Par 4 Near the Killing Fields

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Rainy scene from a Vietnamese restaurant on Madison Avenue, Albany, NY. Photo by Howie Lisnoff.

 

Par 4 Near the Killing Fields

Rain pools and flows into east rivers down Madison Avenue in Albany after so many weeks of crackling blue skies and heat. From the window of the Vietnamese restaurant, forty-one years past the mayhem and murder of Southeast Asian children and crimes of grotesque war… They murdered kids at Kent and Jackson, too… They are still killing for power and glory and wealth and God, the kids of Africa and the Middle East and the places between… It does not end… A classic piano solo plays in ever-rising beauty against the gray day as an answer to the madness… It does not work… The sons of bitches have turned this planet into a battlefield for the hell of it. Retirees are golfing near the killing fields.

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The Anti-war Movement Close Up And Personal At Brown Street

The Anti-war Movement Close Up And Personal At Brown Street

October night chill fleeting
Leave-taking hours away
Shadows sweep across
Victorian ceiling
Off Brown
History grinding out
On empty silent streets below.

About this poem. This poem is about leaving for basic training after attending the October 15, 1969 moritorium demonstration against the Vietnam War at the state house in Providence, RI. Thousands gathered on the state house lawn after a procession coming down from College Hill on the East Side of Providence.

Left Out Of The Left

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Published at CounterPunch on July 13, 2015 (in a slightly different version).

Left Out of the Left

An old acquaintance, who fought in the Vietnam War, when the U.S. war there was in its infancy, said “You can take the man [sic] out of the war, but you can’t take the war out of the man.” He demonstrated the latter decades later while he was grilling food at a barbeque in his backyard and had a flashback of a horrific episode in which he was involved in Vietnam when innocent civilians were killed.

I now find myself with a similar feeling so many years later about the political Left in the U.S. It has literally been decades since any serious opposition to the power elite has had significant influence on any policy in this nation (Readers can argue that the success of the gay rights movement in recent years is an exception, but I would argue that the frontal assault on women’s rights might “balance” out those gains). September 2001 was perhaps the nail in the coffin of any meaningful debate about domestic and foreign policy. “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists,” was the way George W. Bush put it as he began the endless wars that continue to this day. The political, economic, and social turf is now split up between the neoconservatives and the neoliberals and those on the Left are in a political desert, exiled. A candidate who opposes war in the U.S. has about as much chance of leading the nation, as does the proverbial snowball. Check out every single major candidate’s position on war and peace in the 2016 presidential campaign to verify the latter. But still, “You can take the man [sic] out of the political Left in the U.S., but you can’t take the Left out of the man.”

A few years ago I wrote a commentary piece about a road trip to Canada during the summer of 1971. In it, I noted how good it felt to be out of a country involved in an endless and immoral (Is there any other kind?) war, if only for a short time. One of the participants in that trip stopped writing to me following the essay’s publication, obviously offended by the reference to being briefly away from what seemed like an eternity of war, or perhaps I challenged her newfound idea of patriotism?  She had been a committed antiwar activist during the Vietnam War and prided herself as being in the feminist vanguard of the antiwar movement. She now categorized our youthful idealism and antiwar sentiments as being naïve (“We were only kids back then.”) in a discussion about my road trip piece.

Political activism in the U.S. is now all about identity politics. And because of the strong thrust for political correctness that followed the end of the Vietnam antiwar movement, it is impossible to criticize a single aspect of any of these movements without a swift and sometimes vicious reaction. The latter is like the orthodoxy of the Old Left when criticism of its agenda was tantamount to exile, which is also sort of humorous (unless freedom, or work, or life itself were lost for one’s political beliefs and actions) since there were relatively few Communists, and being ostracized from the Old Left did not generally have  lifelong repercussions, as those who named names found out during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Tragically for the Old Left, it was all about political orthodoxy.

Now, commenting on the lack of major results of the environmental movement, or a critique of the unquestioning and unequivocal acceptance of the issue of militarism in this society is tantamount to political suicide. There is almost no press coverage of the many wars that the U.S. now fights and what was left of the antiwar movement crumbled inexplicably during Obama’s first term in office, as the so-called antiwar liberals abandoned ship. No one will publish a writer who questions why inclusiveness in the military may not be the most progressive of stands, especially after the September 2001 attacks against the U.S. Talk about political orthodoxy!

Over the past quarter century, I’ve written and published several articles about the massacre at Kent State in May 1970. Now it seems that as Kent State and Jackson State pass from tragedy into history, almost no one is interested in the issues raised by those atrocities.

Finally, remaining an activist and writer on the Left doesn’t feel all that rewarding anymore. Going to demonstrations became more and more of an isolating experience from my point of view as the millennium arrived. I’d often go to an event and feel no more involved than if I had remained away. And there seems to be an almost complete disconnect between the varying factions of what remains of the Left. Often an action takes place and it is all but impossible to learn about the event before it happens, which adds another layer to the feeling of being disconnected.

