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?