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.

It becomes your issue when it becomes your issue

And it is BECAUSE of the tragedy that survivors or relatives of some senseless act, are more likely to be heard, sad to say.

It really does not matter what the topic is. Inevitably, when someone speaks out on an issue, usually after a terrible human-made event, some trolls will come out and complain that those people ought to have spoken out on the issue sooner. This is absurd.

People often, indeed usually, become aware of an issue, and eventually speak out when it affects them personally. It’s human nature. Think of the founder of MADD:

Candice (Candy) Lightner is the organizer and was the founding president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.lightner On May 3, 1980 Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver at Sunset and New York Avenues in Fair Oaks, California. The 46-year-old driver, who had recently been arrested for another DUI hit-and-run, left her body at the scene.

Should Candy Lightner have been campaigning against drunk driving BEFORE her daughter was killed? Continue reading “It becomes your issue when it becomes your issue”

The Lydster, Part 90: Talking about Tragedy

There’s the broader question of explaining the news when there is so much distortion of the facts by some outlets.

It’s been relatively easy to talk to my daughter about individual deaths, such as my mother’s earlier this year. She understands that my father, and my wife’s older brother, died before she was born, and has only photos by which to identify them, and that was helpful in the discussion.

But how does one explain the assassination attempt of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a shooting in which six people were killed Continue reading “The Lydster, Part 90: Talking about Tragedy”

Earliest recollection of tragedy QUESTIONS

I know after the Whitman shootings, I was always looking up at tall buildings for several weeks.

One of the facts about 9/11 is that if you’re young enough, it was the singularly shocking event. But if you’re old enough, you might recall Pearl Harbor, various assassinations, Chernobyl or the Challenger disaster. I don’t remember Pearl Harbor, but I do recall two Kennedy assassinations and those of Medgar Evers and of ML King, Jr when I was growing up. It was Evers’ death I first recall.

But the event that actually terrorized me more Continue reading “Earliest recollection of tragedy QUESTIONS”