As an example of the disconnectedness that I feel, I wrote to Democracy Now when I won my case against the FBI about the record that they (the FBI) maintained about me from the Vietnam War era. I thought it might be of interest to Democracy Now to report on how the FBI can maintain a record on someone without justification (in my opinion) for so long. With government surveillance at historic levels, I thought that the case of removing one single political record from their files might be of passing interest. I even wrote two separate emails to Juan Gonzalez, a host on Democracy Now, since he once stated on the program that he always responds to his mail. I also wrote the program to ask why no war resisters from the Vietnam era ever appeared in recent years and only the testimony of veterans of recent wars seemed to be worth reporting on in the program. For all of the communications that I’ve sent to Democracy Now, I’ve never received a single response. And as far as broadcast journalism goes, Democracy Now is the only show in town for the political Left.

This is a society that isolates people from action in favor of materialism, or the pressing demands of their lives. The demise of the political Left in the U.S. further hastens that increasing sense of isolation. Is it possible that in a society that isolates people from one another that the best a political activist can hope for is to be left alone?

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

A Sixties’ Love Story

 

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Daniel and Carolyn meet at a holiday party on the campus of Brown University at the height of the decade of the 1960s. Their love is set against the powerful backdrop of that decade, the Vietnam War, the antiwar movement, and the fatal flaw that ultimately destroys their relationship. A Sixties’ Love Story is a coming of age tale of the generation that reached maturity as the decade of the 1960s unfolded. A Sixties’ Love Story

 

A Goodreads pick: http://www.goodreads.com/search?utf8=✓&query=a+sixties%27+love+story

The Kent State massacre 45 years later: Where is justice?

Unknown-1Public Domain Photo Retrieved from the Internet on March 14, 2015

The Kent State massacre 45 years later: Where is justice?

This article is dedicated to those who were killed and injured at Kent State and Jackson State in May 1970.

The United States has dealt with dissent in different ways in different historical epochs over the last century. During World War I, speaking against war was punished with imprisonment or deportation. World War II witnessed the jailing of conscientious objectors and soon after, as the Cold War heated up, membership in communist organizations and/or knowing a communist was penalized by losing one’s livelihood, and in the extreme case of the Rosenbergs, by execution. As the U.S. became more deeply involved in war in Vietnam, and later expanding that war into Laos and Cambodia, dissidents and objectors were once again imprisoned and their right of free expression and assembly were attacked at the highest levels of government as was witnessed in the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that also involved executions.

By 1969, the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War was a power to be reckoned with. Millions of people (a critical mass) across the U.S. identified themselves as being against the war, especially when the revelations of the massacre at My Lai became known. The military draft faced hundreds of thousands of young men who said no, either by open resistance, or in the case of those disaffected by military service, exile or resistance. By the turning of the decade of the 1960s, a majority of Americans polled were against the war.

The youth counterculture reached its pinnacle during the weekend of August 15, 1969, in the small, rural town of Bethel in upstate New York with the immensely popular music and counterculture festival known as Woodstock (The Woodstock Music and Art Fair). A half million kids spent that weekend listening to the best of rock music in the sometimes soaking environment on the grounds of Max Yasgur’s farm. Many critics believed that the prevalence of drugs was the moving force behind the peaceful quality of the celebration, but an argument can be made that the forces of peace and love and a generation coming of age were responsible for the atmosphere that in all likelihood will never happen again.

On April 30, 1970, just over eight months after the final chords of the Woodstock festival sounded with a performance by Jimi Hendrix, the actions of the government of the United States would set in motion a series of events that four days later would witness the deaths of four members of that generation in a parking lot adjacent to Prentice Hall on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Nine additional students were wounded by gunfire from the Ohio National Guard, with one of those students, Dean Kahler, permanently paralyzed from one of the bullets striking him in his back. The war that had traumatized so many had come home.

Richard Nixon came to the presidency with the promise of a secret plan for peace. His plan, called Vietnamization, would gradually turn the war over to the Vietnamese of South Vietnam in their decades-long war against the nationalist and communist forces of North Vietnam, which sought to reunify their country after the occupation by Japan and wars with France and the United States. On April 30, he announced the formal U.S. military incursion into Cambodia, for the purported reason of weeding out and eliminating forces from North Vietnam whom Nixon contended were using Cambodia as part of their supply line into South Vietnam and as a staging area for their war against South Vietnam. Predictably, campuses across the U.S. reacted swiftly and strongly against what students thought was a betrayal of Nixon’s promise to bring an end to the war and not to widen that war. The next day, May 1, Nixon categorized students protesting against his war plans as “bums.”

On Friday, May 1, some students went home for the weekend, as was the habit of many students at Kent State, while others remained on campus. Some of those who remained went into town that evening to hang out at bars in the city of Kent, also a campus tradition. Earlier that day, at noon, about 500 students rallied against the expanded war at the traditional rallying spot on campus, the Victory Bell on the Commons not far from the parking lot of Prentice Hall and its adjacent practice field. Between the Commons and the practice field was located Blanket Hill that was adjacent to Taylor Hall and the veranda of that hall. A pagoda stood at the crest of Blanket Hill. In three days, the massacre would take place within a radius of just hundreds of yards of these sites on campus, and the history of the nation would be changed forever. A group of Kent State history majors ceremoniously buried a copy of the Constitution at the rally, perhaps prescient of what the events of the next three days would bring. Three hours after the peaceful noon rally about 400 students would demonstrate against the war in an action organized by Black United Students.

