Sunday, May 5, 2019

13 Seconds, 13 Casualties

     Remember when scenes such as these were common, when righteous indignation was in the majority? Are you even old enough? I am.
     This was the scene 49 years ago today at Charlottesville on May 5, 1970, the day after the Kent State Massacre. The students in Charlottesville staged a strike in solidarity with their brethren in Kent State, especially the four students who were killed when National Guard troops indiscriminately fired into a large crowd of protesters.
     The Kent State Massacre would instantly achieve fame and efficacy equal to that of the Boston Massacre that had happened almost exactly 200 years before to the day that claimed five lives. And, as with the case of the British soldiers charged with murdering five colonists, the four Guardmen charged with firing into the crowd of students in Ohio were acquitted and they didn't even need John Adams to defend them.
     Yes, indeed, facts are stubborn things, although nowadays in the alternative facts age of Trump, facts seem a little more willing to yield than they used to be. In John Adams' day, facts were denied, spun, whitewashed, twisted and ignored just as they are today. But they still prevailed.
     Nowadays, they tire easily, are too overwhelmed too quickly, beaten into exhausted submission too easily and we squint suspiciously at their very veracity by dismissing inconvenient facts as "fake news" like a certain fake president who pops into the White House once in a while between rounds of golf at Mar-a-Lago.
     Kent State may well have been what Alan Moore had in mind when in V For Vendetta he had Inspector Finch rhetorically ask, "What usually happens when people without guns stand up to people with guns?" This was the case in Kent State Ohio on May 4, 1970. Nixon, then still a new president not even a year and a half into his first term, had announced he was expanding the Vietnam War into Cambodia.
     Students all over the country protested Nixon's horrible decision. The extended police action, America's second-longest military campaign, had started to sour on the American people around the mid 60's during Johnson's administration. There was the lie of the Gulf of Tonkin in August '64 that Johnson used as an excuse to ramp up the war, then there was the ill-fated Tet offensive in early 1968. And by that time, the war was lost. Walter Cronkite said so. Johnson lost Cronkite hence Middle America.
     So Nixon's decision to expand the war into Cambodia was one of the worst decisions ever made in the Oval Office and at the worst time, when protests against the war reached a fever pitch at places such as Berkeley and Kent State, universities in which higher learning was almost an afterthought and the schools' names becoming synonymous with political protest.
     Kent State was stronger than perhaps most in its own protest of Nixon's plans for Cambodia. On May 2nd, students had burned the ROTC building to the ground. The Governor of Ohio and the Mayor of Kent called on the White House to send National Guard troops and Nixon, as we now know thanks to Neil Young and others, happily obliged with his tin soldiers.
     By May 4th, the common area on and around Blanket Hill was teeming with protesters. The National Guard fired and threw tear gas canisters into the crowd and they threw them back. Finally, at 12:24 PM, giving up on the tear gas, they opened fire.

     In 13 seconds and with approximately 67 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition, the Ohio National Guard had inflicted 13 casualties. Four of them were fatalities: Jeffrey Miller (pictured seconds after he was shot through the mouth), Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Lee Scheuer. All four were students in good standing with Kent State and Schroeder and Scheuer weren't even actively protesting. That comes out to approximately 5 rounds per second into a mostly peaceful and unarmed crowd.
     John Filo, a photography student at Kent State, was, one could say, in the right place at the right time, when he snapped that picture of Miller's bleeding body with his new friend, Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14 year-old runaway from Florida, crying out in agony and disbelief. It's one of the most famous photographs in human history, justly winning a Pulitzer Prize, and is credited with, more than any other, shaping public perception of the Vietnam War and making people see it from the side of the students.
     It's a strange photograph, in a way. After all, Miller's body is in plain view, his blood just beginning to stream across the tarmac in the parking lot. Vecchio seems to be the only one cognizant of the horror and danger, as evidenced by her very expression and body language. The other students in the picture seem to be calmly walking around the boy's body and the outraged Vecchio, milling about as casually as the Ploughman in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's famous, "Landscape of the Fall of Icarus" as Icarus's legs are about to slip beneath the water.
     That's because they had no idea what was happening. They had believed the National Guard would never fire on them and that even if they would, they would fire rubber mercy bullets, not live .30 caliber rounds that had dented and penetrated a famous sculpture on the campus.
     As with the Boston Massacre, it was over in seconds before anyone had any idea, yet alone a clear one, what was happening. In 13 seconds, American history had changed.
     The year after next, that President, already steeped in high crimes and misdemeanors even had Kent State never occurred, won re-election by the most lopsided of margins in American history.
     By the mid 70's, the four National Guardsmen charged with the shootings got off scot free.
     The bad guys won. Just as Lt. Calley had and all the men who took part in the My Lai massacre.
     47 years later, at that very same Charlottesville, neo nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists and assorted right wing thugs ginned up enough fake outrage over the statue of Robert E. Lee to stage a two day orgy of hate that cost a young woman, Heather Heyer, her life.
     Unlike the Kent State victims, Heyer's memory was smeared and she, not the scum who'd run her over with his car, was labeled as a troublemaker who deserved what she got. A protester to the hate rally was beaten up by several white nationalists in a parking garage directly next door to the Charlottesville police department yet it took months to arrest those responsible.
     Meanwhile, America was treated to the sight of the first "president", for want of a better word, in American history to side with the KKK, Nazis and white nationalists, even going as far as to call them, "very fine people."
     To look at the footage shot by news crews and ordinary people on cell phones, it seemed the alt-right, as the goon squads were repackaged and sold to the public, far outnumbered the actual protesters who were called "counterprotesters" by the always incompetent mainstream media. With their Pier One tiki torches and constant screaming of "Blood and Soil!" and "Jews will not replace us!", they sucked all the oxygen out of Charlottesville and, consequently, America.
     And, for a while, the bad guys won, only with no Mary Ann Vecchio to remind us of our moral responsibilities, no dead body plastered on the cover of Newsweek and all over the nation. We never even saw Heather Heyer's body or were reminded in any tangible way of how much to the far right our sensibilities and moral compass has been wrenched since Nixon's tin soldiers at Kent State.


At June 5, 2019 at 10:43 AM, Blogger Ed said...

"The measure of the state's success is that the word anarchy frightens people, while the word state does not." - Joseph Sobran

At June 5, 2019 at 12:42 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

"What usually happens when people without guns stand up to people with guns?"

As an owner of firearms, I get nervous just how much people want to bring this to fruition for everybody, regardless of any of 2nd Amendment protections.

At June 5, 2019 at 12:42 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

Exceptionally astute quote.

At June 5, 2019 at 3:24 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

I didn't eve known I got linked on Crooks and Liars until now.

At June 6, 2019 at 12:25 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

Good to see you in circulation JP.

At June 6, 2019 at 12:36 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

I've been doing this for 14 1/2 years, Lance. I never went anywhere.


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