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Lessons of Kent State Still Important 36 Years Later

by Pamela Leavey

Today marks the 36 year anniversary of the incident at Kent State, that is seared in the memories of so many across our country. It’s implications are strong still today, because as we enter into our third year in an unjust war, we see an administration today, that treats dissenters not unlike they were treated in the ’70’s. John Kerry in a poignant speech on April 22, reflected on the “right and responsibility to speak out.”

“I have come here today to reaffirm that it was right to dissent in 1971 from a war that was wrong. And to affirm that it is both a right and an obligation for Americans today to disagree with a President who is wrong, a policy that is wrong, and a war in Iraq that weakens the nation.”

A journalism major at Emerson College, Michael Corcoran, tells us in an OP/ED today, that “Kent State should remind us of what happens when a grossly misguided war divides a country.”

If we can speak candidly and openly about our history and our present — even the worst elements of it — then we can ensure that the lives lost on May 4, 1970, were not in vain.



Corcoran implores the youth of America, to not “ignore the lessons of Kent State.” He says, “The same mindset and failure in leadership that led National Guardsmen to fire at students of the same age and from the same Ohio hometowns is similar to what led US soldiers to torture detainees in Iraq.”

“Consider the similarities,” Corcoran tells us, “In 1970, just as today, we had an unpopular president carrying out an unpopular war for questionable reasons.”

Richard Nixon and George W. Bush embody many of the same divisive characteristics. Bush tells the world: ”You are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Nixon’s public statement after the shootings blamed the students: ”When dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy.”

Again our civil liberties are being threatened. Bush has ordered the wiretapping of US citizens without a warrant and holds detainees indefinitely without trial; Nixon was spying on student activists and what he called ”domestic radicals.”

But, perhaps the most telling comparison is the sharp division within the nation, both then and now. Americans are now, as we were then, split to the core on matters of war and peace, life and death, and cultural values.

Let us not forget the lesson of Kent State, for our children’s futures hang in delicate balance now as they did in the ’70’s. Thirty-six years ago the promising lives of four students were cut short — Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, and Sandy Scheuer.

Yearly, since the tragedy, Kent State students, alumni, and others have met on the anniversary of the shooting to reflect and remember. Alan Canfora, who was shot by the Guard, says, ”The students today act as the conscience of the college, and the country . . . just like the students did in 1970.”

This year’s memorial will come, as the last three have, in the midst of a war that has become increasingly divisive. While the memory of Kent State and other violent clashes from that time between protesters and authorities did not deter the incumbent president from leading the country into another unpopular war, it is important to honor Kent State’s spirit of dissent and what it taught about the bloody consequences of intense division.

3 Responses to “Lessons of Kent State Still Important 36 Years Later”

  1. I blogged about this today too, because I was a first grader in Kent, Ohio in 1970. Thanks for remembering.

  2. Thanks for this posting.

    It is important to remember that the slain and wounded students themselves (and their families)often have been blamed for the events of that day.

    We always should remember that the Ohio National Guard successfully dispersed the demonstrators before they fired on the crowd that day. The protest was over when the National Guard fired. They shot into a crowd that was walking away.

  3. Please see http://kent.state.tripod.com