May 4th, 1970

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I’ll never forget coming home from elementary school on the afternoon of May 4, 1970. Only eight years old at the time, I hadn’t heard about the tragedy that occurred only a couple of hours earlier, 20 minutes up the road from my hometown of Akron, Ohio, at Kent State University. Four students were slaughtered and nine more were wounded when the Ohio National Guard opened fire at 12:24 pm while attempting to disburse several thousand protestors that had gathered on the commons to protest the Vietnam War.

I’m not quite sure who it was that told me, but I assume it was one of my older siblings. I remember the sadness and I certainly remember the anger. My oldest brother was hurt the most. He’d been a vocal opponent of the war and if not for a later nervous breakdown, he would have been on his way to fight in a war he so desperately despised.

Currently I’m writing an article for The Culture Crush about the Kent State shootings. I was supposed to be in Ohio at this very moment to take part in the 50th Anniversary Commemoration ceremonies. In fact, much of my article was going to be related to the entire weekend.

I had my plane tickets. Discussions and interactive exhibits were planned, as were speeches by folks such as actress/activist Jane Fonda and Harvard Professor Lawrence Tribe. A concert with Joe Walsh and David Crosby co-headlining was planned for Saturday May 2. I had tickets for that, too.

And none of it happened. The pandemic took care of that and to say I’m a little disappointed would be an understatement. But there’s nothing I can do to change that. It’s a sad thing it didn’t go on as planned because if any event deserved an entire weekend of thoughtful and reflective recognition, it was this one.

But in the 21st century, thankfully our digital age allows us to make do when you can’t be somewhere live and in person. So the university, in conjunction with the May 4th task force put together a nice nearly hour long virtual commemoration. It’s very moving and well done. At the end is a powerful version of the song “Ohio” performed by David Crosby.  Please share with others.

In addition, my good friend and blog-partner Greg shared an article written by Gerry Casale of the rock band Devo for The Rolling Stone. In it, Casale details his eyewitness account of that day 50 years ago. He was a student at Kent State at the time and an active anti-war protestor. His account is as chilling as it is predictive of the direction America would take in the ensuing years.

To think something like Kent State could never happen again would be a huge mistake. I  take a pause every May 4th because it has and always will be a day I’ll never forget. This being the 50th anniversary of that tragic day makes it a milestone. But to me, we need to  keep in mind that our government is capable of doing some really bad things. We’re seeing that now on a daily basis.

As Winston Churchill said in a speech to the House of Commons in 1948, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Let us never make that mistake again.

 

 

 

36 comments

  1. Like Kim, I cannot believe it’s been 50 years already! I remember it so vividly. Thank you, Jeff, for the poignant reminder … your post took my breath and sent me scurrying for a box of tissues. 50 years … and what have we learned? Are we better today for it? Sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the reblog Jill! Always a sad day no matter what the year. But this year it’s getting to me a little more. I know I don’t have to explain why. We’re all feeling it. We’re all a little more sad about things. And you’re right, what have we learned? Not a damn thing in my view. Keep in mind too, not long after that horrific day, Nixon and his minions began their diabolical plan with Watergate.
      In my mind, May 4th was a tumultuous end to one of the worst decades in our history. Almost like a big ole’ finger to America. It’s been a slow and steady decline since then. And just when you think it can’t get any worse…..Trump……Heaven help us.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As soon as I saw this, I remembered the piece you wrote on … Medium, perhaps? And I remembered us talking about it then. But, oddly, I wasn’t prepared for the wave of grief that hit me as I read your post. Yes, my friend, it can happen again. While Nixon was corrupt, compared to Trump he was a font of wisdom and a ‘good guy’, to boot! Can Kent State happen again? Absolutely. Though, at the moment, the protestors are in Trump’s corner and he supports them. And they carry guns. Big guns. Gonna be a hot hot hot summer. The nation is more divided than at any time in its history. Need I say more? Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nope, no need Jill. I get it. Yes, the yahoos are currently in his corner. You know, I sure don’t remember the women’s march, or the Iraq war protests, or the March for our Lives marches, being led by a bunch of loonies with big AR15’s on their backs. Please tell me what the hell guns have to do with the coronavirus? Never mind, a rhetorical question!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You know when a person has to carry a gun to give them ‘legitimacy’ or to make them feel like a ‘man’, then something is lacking in either his character or his purpose. And I’m not being sexist when I refer to “he”, but the reality is that 99% of the public gun-toters are males. Yeah, yours was a rhetorical question … any excuse to carry a gun, for some. Heck, some feel it necessary to carry a gun into the library or grocery store!

