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Monday, May 4, 2009

Reflections on the Kent State massacre

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2009 at 12:35 PM


Today marks the 39th anniversary of the Kent State massacre, when National Guard troops fired on a large crowd of students who were demonstrating against Nixon's invasion of Cambodia. Those killings in Ohio helped shape the attitudes, politics and history of my generation, and so it seems frankly strange that so little public notice is given to the anniversary of Kent State, or to its aftermath on American college campuses. Oh, once a year, the press drags out the photo of the young woman on her knees crying next to a dead student, but that's pretty much it. We Americans aren't exactly known for caring deeply about our own history, but regardless of our national amnesia, it's a simple fact that May 1970 was a turbulent, chaotic time that scared hell out of the established order.

The year 1968 had been a rough one, as has been widely written about, but for sheer, keening rage, May 1970 was unlike anything since the Civil War. Within two weeks of Nixon's invasion, and 10 days after Kent State, nearly 500 American colleges were brought to a halt by student strikes, and serious violence rocked hundreds of American campuses. For a couple of weeks, students throwing bricks at cops, busting windows, fire-bombing ROTC buildings, and rolling police cars — along with heavily armed authorities launching tear gas and breaking heads open — were primary preoccupations at this country's centers of higher learning. A dizzying feeling that we were in the middle of a national emergency, that things were teetering on the edge, was in the very air we breathed. And then something very lucky happened for the college administrators and government authorities: the school year ended. Kids went home to parents and summer jobs, and the tide of rage receded. OK, that's it, class. Have a nice spring day.

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