Diane Gallagher, a student at Kent State at the time of the massacre, gave recorded testimony to both the Kent State History Collection and the Kent State Truth Tribunal. Her testimony is riveting! Speaking of the peace movement at Kent State in general, she said, “They gave us much more credit for being organized than we really were, and I think it was part of the government’s paranoia at that time…”

Friday night, May 1, the city of Kent saw a spontaneous anti-war rally take place. Locals joined students at the informal rally and a bonfire was set on what was called “the strip” of North Water Street. Soon, some participants traveled through the business district trashing political targets such as banks and some local businesses. Police cars were belted with beer bottles as they arrived at the scene. Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency.

Speaking of Saturday, May 2, Diane Gallagher is heard again: “I remember sitting in the street and thinking, I’m in college, but I’m in the middle of a war zone.” She continued: “And I do believe Nixon ordered it. I do believe it came from the top.”

Among the most powerful testimonies to the Kent State Truth Tribunal was Professor Nancy Rodgers. She believed that a “provocateur” set fire to the ROTC building at Kent State on Saturday, May 2, to give the government the needed rationale to call up the National Guard and precipitate a showdown with the anti-war movement. Professor Rodgers later learned from a campus police officer that a provocateur had attempted to incite a student group to violence. Professor Rodgers believed that the most important lesson to be learned from the Kent State massacre is to “never fully trust your government.” She believed that “Students had come to exercise their right to publicly express their opinion about an unjust war.”

Saturday, May 2, was a pivotal day on the campus of Kent State. At 8:00 P.M., 300 students rallied on the Commons. Students gathered around the ROTC building adjacent to the Commons. Windows in the building were broken and it was set on fire. The blaze died out, and firemen were pelted with objects and their hoses were slashed. Police then arrived with firemen as the building was ignited again. Students then retreated to the Commons. The building was left smoldering, and then became engulfed in flames after students had left the area. The original 300 students swelled to 2,000 protesters in a march. The mayor of Kent alerted the National Guard. During a two-week period in May 1970, 30 ROTC buildings were burned across the U.S. They had come to symbolize the hated war. No one had been injured in the ROTC fire at Kent State.

At 5:00 P.M., at the request by Mayor Satrom, the governor called in the National Guard. Many members of the Guard had come directly from a truckers’ strike in Akron, Ohio, where their presence sparked an often-violent reaction on the part of the striking truckers. A dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on the campus and tear gas was used to disperse students. Several students suffered bayonet wounds from the Guard, and one student suffered a punctured lung. The Guardsmen had been federalized at Kent State, which is the equivalent of being ordered to active military duty.

On Sunday, May 3, Governor James Rhodes made the most incendiary speech about the student protests thus far.

We’ve seen here at the city of Kent especially, probably the most vicious form of campus oriented violence yet perpetrated by dissident groups. They make definite plans of burning, destroying, and throwing rocks at police, and at the National Guard and the Highway Patrol…They are the worst type of people that we harbor in America…They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and vigilantes.

The governor had labeled student protesters the equivalent of Nazis. To get a sense of the national tenor of many political leaders of the time, just three weeks before the shootings at Kent State, the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, said of dealing with students protests, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.”

Howard Ruffner was both a student and a photographer on assignment at Kent State. On May 4 he observed, “They (the Guard) had no plan for what they were going to do…” He continued that… “nothing was going on to indicate there was a threat (to the Guard)…” Ruffner stated that the “Guard admitted to targeting people.” He related that the “worst thing (done to the Guard) was being yelled at and given the finger.” His testimonial ended with an emotional appeal to the Guard to “come forward and cleanse themselves,” for what he views as “murder.” He was not far from John Lewis when he was wounded by the Guard and believes that the Guard’s actions were coordinated.

Spring had come to Kent, Ohio on Friday May 1. Continuing the trend in the weather, Monday, May 4, could be described as a perfect spring day with warm temperatures and a sparkling sun. The rally on the Commons that had been called for on Friday drew about 200 students. As noon approached, and the Victory Bell was rung to begin the demonstration, 1,500 students gathered at the site that was the traditional rallying point on the campus. The demonstration had a twofold purpose: To protest the invasion of Cambodia by the U.S. and to protest the presence of the National Guard on the campus.

At no time during the series of demonstrations on the campus did Kent State President Robert White take control of the events from the standpoint of the university’s administration. Despite the acknowledgment that the campus police felt that they could handle the situation on campus, campus officials had ceded control of events on their campus to the federalized Guard. The most that the campus administration had done was to hand out leaflets during the weekend announcing that the Monday demonstration was canceled.

