Home / Staring Down the Demon of Kent State

Staring Down the Demon of Kent State

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

warning shots are fired at the stomach chest wound
coed falls amped out, amped out, amped out, amped out
changing guns for brooms the guards change to clean-up crews.
— Skinny Puppy, "Tin Omen"

So we just passed the 40th anniversary of the shooting at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. I’ll assume most of you know the story, so I’ll spare you the details, enough to say it was a pretty dark moment in our nation’s history.

Perhaps I make too much of things sometimes, but the whole Kent State thing has always bugged me for a very particular reason – I was a member of the Ohio Army National Guard. Of course not when the whole incident went down — I wasn’t even born yet — but still, wearing that uniform, traveling the state, that impression always left an indelible mark on my thinking and interacting with the community.

I’ve often thought about those Guardsmen — 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

I try and get in the head of the Guardsmen who fired those rounds — what were they thinking, what could have pushed them to open fire on a bunch of student protesters? I’ve been in some pretty hairy situations where a cool head was demanded but a slip here or a slip there and it could have gone either way.

I was once watched a particularly cool-mo-de Army psy-ops corporal diffuse a near massacre in Iraq by walking up to the leader of the riot, pulling a cigarette out of the man’s breast pocket, slowly drawing it to his lips, and asking the guy, in perfect Arabic, for a light. A tense moment passed between the two before the sheik reached into his shirt and lit the cigarette. “What can we do for you?” the young corporal asked and the situation immediately began to simmer down.

When I say it could have gone bad, I mean really bad. We were on patrol in a particularly tough neighborhood of the Taji area and when we went out there, we went heavy. So not only was this group of angry, seemingly unarmed group of Iraqis surrounded by all calibers of rifles but a large group of 1st Cav troopers already anxious from previous ambushes, bombs, and fire fights in that particular neighborhood. But it didn’t. I don’t think we turned any sort of a corner that day in Taramiyah, but I do know that for at least one sheik of the neighborhood that corporal left an entirely different image of the U.S. military than what he was accustomed to.

So back to Kent. If I had had to draw my weapon and engage that day in Taramiyah I no doubt would have. These were potential enemy combatants, in a hostile zone, in an aggressive stance. But what about those students? Could I have drawn my weapon on them and fired if given the order? I really don’t know. Fact, I’m pretty sure, given my predilections, I would have denied that order and faced the hell-storm that would have surely followed.

I’ll be the first one to admit that so far removed from the situation I have no real idea of what exactly transpired. I doubt that anyone ever will. I do know that on the surface, those students were engaging in their constitutionally protected right to redress and protest the government. They weren’t the enemy, we weren’t on foreign soil. Why?

Powered by

About Mr. B

  • The official line was a “self defense” claim by the guardsmen. As I recently wrote in a piece here on BC, what were they worried about? Being hit with textbooks?

    It boggles the mind after all these years, but obviously there will never be any answers (or justice). The thing we can learn from it is the real danger of a police state: a thing we only thought could happen elsewhere but happened here.

  • Benjamin

    Hi Victor,

    I read your piece — damn good. I never really bought the self-defense line, it’s too easy and there was just never enough proof to me. Sad day in our history but what’s sadder has been some of the reaction I’ve got about the piece — “Kent State … what happened there?”

  • Yeah, that’s the problem, Benjamin. It’s off the radar for people, especially the younger ones.

    I was telling my daughter (in 3rd grade) about it, and she heard nothing about it at school, which I figured. When I explained what happened, she cried.

    Thank you for writing this article!

  • Benjamin,

    Really nice piece. What you are too young to even know and what Victor may have been too young to understand (or remember) was that the country was edging towards civil war over an ever-increasing involvement in Indochina. Everything had a sour taste to it, and we kids were out to wipe away the sour flavor of what our elders had left us.

    A lot of the anti-war movement was about that. A lot more was about college kids saving their own asses from a fate they felt was below them, and still a lot more was communists trying to undermine the society they wanted to get rid of.

    The college kids grew up, now a new generation of college kids want to wipe away the mess we old farts have left; but the communists succeeded in undermining a lot of American society.

