Kent State : After 45 Years

 

kent-four-dead-450.jpg
This photo taken by John Filo of runaway Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling by Jeffrey Miller's body.  This photo won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971.

We Need a Serious Look at What Happened and Why?

By  Murray Polner

It’s been 45 years since draft-deferred Ohio National Guardsmen aimed their M-1 rifles and .45 pistols at unarmed Kent State College students, killing four and wounding nine on May 4, 1970. You have to be well into middle age now to remember that day. My memory is stirred whenever I look at three photos: John Filo’s striking shot of teenager Mary Ann Vecchio on her knees weeping as she bends over student Jeffrey Miller’s body, a photo I took of Jeffrey’s grieving mother for a magazine my son Alex once edited, and a picture of two of the forever crippled in wheelchairs, KSU student Dean Kahler and wounded Marine Vietnam vet Ron Kovic of ‘Born on the Fourth of July” fame.

On the 41st anniversary of the shootings in 2011, the state’s largest newspaper, concluded, “There has never been a completely satisfactory explanation for why the Guard fired.” In fact, it went on, “The central unresolved question in the Kent State affair has been why several dozen Ohio Guardsmen pivoted in unison and fired” and for 13 agonizing seconds killed and wounded so many of their peers. The previous year the paper had reported the finding of an audio recording where a Guard office was said to shout, “All right, prepare to fire.” This led to an editorial urging the state to take another look “and give full account of that tragic day.”

“That tragic day” followed Nixon’s announcement that the U.S. had invaded Cambodia and expanded the war, causing antiwar college students throughout the nation to go on strike. It was a time when the President called antiwar students “bums” and Ohio’s Republican Governor James Rhodes, in a tight and ultimately losing race, described students against the war as “worse than brown shirts and the communist element and also night riders and vigilantes. They are the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”

A majority of blinkered Americans agreed. Apprehensive and uncertain, yearning for a return to an allegedly untroubled era before the tumultuous sixties, and manipulated all their lives to believe that only an “exceptional” America protected them against Communist and Asian hordes, they supported the shootings, as a  Gallup poll reported. Pat Moynihan thought May 4th amounted to a pro-war plebiscite, a prescient remark given that two years later Nixon overwhelmingly defeated George McGovern, an unflinching dove. And Milton Viorst, one of the sharpest pundits of those years, thought, “The 1960s ended in a small town in Ohio named Kent.”

After several trials, a presidential commission, and books galore, no one was ever held responsible despite a final settlement of a meager $674,000 distributed among the thirteen families.

After several trials, a presidential commission, and books galore, no one was ever held responsible despite a final settlement of a meager $674,000 distributed among the thirteen families. It did, however, lead to the development of the superb May 4th Collection at the KSU Library with its rich lode of material. One is Charles A. Thomas’s memoir. He had worked for the National Archives and was asked to examine films used by the Scranton (investigating) presidential commission. His finding: “it looked very much as if someone had doctored the evidence to minimize any impression of the Guard’s brutality and to plant the spurious notion that the soldiers had been confronted with a raging student mob,” a charge refuted by the Justice Department when it summarized the FBI’s  findings. There’s much more in the May 4th Collection.

It also includes the long-forgotten Scranton commission’s devastating verdict that, while liberally casting responsibility on all parties, something happened that should never have happened: “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable.” Period!

Still, the case is now deemed to be dead. Why? Who cares? Who remembers? Who wants to remember?

My own judgment is that while I know of no smoking gun or deathbed confession the “guilty” one (s) got away, the “guilty” being the person or persons who ordered the Guardsmen to open fire.  So many unanswered questions remain about Governor Rhodes’s close ties with the FBI, an armed FBI informer on campus, what if anything relevant college, local and state police discovered. And what role, if any, did VIPs in Washington’s uber-secret chambers play? Contemporary critics have regularly and repeatedly proposed many more questions.

Years after May 4, 1970, Caroline Arnold, a Kent resident, wrote a column for the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier in which she reminded her small-town readers that “Truth wasn’t murdered at Kent State. People were murdered, people were wounded, hurt, frightened and bewildered, and much damage was done across the community and university.”

For our national political elite unwilling to publicly confront those responsible for the slaughters of the pointless Vietnam and Iraq/Afghan wars, it may be too much to expect anyone to bother themselves with a piddling four deaths and nine wounded college kids.

Still, I have to ask if anyone in the White House on down has the audacity to call for a new investigation? Anyone?

 

Murray Polner

Republished from History News Network.

POSTED ON APRIL 30, 2015

 

About Murray Polner

Murray Polner is a book review editor for HNN.org and was editor of Present Tense, published by the American Jewish Committee from 1973-90. He wrote Rabbi: The American Experience; co-edited (with Stefan Merken) Peace, Justice, and Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition, as well as No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran and, with Jim O'Grady, Disarmed & Dangerous, a biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan. His most recent book is We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing From 1812 to Now, co-authored with Thomas Woods.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 57 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 95 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 27 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 14 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.