A combined 116 men from Company A and C from the 1/145 Infantry and Troop G of the 2/107th Armored Cavalry moved in from their positions on the Commons following an announcement that the students were ordered to disperse from the Commons. General Robert Canterbury, the highest-ranking officer at Kent State, issued the order. The next order was given by a member of the campus police, Harold Rice, while using a bullhorn and riding in an army jeep. When most of the crowd refused to disperse, 77 Guardsmen from Company A and Troop G, with fixed bayonets and loaded rifles, began firing tear gas into the crowd. Students responded by throwing rocks and hurling tear gas canisters back at the Guard. Students fled the Commons in the face of the advancing armed Guard toward, and then over Blanket Hill and down onto the practice field adjacent to Taylor and Prentice Halls.

The majority of students had been dispersed, but the next several minutes would change the peace movement forever, lead to a decade of lawsuits, and put an exclamation point of horror to the Vietnam War, a war which already bore the marks of ongoing horror, and now had spilled over into Cambodia.

Most of the students now stood on the veranda of Taylor Hall beside the slope leading down to the practice field. Just below Taylor Hall, about 35 or 40 other students fled through the parking lot of Prentice Hall or remained in the parking lot. For the next ten minutes, the guard took up a position on the practice field. The Guard was now close enough (but not within harm’s way) to protesters in the parking lot for tear gas canisters and rocks to barely reach one another when fired or thrown back and forth between students and Guardsmen, the vast majority of the projectiles falling harmlessly. During this 10-minute time frame, several of the Guardsmen knelt and pointed their loaded weapons at the remaining protesters. Many Guardsmen appeared to be talking to one another in a huddle at about the same time.

Photographs of these crucial minutes document the movement of both the Guard and student protesters. In 2010, The Plain Dealer commissioned the reassessment of a tape recording that had come to light during one of the trials in the 1970s relating to the Kent massacre. The tape had been archived in a file at Yale University. It was a copy of a reel-to-reel tape that had been recorded by a Kent State student, Terry Strubbe, during the May 4 demonstration from an opened dorm room window overlooking Blanket Hill and the playing field below the hill. The forensic sound experts Stuart Allen and Thomas Owen analyzed this copy. The state-of-the-art software used to decipher the now digitized tape offered earth-shattering new information about the events leading to the 67 shots fired by the Guard during the lethal 13-second hail of bullets from their combat weapons. Many of the still photographs can now be almost perfectly aligned with this only known real-time documentation of events at Kent State during those crucial minutes.

The tape had been located in archived Kent State material in 2007 by Alan Canfora, one of the wounded students at Kent State (and subsequent founder of the Kent May 4 Center at Kent State), who can be seen in an iconic photo waving a black flag at the Guard in protest moments before he was shot in the wrist by Guard rifle fire. The tape documents the shots fired by the Guard that left nine other students wounded, one of those students, Dean Kahler, paralyzed for life, and four students lying dead or dying from their wounds. Although the Guard would argue that they felt threatened by the student protest, Jeffrey Miller was shot dead 265 feet away from the Guard, the nearest to the rifle fire, with Allison Krause over 343 feet away and near death, William Schroeder at 382 feet away and dying of his wound, and Sandra Scheuer shot dead instantly at 390 feet away. Of the four dead, both Miller and Krause had been actively protesting against the war that day, while both Schroeder and Scheuer were shot dead as they moved across campus as part of their routine that day. It would be impossible to make the argument that these students, both dead and dying, proved to be the imminent threat that the Guard contended they were. William Schroeder was a Kent student who was enrolled in the ROTC program at the time of his death. Sandra Scheuer was a student in the speech therapy department.

John Mangels of The Plain Dealer reports, based on the forensic analysis of the Strubbe tape, that “A noisy, violent altercation and four pistol shots took place just over 70 seconds before Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on antiwar protesters at KSU.” Here are the words spoken on the copy of the original tape. “They got somebody,” and “Kill him!” “Whack that [expletive]!” “Hit that [expletive]!” The shots were fired “to warn away angry demonstrators, which the soldiers mistook for sniper fire.”

The only person known to have been carrying the type of gun–a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber, five-shot revolver—the sound of which was deciphered by sound experts Allen and Owen, was a part-time student at Kent State, Terry Norman. Norman had worked for both the FBI and the campus police at Kent State. He had taken photographs during the protest. He had previously been paid by the FBI to gather information about a Nazi group in Virginia. It may be surmised from the digitized recording that one of the shots fired from the .38 caliber weapon could be heard to echo off of a nearby building by the sound analysis. Whether or not this was heard or interpreted as sniper fire by the Guard remains a mystery. Thirty-eight caliber cartridges were found on the practice field after the shootings. That type of weapon was not one that was carried by the National Guard. It took over one minute for the Guard to move off of the playing field and up the slope of Blanket Hill before turning and firing their fusillade of deadly and damaging shots. Common wisdom would suggest that armed members of the Guard would have reacted instantly, or almost instantly, if they feared their lives were in danger from sniper gunfire and would not march in an organized line up Blanket Hill. The issue of Norman’s alleged connection to the FBI raises several questions about causation. He sought the protection of the Guard after the lethal shootings. Was Norman’s role solely to take photographs? Did Norman’s presence and the firing of the .38 caliber weapon lead to the Guard’s actions? Were Norman’s spent shell casings the ones that were found? His gun and the Guard’s rifles disappeared following the massacre.

