Today is the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam-era killing of students at Kent Statewho were protesting an escalation of the war into Cambodia. The situation built on campus for days, both students and National Guard troops tense. How the situation reached a crisis point is still debated, but when it was over some 77 troops claimed to have fired at the students. Two students were killed and four wounded.
As I think back to that time, listening to Neil Young's anti-war anthem, "Ohio" which was inspired by the shooting, I have to remain amazed that more isn't underway now to take seriously the plurality opinion against our eight-year-long war in Afghanistan and a seven year one in Iraq. Sure, we're withdrawing from Iraq - slowly - and neither conflict is of the nature of the Vietnam War and the U.S.'s last ditch stand against the somewhat illusory specter of encroaching communism.
Admittedly, the 9-11 attacks on NYC have struck closer to home than did any event of the Vietnam war itself. And admittedly, we live in a different era. Today's young are, for the most part, less idealistic, more pragmatic, less inclined to tilt at windmills than the youth of the 'seventies. And I've been wondering why this is so.
It's easy - and not a little cynical - to lay it on the lack of a military draft today. No one goes to war these days, except by his or her own hand. And certainly the drug problems, the racial strife that largely went unnoticed in the news of the 'seventies' reporting of the Vietnam War are problems the military doesn't want again. They have their hands full saying yes to every impossible demand the political powers make of them, with juggling mercenaries, unaccountable to the military's Uniform Code of Military Justice, in doing much of the military's work - and being paid at rates ten times higher, to boot.
Part of the answer here is wholesale selfishness on the part of virtually all of us. "Let them fight the wars if they want to," our cynics say, looking down our noses at the hyper-patriotic, the poor who can't find jobs anywhere other than the military. The politically naive, who let demagogues such as Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the talking heads at FOX, wave a few flags, sing a few songs, and lead them off the cliff that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, Rove, Feith, and others chose not to teeter on themselves. Let's all be reminded that, here in the US of A, we're all one messy melting pot, each of us inseparable from all others, in the end.
Think about it: if your little brother, or baby sister, was being led into drugs, talked into quitting school, or attacked on the street, wouldn't you run to help them? Please tell me you would. Still, pride and ego forbid us from agreeing with even an iota of the perspective of others. And those tainted emotions hide behind a single trait: selfishness. In another time, most of us would run to fight a war we disagree with - or man up and go to jail to end it - all out of compassion for those who took up arms for whatever reason. Such a sad age.
And the tandem to this selfishness is the dark side of capitalism's arguable success in creating a safer, more prosperous world. We're free to pursue whatever we aspire to. We have choices - perhaps too many, I'll admit. But we shun education and understanding for more success, another car, a bigger home, a grab at the fickle wheel of fame. Education is no longer a tool to help us learn to think, critically and discriminatingly. It's job training. More dollars, more doors open to even more doors. It's addiction, compulsion that we crave. We no longer understand as our parents and grandparents did, the dignity, the benefits of sacrifice, not just for self or family, but for society, for the world at large.
If we think of anything relating to May 4, 1970, let's think of the fear - of both the students and the troops - that led to the sadness of that day. But while we're at it, let's stop for a minute to think of what each of us might be willing to do personally to never allow the forces that led to those killings to ever happen again. We're quickly coming to a time of reckoning for our failure to think of things in this way. I can only hope that - tomorrow and tomorrow - whenever we hear the words "Kent State," we feel resolve, hope for the future, and are willing to act on those feelings to create a better world.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.