An Important Memorium

I do apologize for the seeming irrelevance of this post to the literary world as well as those who are from other countries than the US, but upon occasion I feel the need to address specific issues of Americana – be they past or present.  Today is such a day.

Forty years ago today four people were killed and nine were wounded at a protest on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio by National Guardsmen.  Perhaps some are too young to recall this in memory or even possibly never were taught it.  In the day and age of news reports regarding rogue and ill individuals bearing a weapon and shooting up their schools, too often it is missed that others have been shot at a school, and those doing the shooting were part of our government.  They signed up to protect other citizens from harm and were then called out to a massive protest amid a very tumultuous environment that had the mayor calling for a state of emergency.

I will not defend the actions of people setting fire to an abandoned and scheduled to be demolished building, the rioting that occurred on the evening of May third, nor the actions of those protesters angry enough to throw rocks (although with the tear gas I can not completely blame them either) at the Guard, nor will you see me saying I don’t understand the fear some individuals might have experienced having not been trained in dealing with a crowd such as this behemoth protest.  What I will say is action always comes down to the individual.  Some individuals, possibly due to training – possibly simply their nature, are more capable of handling high stress situations such as the one at Kent State.  Others, regardless of training, will not handle it well or reasonably.  This dispels a myth that somehow people in power, people trained (etc), are somehow better and actually more capable of rising above a knee jerk response.  It is a great disservice to humanity to marginalize the power of the individual, to allow that person to be negated through utilization of a group and subsequent generalizations.

Those individuals in the National Guard were just that – individuals who wore a uniform for a reason they believed in (the draft, I believe, had just been started as we expanded the war into Cambodia and subsequently the Guard at that time was voluntary).  When we trust an entity we are forced into trusting all the individuals that comprise the entity, that indeed shape it – for the entity does not exist separately from the people.  To have faith in a human being is something we should forever decide upon an individual basis and not something we should have in one person then generalize to a mass.  Surely some people in the National Guard at Kent State on May 4, 1970 did not fire their weapons just as surely as some did.  Those who did not should not be subject to a mass ruling of guilt, for the tragedy rests upon those who did – not anyone else.  We may never know what truly happened on that tragic day, but we should all take this opportunity to look upon it and ask ourselves:  Did the government we trust ever charge or reprimand anyone involved in this?  Why not?  Do they, then, deserve our faith?  Our trust?

I appreciate your willingness to read this special post and hope you can bring yourself to watch the below video and remember those who died at the hands of people who were part of an entity that so many have faith in.

As an aside:  There are many men and women in the military who I have come to know and respect.  This is not to be interpreted as a lambasting of the military at large, but a call to the people in this country to think, to evaluate and then consider the very premise upon which many of us live our lives.  Admittedly, the shootings at Kent State is part of my life’s tapestry as my mother was in class at the university when they occurred.  I don’t recall a time in my life past the age of 10 in which my mother did not make some mention of it – usually on May 4 of what ever year.  Perhaps it is this knowledge that has imparted upon me a sense of cynicism when it came to institutional faith and an impassioned stance we further separate ourselves as people from the catastrophe that is group think.

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9 responses to “An Important Memorium

  • Jan

    I think that day for me was a turning point –and I was not there. It made me question all previous assumptions about government and what made it good, or right. It also made me question how far individuals should go to protest and made me aware of what can happen with a mob of any sort, be they students, soldiers, what-ever.
    I remember that as a heady time when most people I knew believed we could do anything if only we put our minds and hearts to it. Kent State somehow changed that. It made this government something to be feared instead of respected. It appears to me, as I reflect on this day, that I began to notice how our government has not behaved well in regards to individual’s rights to life. I know that no government is perfect in this regard but I thought ours had been established with a mandate.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jan – Mob mentality is something to indeed be afraid of. Unfortunately the mob can take the form of any group of individuals that turns over their identity to the “group”. It negates culpability and responsibility making a person more brave and inclined to act out than if they were on their own. Many good things have come from protests, just as this and many other instances have shown us how incredibly tragic they can be. But the tragedy, it seems to me, is what most often occurs when the words, the message and the anger are not heeded or listened to but smited. Thank you for sharing, Jan. I agree with your assessment completely about the concerns regarding the nullification of the individual; the seeming levity in which said individuals’ rights are taken and given over to groups, demographics.

  • Joanne

    What a tumultous time, and such a tragedy. I really commend the youth of that era for their amazing way of coming together and rising up in protest against the issues of the day. That type of young cohesiveness just isn’t seen today.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Joanne- I whole heartedly agree with you. When driving back from Ohio with my father a little over a week ago he said to me: “Back then there was anger and passion. I look around today at all that is happening and I ask: Where is the passion in this generation?” It pains me that question can even be asked never mind the sad truth that many have grown entrenched in cynicism and apathy and long forgotten the history that led to the formation of our country, that led to the nullification of segregation as a viable way of life.

  • laurelrainsnow

    I was a college student at the time, and since the violence was toward other college students, it became very personal to me and my friends. I had been on the fence then about whether or not I wanted to actively protest the things I saw that seemed wrong…and that day was a turning point.

    Initially, we set up tents in the quad outside the student union and called it Strike City. We took some moments in time to protest in our own way and to remember those who had died.

    Things were never the same for me after that. I even incorporated some of these events into a fictionalized account of what had transpired and what came afterwards in my novel Miles to Go.

    The video was chilling and transported me right back to that time…

    • kimberlyloomis

      Laurel – Thank you so much for sharing. It’s good to know you were able to utilize such trauma and upset in such a creative way perhaps aiding in people’s understanding and maybe even motivating them, too. I think it’s important that in this day and age of media saturation and bombardment that we encourage thought and historical recollections as much as possible.

  • Jan

    One of the organizer’s of the protest at Kent State now teaches at CCSU in New Britain. Tonight he is holding a memorial at 8:30pm at the cafeteria on campus. I will be there.

  • Jemi Fraser

    We had to choose a moment in history to spotlight in a research essay in high school. I chose this moment from a list without knowing a thing about it. I was incredibly moved and horrified by what I learned. It was definitely the most passionate essay I’ve ever written. Such a tragedy.

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