This writer interviewed Stuart Allen about the historic tape that he analyzed along with Thomas Owen. On the digitized copy of the Strubbe tape the command “Guard!” can be heard at nine minutes, 13 seconds into the recording. “All right, prepare to fire!” is heard at nine minutes, 30 seconds. At nine minutes, 32 seconds into the tape the order “Get down!” is given. At nine minutes, 35 seconds another command “Guard!” is heard again, and at nine minutes, 37 seconds into the tape the gunshots (Guard rifle fire) can be clearly heard. Just before the firing begins, at nine minutes, 35 seconds, the consonant/fricative “f” is heard. A reasonable conclusion would be that the letter “f” would lead to the word fire and preceded the actual firing. The last conclusion, of course, can only be conjecture and is not supported by the tape. Whether or not commands to open fire on people approximately one football field distant from the Guard were given has been debated in both courts of law and by those studying and involved in the Kent State massacre over the past 45 years.

Following the massacre, Professor Glenn Frank successfully pled with students not to continue demonstrating and risk more bloodshed. His successful appeal was followed by the closing of the campus, as would 850 other campuses across the U.S. Four million students ended the school year early. The only known student to be allowed back on campus on May 5 was Terry Norman in addition to international students.

Twenty-nine Guardsmen admitted to having fired their weapons at Kent State, and of the 29, 28 had pivoted about 130 to 180 degrees in unison before firing. On their climb up Blanket Hill, just prior to the volley of weapons fire, some of the Guardsmen are seen in a photograph looking back down toward the parking lot where many of the most vocal demonstrators remained and where all of the four students were killed. These photographs are included in The Truth about Kent State by Peter Davies. Students at a distance of a football field away could not have posed the slightest physical threat to the Guard.

While masses of students were in shock over the killings at Kent State, the country as a whole did not feel that response. A Gallup Poll taken soon after the massacre found that 58 percent of respondents believed that the responsibility for the events at Kent laid with the demonstrators. Only 11 percent believed the blame needed to be placed on the Guard. As if in a twisted repeat of unlearned history, on May 15, two students were killed and 12 students were wounded by police responding to anti-war protest at Jackson State College in Mississippi. The war had indeed come home at both Kent State and at Jackson State College.

For the next nine years and beyond, the massacre at Kent State became the subject of an investigative committee at Kent State (The Commission on Kent State University), a national commission (The Scranton Commission) convened to assess the events of that lethal period, a state grand jury and trial, and ultimately a federal grand jury and trials. From the onset of these venues it was obvious that the issue of the massacre by the Guard would become a political football and fulfilled the belief of many that the law is politics by another name. The Nixon White House stonewalled any meaningful hearing at the federal level much as it would stonewall the Watergate investigation a few years later.

Nixon was so hateful toward student demonstrators that he would order John Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, to “shut down” any possibility of convening a grand jury to hear the case. (Nixon’s antipathy toward demonstrators was so extreme that he reportedly had to be “scraped off the wall with the spatula” during the Watergate debacle when the case finally did proceed to a federal grand jury.) Indeed, Attorney General John Mitchell and later Attorney General Richard Kleindienst ignored the basic facts of the case involving U.S. Code Sections 241 and 242, which encompassed the denial of the right to protest of students at Kent State by the National Guard and the apparent civil rights issues involved in denying basic rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution. It would only be Watergate that “allowed” the Justice Department to heed the pleadings of both students and parents for justice for their dead and injured friends and loved ones. Despite petitions containing over fifty thousand student signatures and the support of major religious organizations, the Nixon White House would still make those to whom life and justice were denied feel like Nixon still considered them to be “bums.” Significant legal issues of the lack of command control, the alleged command to fire, and alleged conspiracy by members of the Guard would long be ignored.

The Commission on Kent State University failed to produce a report besides a rather meaningless “minority report.” This so-called report continued the lack of leadership that was evident on the campus of Kent State by those in top positions of authority from the beginning of the escalation of campus unrest and the Guard’s reaction to that unrest. It could be argued that the inaction on the part of the school’s administration opened a space that was filled by the angry official rhetoric of the moment and the Guard.

The Scranton Commission conducted hearings on the killings at both Kent State and Jackson State, and in the case of Kent State failed to even call Ohio’s Governor James Rhodes, who was responsible for sending in the Guard to Kent State and had made the incendiary remarks about student protest there. While the commission concluded that the shootings were “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable,” the members failed to come up with any plausible explanation for the shootings. The commission concluded that issuing loaded weapons to control the kind of protest at Kent State, and any danger that the Guard faced as a result of the protest, did not rise to the level of using lethal force. The commission wrongly reasoned that no order to fire was given, but conclusive evidence did not exist at that time to draw the opposite conclusion.

