Solemnly, I remember the tragedy that unfolded at Kent State University in Ohio 40 years ago. I've been on the Kent State campus several times. Too many of us lazily compartmentalize what happened there by labelng the students "anarchists" or that they got what was coming to them. With that shallow reading of that event, we shall never learn from it. Allow me to try and put it in perspective...
First, it should be noted that the Kent disaster was precipitated by the war in Vietnam. That war was elevated to major status under Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson. Much of the fault for that war lies in his decision-making. There is enough blaming to be done on both parties, but LBJ was a Democrat.
Vietnam had been promised an open election in negotiations that took place after the French left their former colony [Vietnam] after a series of military disasters. When it became clear that any free and open election would result in an overwhelming win for communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, the U.S. reneged on its promise. This sent the nation into a horrible civil war between the north and south of that Asian nation. We were told that a victory for the communists would result in a "domino effect" that would have all of Southeast Asia falling to communism. The military-industrialists in the U.S. began licking their chops. War was looking more and more inevitable, with the U.S. playing a greater and greater role. LBJ and the Pentagon concocted a story that was untrue about an American naval ship being fired on by North Vietnam. The lies and build-up began. And more and more American military were sent to Vietnam, many to die there.
At first the general public here was supportive of the war. As casualties mounted and it became evident that we had been lied to by President LBJ and the American generals in Vietnam, public opinion began to change. Young people, exposed to the military draft, began to protest this mistake. When the U.S. was about to extend the war into Cambodia, anti-war sentiment heightened. Crowds gathered in protest, often on college campuses. Kent State University was no different, except in the way that the right-wing reacted. The governor of Ohio was an extreme right-winger with hopes of serving in the U.S. Senate. He regularly announced his criticism of the student protests. He would have none of that stuff in his state!
A rally was planned by students and staff at Kent State. The governor called out the National Guard. As events developed, the students gathered in a low area on campus and the Guard amassed on a hill or ridge above them. The students were over 100 yards away from the Guard troops. The troops got in formation, and it appears they were ordered to fire on the students below them. Over 60 shots were fired from M-1 rifles. Among the injured students, four died. There was shock and immediate reaction nationwide. Nothing indicated the students did anything worse than shout out comments. There was certainly no immedicate danger to the well-armed troops. The students were unarmed and over 100 yards away!
The thought of American troops with powerful M-1 rifles firing on unarmed American students is amazing. When you bring together a right-wing governor stirring up emotions, armed National Guard troops, cries of law and order rampant, frustration and failure in Vietnam, a divided nation over the war, expanding an already immoral war into another innocent nation, a military-industrial complex getting rich on the war and controlling too much of the media, lies by the White House and the Pentagon, etc., it sets things up for what happened that fateful day in Kent, Ohio. My personal opinion would add that there is often hate-filled crticism and law-and-order rhetoric by right-wingers against college students, and this can foment more anger and killing. Adding to this grave tragedy is that it all came about by lies and submitting to military-industrial capitalism...greed capitalism.
After the U.S. left Vietnam, nothing like the "domino theory" came to be true. Today Southeast Asia has some thriving democratic states. In fact, Singapore has become an extremely successful capitalist state. And Vietnam? Today Vietnam welcomes American tourists, including many former American troops who fought there in the 1960s and 1970s. Vietnam, like China, is taking on more and more of a market economy.
Did we learn anything from this experience in Vietnam? Apparently not. We still have ranting right-wingers looking for wars to fight to benefit the U.S. military corporations. We carried out an unprovoked attack on Iraq. We are still a very divided nation. When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?