The biggest difference now between the aggressive student anti-war activism of 35 years ago that led to confrontations between student protesters and the “establishment,” including the tragic shooting of four students — Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer — by the National Guard at Kent State? The draft.
Not only was the Vietnam War unpopular for reasons of philosophy, practicality, and sociology, but especially due to compulsion: “Why are we in a country halfway across the world that has no direct bearing on our own security, defending a people that doesn’t want to be defended and doesn’t appreciate our presence [sound familiar so far?], and FORCING us to fight and die for a cause we neither understand nor believe in?” The final clause explains the quantum difference between the attitude of today’s college students toward the war in Iraq and the mass anti-war movement against Vietnam of 30-40 years ago: with an all-volunteer military, no one has to fight who doesn’t want to.
This is why, barring world war or invasion of American soil, we will not see a draft again: Americans do not want the kind of intergenerational conflict that the compulsion of the draft and an unpopular war engender.
The Plain Dealer’s Brian Albrecht took a stroll around campus to survey the current mood at Kent – some of his findings:
…Recently sunning on a blanket not far from where Jeffrey Miller was shot in the face, KSU freshmen Wendy Smith and Kim Moody, both 19 and from Brunswick, had mixed feelings about the war. The United States should be defending itself against terrorists, they said. They’re not happy about how that effort is progressing in Iraq, but not enough to join a protest rally.
…”The difference between campus war concern, then and now, is “pretty much night and day,” according to Thomas Hensley, professor-emeritus of political science who was teaching at KSU 35 years ago … “That isn’t to say there aren’t students who have serious questions and concerns about the war,” he added. “But I haven’t seen anywhere near the intensity of activity, the same sense of urgency and personal involvement.”
…Anti-war activism still occasionally surfaces, including a clash with police following the May 4 commemoration in 2003, not long after America invaded Iraq, resulting in 13 arrests. Tim Mayer, a member of the Kent State Anti-War Committee that organized the 2003 rally, said only about 150 marchers participated, even after thousands of announcement fliers were distributed on campus. Mayer, 21, said KSAWC folded that fall when just a handful of people attended the semester’s first meeting, and nobody was sure what to do next. “It was really sad,” the KSU senior, from Mentor, recalled.
…”Who would’ve thought that here at Kent State we’d have a hard time getting students to participate?” said Amanda John, 20, a junior from Berea. “I don’t think anybody really wants to talk about it [the war] on a day-to-day basis because it just bums them out.”
…”It’s a huge tragedy. There’s certainly nothing in this conflict that’s worth all the human life being lost,” Airhart said. “But it seems college students nowadays could really care less about Iraq. They’re just sort-of oblivious. When they see it on the news, it’s almost like they’re watching a movie.”
…Surrounded by the green carpet of 58,175 daffodils planted to symbolize America’s losses in Vietnam, Straub said she visits the memorial on nice days, to enjoy the quiet solitude and peaceful surroundings that have endured beyond the days of shouting and shooting. Perhaps, she agreed, after 35 years that’s the way it should be.
There is also a double-CD package available called, descriptively enough, May 4 Task Force Scholarship Fund Commemoration CD, proceeds of which go directly to the Student Activism Scholarship that is awarded annually to a Kent State student – lots of good regional and international artists have participated.
See Thrasher’s view of May 4 and Neil Young’s song “Ohio” here.