Because of the hostility of the Nixon White House and Nixon Justice Department to convening a federal grand jury to hear the available facts of the Kent State massacre, Attorney General John Mitchell cynically put the issue of litigation of the case in the hands of an Ohio grand jury. The Ohio attorney general, Paul Brown, announced immediately that no indictments would be sought against members of the Guard. The grand jury investigating the case was sympathetic to the Guard and hostile to the students. Leading questions were asked of jurors about feelings of fear that Guardsmen may have felt on the campus. In a remarkable railroading of justice, students were indicted by the grand jury along with one professor. The grand jury’s report was widely condemned and dismissed. The report was ultimately burned and no one was jailed following the trial.

By late 1973, the Department of Justice resumed its previously muted attention back to the federal issues raised by the massacre at Kent State. Assistant Attorney General William O’Connor stated that the DOJ had developed enough evidence to prosecute the Guardsmen. Information from the federal grand jury hearing showed that several Guardsmen had pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Men from Company G were indicted under U.S. Code Title 18, Section 242 that reads, “Whoever, under the color of any law, statue, ordinance…willfully subjects any person in any State…to the deprivation of any rights, privileges…secured or protected by the Constitution” is subject to prosecution. The indictment read that under the Code, the Guardsmen were charged with “aiding and abetting each other, did willfully assault and intimidate persons who were inhabitants of the State of Ohio…by willfully discharging loaded (weapons)…” The charge added that the students had been deprived of their rights secured by the Constitution and were “deprived of liberty without due process of law.”

However, Federal District Judge Frank Battisti ruled that evidence of “specific intent” of the Guardsmen was absent. The next several years saw a tangle of civil proceedings led by Allison Krause’s father, Arthur, who became the public face of those seeking redress for the killings and injuries at Kent State. He strongly defended Allison against being called a “bum” by the president, and added that using an epithet against a protester was wrong since Allison “felt that our crossing into Cambodia was wrong.”

The Krauses filled a wrongful death suit against 43 people under 42 U.S. Code 1983, a civil rights statute. Arthur Krause asked for a symbolic award of “one dollar” in damages. That amount was amended to $6 million since federal courts have a threshold for money damages. The case was thrown out under the concept of “sovereign immunity,” or the legal premise that the king can do no wrong.

Cases of several of the plaintiffs against the government were ultimately combined and proceeded to federal district court in 1975. Again, defense attorneys used inflammatory rhetoric against the plaintiffs asking perspective jurors if they sympathized with the Weathermen or the Students for a Democratic Society. An ex-Marine and Kent State student testified that he allegedly watched as Sergeant Myron Pryor tapped several soldiers on the back before they turned in unison and began their fusillade from Blanket Hill.

Once again, as if choreographed at all levels of government, the jury exonerated the Guardsmen, but a federal appeals court awarded the plaintiffs relatively small amounts of money, with the exception of Dean Kahler, who had been paralyzed by the shooting. The trials of the Kent State massacre were finally over. A former police chief of New Haven, Connecticut, James Ahern, called the Guard “Ill-trained and poorly led.” He described Kent State as being a “free-fire zone” from the Guardsmen’s perspective. These were indeed “appropriate” words for the Vietnam era.

In 2013, Allison’s sister, Laurel Krause, who was 15 years old at the time of Allison’s death, representing the Kent State Truth Tribunal, brought a case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The case was heard before the committee in March 2014. Krause requested an independent, impartial investigation into the May 4 Kent State massacre. The tribunal seeks to have the UN address Article 2: right to remedy, Article 6: right to life, Article 19: right to freedom of expression, and Article 21: right to peaceful assembly of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the UN. Krause hopes that the UN will move the U.S. to complete the kind of investigation that has not been done thus far. According to Krause, the “U.S. has controlled the narrative” relating to the issues of the massacre. Of particular concern to Krause is the DOJ’s “refusing to look at the tape (Strubbe tape)” with its enhanced quality and enormous impact on the issues of command control and conspiracy of the Guard to deny the rights of protesters on May 4. Krause also wants any evidence brought forward about additional involvement of the FBI in the lead-up to the shootings, their involvement in the cases as they moved through the courts, and how the FBI sought to shape the telling of the history of Kent State relating to the massacre and the injuries inflicted upon the students. J. Edgar Hoover, as the director of the FBI at the time of the massacre, told White House lawyer Egil Krogh that “the students invited (the shootings) and got what they deserved.” The latter was from the chief law-enforcement officer of the U.S. and has enormous importance on how the case was mishandled at all levels of government and in all government venues where the plaintiffs sought redress! The UN has one year to respond to the issues that the tribunal presented.

The impact following the Kent State massacre on the peace movement was immediate. Although huge demonstrations continued for a few years, and activists were just as in-your-face and upfront with their demands for peace in Southeast Asia, something was missing. Peace activists knew that just as the government had committed atrocities in Vietnam, the government could, and did, set the chain of events in motion that left so many dead and injured at Kent State and Jackson State. The peace movement continued to respond to wars in Central America, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name just a few of the wars that the U.S. has been involved in since Vietnam, and the escalating nuclear arms race, but without the specter of a military draft, the peace movement would always swell during times of war and never reach the critical mass that brought out so many millions of people to demonstrate because of the obvious issue of self-interest regarding the military draft during the Vietnam War. What came to be known as the Vietnam Syndrome, the hesitancy of people in the U.S. to support war was short-lived. With the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and his attempts to turn Vietnam into a “noble cause,” people began to support his administration’s policy of low-intensity warfare. Political activism on the Left began breaking up into many “identity politics” issues, while enviable, broke activism into a less cohesive whole.

