May 4, 2020 marks the 50th Anniversary of the massacre at Kent State. I teach it every year, so that it's lessons and warnings continue to reverberate through our national collective memory. A short thread1/n
There are any number of places to find details of May 4th, in which 4 students were fatally shot and 9 students wounded by the Ohio National Guard. And @KentState maintains a fascinating collection of photographs, films, and audio testimonies. 2/n
But what are the lessons I teach my students? What does a student protest against the bombing of Cambodia, and the fear of being drafted to fight in a war you believe unjust, on a campus tucked away in NE Ohio, teach us about ourselves and our country in 2020? 3/n
1. Perspective. From contemporary standards, we look back and see the shootings as a clear act of violence. Firing on innocent, unarmed protestors. However, at the time, public sympathies were overwhelmingly against student protestors.
2. Norms and policy. The Commission on Campus Unrest said in Sept 1970 that Kent State "must mark the last time that...loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators." Our norms have changed--"open carry" shows just how much. This is never acceptable.
3. The role of local journalism. The best news coverage was provided by the Akron Beacon Journal. The further we get from local news, the less we understand about why things happen where they do. Was Kent unique? What happened in the months after?
4. Accountability. No one ever took the fall. The easy unloading of blame to an unordered, anonymous shooter means there is still no justice. Public figures are rarely held to face their consequences. But the Kent-25 (those connected to the ROTC building fire) were all indicted.
5. Distrust. Here I wax a bit more poetic than my Poli Sci bona fides might permit, but a liberal carries inherent distrust of govt and its arms. One should not assume the army/police/national guard is on your side. Sadly, this is not a lesson POC students need to learn today.
6. Memory. Memory plays a vital role in national identity. What we remember--and, crucially, what we choose to forget--is what shapes the national consciousness both today and for future generations. We cannot forget May 4th. Nor the students shot at Jackson State 2 days later.
So, today, our students will see "Vietnam War" in the news because COVID-19 has surpassed its death toll. But I want them to learn these lessons. May 4th "ended the 60s" and ushered in a new age of cynicism and distrust. That's not inherently bad, but what do we do with it?
May the memories of Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, WIlliam Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer be for a blessing. And may that blessing be an informed and vigilant citizenry, ready to preserve the moral core of our country through voice, not martyrdom.
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