Wrong side of history and science

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me COVID-19” (actual sign)

33 Signs From “Reopen” Protests Across The U.S. That Are 100% Real
I am simultaneously utterly fascinated and incredibly irritated by the protesters of the physical distancing protocols. They see themselves as the heroes in the story. Some high-ranking governmental official has been a provocateur, tweeting “liberate Virginia,” “liberate Minnesota”, “liberate Michigan” et al., and they are listening.

Meanwhile, the guy doing the daily press conferences at the federal level has been saying that he would let the science decide when to open up the country. I really wish those two guys could get on the same page.

Maybe he is, as Truthout noted, gone off the rails — “gaslighting the American people, instigating armed rebellion via tweets, interfering with deliveries of PPE to frontline health care workers, and ultimately making it abundantly clear that they won’t be taking an ounce of responsibility for this disaster.”

The protesters, I gather, believe that they are on the right side of history, demanding “freedom”. They may think they’re disciples of Martin Luther King Jr. But as someone pointed out – somewhere in this blog, I believe – they are not the heroes of the piece. They are the violent uprising as James Meredith tried to enter Ole Miss in 1962. They’re the jeering crowd when the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High in 1957.

Poor physical distancing

And their violence is their very gathering. As health officials warn against anti-social distancing protests, we should note the risk. It’s one thing to risk one’s own well-being. But they are threatening everyone they come in contact with, and everyone THEY in turn meet. It is a slap in the face to every health care worker.

Some of them carry American flags, while others display symbols of hate – Nazi insignia, Confederate flags, anti-Semitic bamnners. A few are armed with guns, to prove…something, I think. The Weekly Sift guy wrote: “They aren’t patriots at all in any real sense. If you ask them to do anything for the common good — stay home, do without a haircut, wear a mask in public, pay taxes — it’s too much.

“Their vision of America is that the government builds us roads, delivers our mail, protects us from criminals, educates our children, and sends helicopters to pluck us off the roof when the flood comes, but in return, we wave flags and otherwise don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do. JFK’s idea that we should ask what we can do for our country — that’s tyranny. All that ‘pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship’ crap — we don’t do that anymore.”


I was going to write about how, 50 years ago, members of the National Guard killed students at Kent State in Ohio. What I wrote five years ago is sufficient. I should note that today’s National Guard has been vital in assisting states in the time of COVID.

May the (Excessive) Force Be with You

28 of the more than 70 Guardsmen turned suddenly and fired their rifles and pistols.

I hate being a killjoy – really, I do – but for me, May 4 has never been the bad pun May the Fourth Be With You, a play on that Star Wars line about fictional, justifiable force. Rather, it’s always been about Kent State, the non-fictional use of unjustifiable force in 1970.

It’s become oddly more real for me this year, the 45th anniversary of the tragedy. I was talking to this woman who takes the same bus as I do, works in the same building, on the same floor as I do. In the course of a conversation, I discovered that she was attending that university in 1970, that she heard the bullets, that she knew the sister of one of the students who were killed.

kent state
For those of you unfamiliar with the event, there are elements of disagreement as to what happened to cause a dozen National Guardsmen to fire on students, killing four and wounding nine. But some facts are not in dispute:

* The United States’ decision to invade Cambodia was announced on national television and radio on April 30, l970 by President Richard Nixon. Its stated purpose was to attack the headquarters of the Viet Cong, which had been using Cambodian territory as a sanctuary. However, it was seen by many as a widening of the Vietnam War.

* Protests occurred the next day, Friday, May 1, all over the country, usually on college campuses, where anti-war sentiment ran high, including at Kent State University in Ohio.

* Friday night around midnight, some folks in downtown Kent participated in vandalism – a “mix of bikers, students, and transient people” – which led to “the entire Kent police force [being] called to duty as well as officers from the county and surrounding communities. Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency…and ordered all of the bars closed. The decision to close the bars early increased the size of the angry crowd. Police eventually succeeded in using tear gas to disperse the crowd from downtown.”

* Saturday, “city officials and downtown businesses received threats, while rumors proliferated that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and university.” After meeting “with Kent city officials and a representative of the Ohio Army National Guard,” the mayor called “Governor Rhodes and [asked] that the National Guard be sent to Kent, a request that was granted.”

* On Sunday, “during a press conference at the Kent firehouse, an emotional Governor Rhodes pounded on the desk and called the student protesters un-American,” and a whole lot of other things.

* Another antiwar rally had been called for noon on Monday, May 4, scheduled three days earlier, before the vandalism. About 20 minutes later, “several Guardsmen could be seen huddling together, and some Guardsmen knelt and pointed their guns… The Guard then began retracing their steps from the practice football field back up Blanket Hill. As they arrived at the top of the hill, twenty-eight of the more than seventy Guardsmen turned suddenly and fired their rifles and pistols. Many guardsmen fired into the air or the ground. However, a small portion fired directly into the crowd. Altogether between 61 and 67 shots were fired in a 13 second period.”

The Kent State shooting was caused by “the only nationwide student strike in U.S. history; over 4 million students protested and over 900 American colleges and universities closed during the student strikes. The Kent State campus remained closed for six weeks.” Violence against other protesters took place on other campuses as well.

The legal aftermath of the May 4 shootings ended in January of 1979 with an out-of-court settlement involving a statement signed by 28 defendants as well as a monetary settlement, and the Guardsmen and their supporters view this as a final vindication of their position [that they acted in self-defense].

The financial settlement provided $675,000 to the wounded students and the parents of the students who had been killed. This money was paid by the State of Ohio rather than by any Guardsmen, and the amount equaled what the State estimated it would cost to go to trial again. Perhaps most importantly, the statement signed by members of the Ohio National Guard was viewed by them to be a declaration of regret, not an apology or an admission of wrongdoing.

President Nixon and his administration’s public reaction to the shootings was perceived by many in the anti-war movement as callous.

As a kid in high school, I was outraged by the shootings. While we didn’t participate in a school strike (as far I can remember), my friends and I attended antiwar activities with a renewed vigor, believing that the expansion of the war into Cambodia was unconstitutional without Congressional approval and that the killings at Kent State, and, 11 days later, two at Jackson State in Mississippi, not to mention numerous other injuries at campuses across the country, were wrong.

In the fall of 2014, a Kent State sweatshirt complete with “blood spatter” was produced by the classless folks at Urban Outfitters.

Two notable songs came from the Kent State incident to listen to: the rather anemic Student Demonstration Time by the Beach Boys, based on the song Riot on Cell Block #9 – Rolling Stone didn’t like it, either – and the anthemic Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

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