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Heh heh … me either. I asked one man once if he was planning to shoot that can of peas! Another time, I walked out of Barnes & Noble when a man perusing magazines bent over and revealed a pistola in his belt. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Fifty years ago today … I remember it more vividly than I remember yesterday. Kent State. The tragedy of the year, perhaps of the decade. Have we learned? Are we better today? I think not. Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your memories of that tragic, brutal day. 😥

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  3. Jeff, a very sad day in America. Neil Young wrote one of the greatest protest songs “Ohio” which he cut as a brief part of CSN&Y about this sad day – “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming…” to “…soldiers are cutting us down.” Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree Keith. There were a lot of good ones, but to me this was the gold standard. Still gives me chills to this day. I wish Neil would have done the song for the 50 year anniversary. Maybe from his home or something. But, Neil is Neil and nobody tells him what to do!

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  4. I haven’t watched the video yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remember that disastrous day. I am Canadian, but I still came to hate the American government even more than I already did. National guards and local police all over the country were cracking heads of protesters, but shooting at them was over the top. Americans shooting Americans. What kind of world were we living in. This was the start of the fall of the hippie movement, which ended months later at Altamont. We were serious about ending the Vietnam War, the draft, and the enslaving of minds, but suddenly it became a life and death situation. We found out who lived their ideals, and who were just doing it to show up their elders.
    Kent State was a tragedy that should never have happened. I don’t know that we can believe an “Open Fire!” order was never given, that it was just a trigger-happy Guardsman who feared for his own life as later announced, but whatever the truth is, guns should never have been in the hands of a group of young men who were not trained to keep their cool. Even if they wren’t well trained, the guns should never have been there in the first place.
    It was not just one Guardsman who responded with fear, the politicians who sent them were even more scared of a bunch of kids. We felt the effects here in Canada, so I can only imagine how American youths were feeling. We wanted peace. THEY GAVE US WAR!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true rawgod. To this day, nobody has been held accountable. That says it all right there. The article link I shared from Gerry Casale is well worth your time. He was there and was merely lucky he wasn’t one of the ones who got shot. It’s a good read.

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    1. It sure did. And it took the city of Kent years to recover. It’s a nice little town now. It’s gotten quite the facelift over the last decade or so.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad to hear that. I have a good childhood friend I used to visit in Kent. She’s since moved to another state and I’m living in India. So many cities have gone downhill. I’m glad to hear Kent has improved. 🙂 — Suzanne

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate your thoughtful commentary on such a tragic event. I’m glad your brother did not have to go to the war. I look forward to reading the post by Gerry. And let’s hope that we have learned something from our history…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jim. I hope we’ve learned something too. I’m not very confident that we have though. Just when I think we’ve turned a corner……

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Over in the UK there was surprise and horror at this event. My father who was a soldier in WWII was disgusted.
    What shook me in the aftermath, was the amount of support there was in the USA for the actions of the National Guard.
    That never went away did it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No it didn’t Roger. My cousin, who is about 10 years older than me, was there that weekend, on Friday night. He was anti-war, big time. He said he was at the dinner table with his Uncle sometime after the shootings and his Uncle told him that if he would have been in the guard himself, he would have shot as many as the protestors as he could. That right there tells you the mindset. And, are those people any different than the imbeciles with their large guns protesting at governors homes to reopen the states? Nope.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tragic.
        I don’t suppose anyone is recalling Lincoln’s biblical warning
        “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

        Mathew 12 verse 25 ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In 2016 by a minority of the electorate and thus a freak of the voting system.
        Probably the least worthy occupant of the Whitehouse (Who would have ever thought it was concievable to look back at Nixon and Bush jnr with occaisional snatches of nostalgia mixed with even the odd apology while thinking of Reagan as positively benign!)

        Liked by 1 person

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