The war in Afghanistan was particularly problematic for those who wanted peace, since the groundswell of support following the attacks in 2001 marginalized many calling for peace. The latter, coupled with the increasing regard for unquestioning militarism and the military, allowed for the expansion of U.S. war making in Iraq in 2003, a war of choice against a so-called enemy that was no threat to the U.S. Barack Obama, who as a candidate promised to end the war in Iraq, not only expanded the war in Afghanistan, but also reintroduced the military into Iraq, for the third time and third presidency since 1991. Military budgets swelled and enemies were created. A gym was built on part of the athletic practice field where the Guard stood just before their march up Blanket Hill as if in mockery of the hallowed ground on which the events of May 1970 took place.

Still, for those who died and were injured at both Kent State and Jackson State, their heroism marks a high-water mark in typifying exactly what it means to seek a redress of grievances from the government by taking personal risks in speaking truth to power.

Near the end of his life, the activist Abbie Hoffman said, while speaking before a university audience, that the era of activism of the 1960s to the early 1970s would never happen again. What coalesced during that dramatic era in U.S. history was the coming of age of a cohort of youth with high ideals faced with a war that had gone on for six years. The meeting of all of those forces was left forever wounded at Kent State.

There is a photo of Allison Krause. She’s riding a motorcycle near an open area at Kent State and looking directly at the camera. Her exceptional spirit radiates out from the picture. An observer could almost read the high ideals in her gaze. Indeed, there is also an onlooker in the photo who also seems to appreciate Allison’s presence. Allison went out to protest a horrible war on that day in early May so many, many years ago. In his Kent State Truth Tribunal testimonial, Norman Weissman spoke about his fictional account Snapshots USA of characters at Kent State. In his writing, his characters imagine the lives they could have led had they not been killed.

The students and those days have left an indelible image on history. And returning to Allison, she may have taken for granted that the Constitution and Bill of Rights gave her absolute protections in countering the forces that had ripped holes in the lives of so many through senseless war. Even today, she demands justice that is long overdue: justice for herself and for her fellow protesters who were killed and injured on that day by the actions of the government.

Richard Zitrin, a sports writer and senior at the time of the massacre at Kent State, remembered a professor who originally came from Germany telling students (as Zitrin recalls in his Kent State Truth Tribunal testimonial) on May 4, 1970, to “Get as far away from here as you can.” Indeed, many young people did just that and became disaffected from a government that held among its highest ideals to be a government of, by, and for the people.

Millions of people of goodwill were deeply affected by the events on the Kent State campus during those four days forty-five years ago. It is now time for a final accounting of the events of those days.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

References

Interview. Allen, Stuart. By phone and email, February 6, 2015.

Davies, P. The truth about Kent State: A Challenge to the American conscience. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1973.

“4 Dead, 11 Wounded In New Kent State Trouble,” (1970 May 4). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://ohiomm.com/pdf/pages/2_may4_1970.pdf Akron Beacon Journal.

Hoffman, Abbie. The Best of Abbie Hoffman Boston: Da Capo Press, 1993.

“Hoover accuses Akron Paper of Kent ‘Distortion,'” (1970, January 1). Retrieved August 8, 2015, from http://jfk.hood.edu/Collection/Weisberg Subject Index Files/H Disk/Hoover J Edgar Part 2/Item 076.pdf.

Kainah. “Prelude to Kent State: Nixon Invades Cambodia,” The Daily Kos: Series. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/04/26/205304/-Prelude-to-Kent-State-Nixon-Invades-Cambodia#.

Kent May 4 Center, Kent State tragedy. (1970 May 4). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.may4.org/.

“Kent State shootings,” Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_State_shootings.

Kent State Truth Tribunal. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.truthtribunal.org

Interviews. Krause, Laurel. By phone and emails, January 26, 2015.

Kornbluth, J. “National Guardsmen Kill Four Students At Kent State, ‘The Most Popular Murders Ever Committed in America,’” (1970 May 4). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-kornbluth/may-4-1970-national-guard_b_1476017.html.

Mangels, John. “Old recording of Kent State shootings reveals that Ohio Guard was given an order to prepare to fire,” (2010 May). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/05/new_analysis_of_40-year-old_re.html.

Mangels, J. “Kent State tape indicates altercation and pistol fire preceded National Guard shootings,” (2010, October 8). (audio included), Retrieved February 20, 2015, fromhttp://www.cleveland.com/science/index.ssf/2010/10/analysis_of_kent_state_audio_t.html.

Mangels, J. “Does former informant hold the key to the May 4 mystery?” (2010, December 19). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.cleveland.com/kent-state-anniversary/.

Michener, James A. Kent State: What Happened and Why. New York: Random House and Reader’s Digest Press, 1971.

Stone, I. The killings at Kent State: How Murder Went Unpunished. New York: A New York Review Book (Vintage Books), 1970.

