I had a nice, if disquieting experience this past Sunday. As I reported in my last blog entry, I had read in the San Francisco Chronicle, this past week, that events which have haunted my past were re-entering my present life once more. During the latter portion of my attendance at Kent State University from 1949 to 1953, then after my volunteered Army Service during the Korean Emergency, in 1955 to 1958 doing graduate work there on the G.I Bill, I had become involved in starting a Daddaist guerilla theater group, The Macedoneans, which for want of a better description, in that surprisingly primitive time in Darkest Northeastern Ohio, was dedicated to Civil Rights and righting social wrongs at the University and in the town of Kent. Later, from among this group arose Carl Oglesby and Don Thompson, who after going to Michigan, were founding catalytic players in the Students for a Democratic Society. The SDS, as it was known popularly, became famous in America, and around the World by the late 1960's, for opposing the Vietnam War, using the methods of "passive resistance." Oglesby was elected President of the SDS and gave a memorable speech before 25,000 citizens in Washington. But passive resistance can be slow in achieving its ends, and in 1969, Oglesby was ousted, the organization split, and one segment morphed into the guerilla theater Yippies, and the other into the increasingly militant Weathermen Movement -- with a large number of former members of the parent SDS just scattering to other lives and preoccupations. This development, ironically, may have spooked the paranoid Nixon Administration even more than it tended to be beforehand, and my belief is that sometime early in 1970, President Nixon, having made a decision to publicly expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia, brought the Governors of several States and their National Guard Commanders together in Washington. One of the States represented would have been Ohio, and Republican Governor James Rhodes, preparing to run for the U.S. Senate, would have taken with him General Robert Canterbury, his National Guard Commander. The decision, if I'm correct, was to crush the Student Protest Movement in the run-up to an invasion of Cambodia, using disparagement, and if deemed necessary, a brutal crack-down. In the days immediately before our invasion, President Nixon referred to student protesters as "bums," and Governor Rhodes, making a campaign stop in Kent on the very weekend of the Kent shootings, compared peaceful demonstrators on Kent and other campuses to Nazi Brownshirts and Storm Troopers. That early May of 1970, then, the President's new policy bore strange and bitter fruit at Kent State University and the Black Jackson State University in Mississippi, when National Guardsmen and State Police killed or wounded a couple of dozen students. The public remembered the four unarmed white students murdered at Kent on May 4, 1970, and the student protest movement was literally "shut down" along with 232 schools closed in subsequent months, though the action neither saved the President's war nor his Presidency. One of the students killed at Kent was a 19 year-old honors student named Allison Krause. Her father and mother, Arthur and Doris Krause, pursued the Guardsmen, local and state police, Governor Rhodes and Guard Commandant General Canterbury (in direct command, on the spot, at Kent, May 4th) through the courts, and by other means, for decades. At a cost of millions of dollars, all told, they received a formal apology (and a conventionally whittled down cash award of $15,000) from those involved, though no one ever went to criminal trial for the deaths of the slain or the others wounded and crippled. Kent State University and the town of Kent maintained an ambivalent stand about the massacre in the years following. The University President and the Mayor of Kent, who might have prevented the carnage by opposition to bringing armed troops and heavy armor onto the scene, instead lost their nerve, confidence, and humanity. They and their successors made tentative, ambivalent gestures in following decades, finally turning the killing ground into a memorial park, and holding commemorations of the tragedy there at suitable intervals. This year, "The 40th Anniversary of Kent State," Laurel Krause and her mother, Doris, decided to launch "The Kent State Truth Tribunal," at which anyone might participate who had an experience or an interest in the subject, now that massacres and genocides, especially American ones, are beginning to weigh like a water torture on the American mind. With the help of documentarian Emily Kunstler, daughter of the great Civil Rights attorney, William Kunstler, they came to Kent and recorded dozens of "testimonials" of people who were on the scene or had knowledge of the incident at Kent State. They then moved out to San Francisco this past week, where an amazing number of those present at Kent that sunny day 40 years ago have migrated. Then, it will be on to New York City for more interviews in October. And a big Media roll out . . . but Ms. Krause did not seem hopeful about that. Because of my experience with forming The Macedoneans, knowing SDS figures Carl Oglesby and Don Thompson, and having gone back to Kent the summer of the year after the massacre, I followed directions in the San Francisco Chronicle as to how to testify. My tentative assumption was that the Tribunal would not want to waste their time on someone who was not in Kent on the fatal days, but Laurel Krause called me up, and we had a twenty minute talk. She was aware of Carl Oglesby, of course, but she had not known that he attended Kent -- twice, in fact. Nor about the Macedoneans. Nor that Carl had lived in an apartment above Sam's Pizza Shop on Water Street, where the first confrontation of students (or were they mostly Hell's Angels-types?) had occurred with Kent Police. Nor even that the SDS Headquarters for Kent in the Spring of 1970 was in an old Victorian mansion with a mansard roof on a hill above the Telephone Company, where the Macedoneans Carl Oglesby and his wife Beth, Macedonean Poet Paul Zimmer and his wife Susan, or Professors of English Bill and Ann Hildebrand (once distantly attached to The Macedoneans, but never card-carrying members) had resided at one time or another. [The idea that the house provided the model for the Bates Family home above their motel in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO may be an urban legend, but James Mitchener repeated the reference in his book about the Kent tragedy.] Laurel asked me to find Carl Oglesby, who recently wrote a memoir of his odyssey in the SDS, Ravens in the Storm. I promised I would, and I did. And Sunday morning, at 9 a.m., I went to the Kent State Truth Tribunal studio in San Francisco. Laurel Krause was very kind -- quite a beautiful woman of 55, a physical therapist, in her other life. [She helped me gasp my way up three flights of stairs to the studio, which was on Green Street, in an old warehouse, down by the docks of the Bay.] After paper work, legal releases, giving them Carl Oglesby's address and phone number, etc, a tall, pretty intern named Stacy miked me up, and Emily Kunstler, an attractive, very sharp young woman of about 30 years-old, perhaps five months pregnant, interviewed me. A somewhat older man, I take it her husband, photographed the proceedings.
