Friday, May 4, 2012
Most of you are too young to remember what happened at Kent State in 1970, but it is important in the political and cultural history of our country. I mention this event because it happened on May 4th -- today -- forty two years ago. The picture shown above is the iconic image of that event.
The Vietnam War, begun in the early 1960s and accelerated by President Nixon in the latter part of that decade, was increasingly unpopular as TV news showed us its human casualties on a nightly basis. Tens of thousands of young people were being killed.
Opposition to the War emerged and grew. And grew. Its power was harnessed to the "Generation Gap" between the young and old. Young people, experimenting with rock music, drugs and long hair, were less likely than their parents to accept Nixon's justification for the War (the "domino effect" that losing Vietnam to the Communists would have). Young people forcefully argued for ending the war.
That battle became epic. Everyone had an opinion on the war and even the length of your hair was seen as a symbol of your politics. Fights broke out over dinner-tables throughout the country.
In the midst of this chaos, Kent State occurred. It was both a reflection of and catalyst for social upheaval.
Students at the university were protesting the war. As was common, they were controlled by National Guard soldiers. At one point, which is still in controversy, the soldiers started shooting their rifles at the students. Four students were killed and eight others injured. Many believe (and there is evidence to suggest) that the soldiers were ordered to shoot the students; others contend the soldiers were acting in self-defense.
The "Kent State killings" inflamed the nation. Nobody could believe that, here in America, college students could be shot while walking around on campus. Young people blamed Nixon and the older generation for the deaths. Neil Young, a hugely-popular musician of the time, wrote a song ("Ohio") which became both an anthem of rebellion and a big commercial hit.
Have you heard of this?