Dead in Ohio: Some thoughts, 40 years later

"On May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a busy college campus during a school day. A total of 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds. Four students: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer were killed. Nine students were wounded." may4.org

On a warm spring night 40 years ago, my friend Dave and I sat in his car overlooking a college campus in our hometown. Clear to our view was a large banner stretched across a campus street reading "To a Guardsman it's a Kent," a takeoff on a cigarette slogan that was now an ironic statement on the tragic shooting at Kent State the previous week.

The shooting at Kent State, by under-trained, over-armed, badly commanded Ohio National Guardsmen had taken the lives of four college students and further galvanized the youthful population against the war in Viet Nam and the military-industrial complex that seemed to support it. Soon after, colleges across the country, including Syracuse University, went on strike and many closed early to avoid further unrest.

Dave and I sat there -- each 23-years-old and pondering the future, the present, and the events of the week that had just passed. Our demographic circumstances may have mirrored most of the population except for a particularly interesting irony. Not only was I a graduate student at Syracuse University, but I was also a member of the New York State National Guard. Dave was a graduate of Cornell University and in the process of a courageous, and eventually successful, refusal to take that "one step forward" that precedes the United States Army's swearing-in ceremony. I had said "yes" when given the opportunity to avoid the draft by joining the National Guard, and Dave had simply said "no" to the draft board.

And, regardless of our particular position, we were pondering the whole thing, neither with much of substance to contribute, since no one really understands history when you are in the middle of it, and we were definitely in the middle of it. I came to understand years later, that something isn't history until someone writes it down and reflects on it from some future date. Current news reports do not constitute history, because they are simply information. It seems to become history when sufficient time has passed for enough books to be written that are considered worthy of labeled history books.

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