As I feared, I made a fool of myself, forgetting much of what I wanted to say, and adding stuff from the top of my head. Ms. Kunstler was most indulgent -- probably in her mind, to a fault.
Because a number of the surviving Macedoneans I got in touch with never told me how to present themselves, and I'd forgotten what the hell Macedonean guys and gals told me they actually did over the May 4, 1970, weekend, wherever they were, I kept them vague in my fractured narrative. And so, I found myself rambling on to fill the time, gently being put back on topic only once by the sensitive Ms. Kunstler.
Also, seeing myself filmed for the first time, I realized that 1) I'm growing to look and act like Orson Welles in later years (but without his wonderful voice); and 2) I really have to do something about a missing tooth in my false uppers, which makes me look like the village idiot.
Nevertheless, you might find some interest in seeing and hearing Macresarf1 discuss a truly traumatic day in Modern American History. Really, many of the other testimonials -- over 75 appear to have been recorded so far -- are genuinely moving. And each of the rest have certain matters of interest. I'm impressed with how differently people age, how they have managed their memories. With the exception of one or two old establishment toadies, many witnesses think that there is at least a possible case that the Friday night confrontation was staged (Teamsters, motorcycle gangs); that the old wooden, condemned ROTC building (where I used to go to class, and the type of building I slept in at Fort Knox) was professionally torched; and that an order to "fire on my command" was given sometime on that deadly Monday, May 4, 1970. Recently, in a Kent State Library archive (possibly set up by old Macedonean liaison, KSU Special Collections Librarian Dr. Dean Keller), an audio tape has been found and enhanced, on which a clear if curious (for anyone ever in the Army) command to fire on the students can be heard.
All the Kent and the San Francisco "testimonials" are now archived at<< http://www.ustream.tv/user/ekunstler/videos>>(93 presentations in twelve panels), and so you may dip into them, if you wish, and as you wish. A number of them are quite interesting, as I've said, and a few most moving, indeed, after forty years, amazingly so. Of those I've watched so far, I particularly liked the student photographer who took the famous pictures of the massed trooper volleys and dying young students (he lives out here now). Then, there is one of my Kent Faculty friends' former colleagues, a feisty Pan-African Studies professor. She looks as if she might be one of my Tenderloin Irish drinking companions of better days, and my impression is that this lady takes no bleep from anyone. And I was taken by the sad eyes of a Kent French professor of the time, who ruefully observes that of 1,800 total employees at Kent State, aside from the Campus Cops, groundskeepers, etc, only a handful Kent Professors present that day were on the scene; only a few came out of their classrooms and offices to argue with the military mad men who shot down many students demonstrating their First Amendment Rights, and who threatened to mow down more if the professors didn't shut up! Only a few professors went out to be with their dying and wounded students. In many ways, whatever else it was, the murders at Kent State University on Monday, May 4, 1970, was the end of admiration for the Liberal Arts Education in America, which had been a subject of envy and puzzlement in the World. We now rank 12th for college graduates among Developed Countries.
The interviews last from about fifteen to forty minutes apiece. Mine was about 25. Thus, you can dip into a few at a time, as I have been doing. Be careful, for even an uninvolved American may become a truth-seeking obsessive when learning of young National Guardsman being ordered to "Stop! Point! Shoot" their M-1s at equally young but unarmed students in the bright sun of noon, back when the United States was still claiming "to win Hearts and Minds" in Vietnam, and to be an example to the World; but in America, "not so much," as we say today.
And afterward, after my moment on camera, after my moment as a STAR, my Epinionator and scriptwriter pal, Wayne K. Mathias, took me for a splendid lunch, two blocks down Green Street, almost on the Embarcadero, at il Fornaio, a sumptuous Italian place specializing in dishes baked deep in large wood-fired ovens. I reflected on what one witness said about about how, years after the terrible event, she became irritated watching her 16 year-old son ignore the program while chatting up some coeds on "The Kent Commons" at a May 4th commemoration, on a sunny afternoon. How she then realized that Allison Krause would have loved to watch her son pay absolutely no attention to an unctuous, insincere speaker, in order to make time with a pretty girl. I thought of the countless young American men and women who will not be having grand lunches, laughing with friends; not in my generation, not in a generation before mine, not in a generation after mine, not in the new generation to come, because they have been sent to far places to slaughter other young men and women, to be slaughtered by them, for oil . . . for power . . . for lies.
Causes Alex Fraser Supports