Weissman, N. Snapshots USA: (an American family album). Mystic, CT: Hammonasset House Books LLC, 2008.

A Sixties’ Love Story

Here is the Amazon Kindle link to my new novel A Sixties’ Love Story. The novel is $1.00 and free to those with Amazon Prime. I need reviewers for the book.

http://www.amazon.com/Sixties-Love-Story-Howard-Lisnoff-ebook/dp/B00L6JW188/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403704090&sr=8-1&keywords=howard+lisnoff

Abbie, we hardly knew you.

Abbie, we hardly knew you.

 

That the film Born on the Fourth of July by Oliver Stone (1989) and an article about resuscitating President Lyndon Johnson’s legacy from the ashes of the Vietnam War (“Rescuing a Vietnam Casualty: Johnson’s Legacy,” The New York Times, February 15, 2014) were seen and published a day apart is perhaps serendipitous?

 

What may strike the movie viewer and reader are how powerful the images and reality of that war still are so many, many years later and the hold it has on those who lived through those times. The Times article deals with LBJ’s civil right legacy and how a small group of family and friends is attempting to rehabilitate Johnson’s legacy on civil rights and the programs of the Great Society in the shadow of his disastrous policy toward Vietnam. Incredulously, the late president’s daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, states in the article: “Nobody wanted that war less than Lyndon Johnson.” Perhaps Ms. Johnson had the wrong war in mind when she uttered those words for the article, because that’s not what history tells us! Johnson orchestrated the most vicious war imaginable by the most powerful military force in history and left millions dead in Southeast Asia and nearly 60,000 dead American troops (when Richard’s Nixon’s final toll in that war is counted). Even the environmental destruction continues to this day in Vietnam from Agent Orange and among veterans and their families! Many war resisters still remain abroad,  while many like me had their lives transformed forever!

 

But this piece does not seek to rehash the arguments of old about the Vietnam War, but rather, pay tribute to an antiwar activist who had a cameo role as a strike organizer and speaker in the film’s depiction of a student strike, part of a national campus strike, at Syracuse University, held in the wake of the Kent State and Jackson State murders of unarmed students. Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran, is the subject of Stone’s movie and was also at the rally along with Abbie.

 

April 12 will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Abbie Hoffman, whose persona and activism were the hallmarks of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Hoffman was perhaps best known for his activism at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. His resulting trial as part of the Chicago 8 was legendary among activists. Abbie’s chutzpah was such that he could castigate the judge, Judge Hoffman (no relation), in both English and Yiddish at the trial and ultimately get away with it!

 

Jonah Raskin’s biography of Abbie, For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman (1996) is the seminal work on Abbie’s life. The work is an honest depiction of the great successes Abbie had as a longtime activist, his vibrant personality that could be described as a joining of the personalities of Grocho Marx, Karl Marx, and Che Guevara (my assessment based on Abbie’s writing), and the deep personal and emotional conflicts that dogged Abbie and those who loved him until the untimely end of his life. Abbie’s own writings need to be read with a caution: Books such as his autobiography, Soon to be a Major Motion Picture (1980), tend to have a measure of hyperbole built into the writing, but nevertheless, are fountains of information of some of Abbie’s humor, his views on activism and revolution, and the sagacity of the way he met the challenges of his time head on.

 

Abbie accomplished much in bringing change to the world and ending a war despite a battle with manic-depression that fueled the great heights of his achievements and brought him to the pit of despair. But, he kept going on long past the time when the activism of the Vietnam War era had long since ended.

 

One of Abbie’s greatest speeches was given near the end his life to students at Vanderbilt University. While encouraging another generation of activists, he admitted that the halcyon days of rebellion of the 1960s and early 1970s would “never happen again.” However, Abbie was astute enough to know that every generation needed to find its own voice of protest.

 

I knew Abbie in only the most superficial of ways. His lawyer and my lawyer both practiced at the Law Commune on Broadway in the East Village of New York City. We’d say hello to each other as he would be walking out of the law office while I waited for my appointment. But, even at that superficial level it was extremely gratifying to engage someone who fought the good fight and never turned away from the movement he so typified.

 

At Abbie’s memorial service in Worcester, Massachusetts, his hometown, I passed by his fellow activist, Jerry Rubin, as Rubin gave an interview to the national media about Abbie. Despite Rubin’s turning away from activism after the Vietnam War, he expressed what many of us at the memorial were thinking about Abbie: “A great soul is gone.”

 

That twenty-five years have passed since Abbie’s death seems unimaginable. His voice was sorely missed at all of the antiwar demonstrations protesting wars that have been fought since his death, as was his knowledge and organizing skills that he could have brought to the environmental movement struggling to save our planet. His ability to use the media to promote an activist agenda was also legendary! I can imagine Abbie as an elder spokesperson on the Left at the Occupy Wall Street encampment  near where he made history throwing money onto the floor of the Stock Exchange in August 1967. Abbie was also generous to a fault, giving away money to people and worthy causes. So Yippie (Youth International Party-of which Abbie was a founder), Abbie, you were a great soul in the universe and we hardly had time to know you…

 

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.