio governments to begin a new investigation so we can determine the ultimate truths about this tragedy."

    Nice spin, Mr Prosecutor: (none / 0) (#20)
    by jondee on Thu May 05, 2011 at 03:03:59 PM EST
    "It came from a student" would imply (to the ignorant) that Norman was situated somewhere amidist the student protestors when he fired the hypothetical shot, or shots, that may hypothetically have induced the guardsman to begin firing with M-16s into a crowd of unarmed students  - none of whom were closer than 75 to 100 yards away. All the evidence that I've seen, including photographic evidence, puts Norman right in amongst the guardsman when the shooting began.

    It seems unlikely, to say the least, that an undercover FBI agent in that situation would be the first one to initiate the shooting.