    There are very few “liberal arts” institutions anymore in the States where freedom to think is taught. Political correctness squelches a lot of debate, forcing it into extreme channels where it ceases to be debate and becomes sensational mudslinging instead. The New Orthodoxy of the New Left is the pathetic legacy of the “Free Speech” movement at Berkeley that broke out in 1964. You missed all that, Ben. But you also missed the terrible disappointment of seeing your idealism turned sour by power-hungry pigs whom you used to look up to.

  • Arch Conservative

    You got that right Ruvy. There is nothing as uniquely intolerant as the modern American “progressive.”

    Our colleges and universities are nothing but indoctrination camps where radical leftist riff raff poison young and impressionable minds with their perverse warped degenerate agenda.

    Kent State is ancient history. Maybe you should tell your daughter what happened at Ruby Ridge and Waco Ben.

  • zingzing

    “Our colleges and universities are nothing but indoctrination camps where radical leftist riff raff poison young and impressionable minds with their perverse warped degenerate agenda.”

    yep. that’s all they are. indoctrination camps. got it. doesn’t sound at all hyperbolic. or at all bullshit.

    funny how you should mention intolerance, then go on a bender about how colleges and universities are nothing but this or that, ignoring all the good those institutions do just because you disagree with the politics you perceive them to hold. not that you haven’t constantly been shown to be wrong every time you bring this up. it’s just that you’re too intolerant and beholden to your misconceptions to even bother to think about it. may your children go to college and get an education.

    “Kent State is ancient history.”

    ah, so… it’s alright then? is it only when you agree with a person’s politics that it’s wrong for the government to shoot and kill them?

  • Benjamin

    Arch Conservative — it’s my son, the comment was made to a young (20 yrs old) women — not related but a friend all the same. And my son (9-yrs old) does know what Waco and Rudy Ridge both were.
    And you can’t possibly mean ALL universities, Bill Ayers may have spoken recently at UW but Ann Coulter is in the hopper so …

  • Waco and Ruby Ridge are also becoming “ancient history” by now, nearly 20 years ago.

    Fortunately, the National Guard hasn’t shot any more unarmed college students [have they?] and despite the quaint “black helicopter” brand of right wing paranoia popular during the Clinton administration, federal agents have generally avoided additional deadly standoffs with gun-worshiping extremists. [Some smart guy finally figured out that these generally lead to, you know, deaths and all.]

    That doesn’t mean it’s “intolerant” to bring up Kent State or Waco. Just stick to the facts, ma’am, and you’ll be fine.

    Archie, having practiced intolerance incessantly for several years now in just about every comment he has posted on this site, can be confidently judged an expert on the subject.

  • no surprise to see Arch taking up for an accused child molester.

  • Stupid is as stupid does EB…

  • Arch Conservative

    I did not say that I thought it was OK that the students at Kent State, only that it was so long ago as to not have any real meaning to an entire generation of young Americans.

    Obviously you know less than nothing about the current state our American colleges and universities zing. I could cite literally thousands of examples of double standards where speech that is not left of center is concerned. If you’re not a liberal leftist on the vast majority of college campuses in this nation and you dare express yourself you are generally subjected to scorn, ridicule and treated unfairly. That is a fact. There is a mountain of evidence to support this fact zing. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

    Oh and while I’m not some aging hippie lamenting Kent State I of course think it was wrong. There are however several important contrasts between Kent State and Ruby Ridge and Waco. The first being that Ruby Ridge and Waco are much more contemporary. Another contrast worth mentioning is that the students at Kent State were in public protesting and behaving unruly whereas the Weaver family was in their own home minding their own damn business as were the branch Davidians.

    But then of course you good lefty moonbats will of course do your part to libel both Weaver and Koresh despite the fact that both men combined have never killed another human being. The same cannot be said for the FBI and ATF agents involved in these two incidents.

    Koresh may have been a wierdo child molester or he may have not been. I wouldn’t be surprised either way but the fact is that one can clearly see from all the evidence that the federal govt was out for blood.

    As for Randy Weaver, he was living in a cabin on a mountain in Idaho bothering no one until the federal govt set him up and murdered his wife. To add insult to injury the govt and it’s media lapdogs prtrayed Weaver as some kind of dangerous white supremacist after the fact.

    Yet leftist whackadoos think nothing of idolizing men like Bill Ayers or Mumia Abu Jamal. Men who actually have blood on their hands. Or Roman Polanski.

    At times it seems like the only thing this world will never run out of is hypocrisy coming from the new American left.