Kent State, May 4, 2004
Kent May 4 Center Director Alan Canfora, former member of Kent State Students for a Democratic Society (Kent SDS) during 1968-1969, a casualty wounded by a bullet at Kent State on May 4, 1970, offered this commentary at KSU on May 4, 2004 -- the 34th anniversary Commemoration of the 1970 massacre.
...The revolutionary spirit of 1776, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Betsy Ross and Paul Revere, was alive and well at Kent State University in 1970—and that same patriotic revolutionary spirit must remain alive here at Kent State in 2004, 2005 and beyond.
In 1776 and 1970 and today, true patriots take action to defend America, the American people and true democracy. As Thomas Jefferson observed, the abuse of political power must be opposed by those who truly cherish freedom and democracy.
Since 1975, our 13 families of 1970 Kent State victims have observed, encouraged, supported and joined the fine students of the May 4 Task Force each year during these past 29 years. I recall the very first May 4 Task Force fall forum in the KSU Kiva where I expressed hope in 1975 that an ongoing movement for truth and justice would emerge and endure here at Kent State University.
Who can deny the amazing significance of the dedication of these May 4 Task Force students, year after year, meeting each week of every month until these annual commemoration events occur every May 4 since 1975 when KSU leaders stopped their own annual observances...
We remember. On May 4, 1970, only deadly bullets fired from high-powered M1 rifles could silence our passionate anti-war voices here under the noonday sun not so very long ago. With life and blood, Kent State University students wrote a glorious chapter in the never-ending history of American student activism.
We remember. Hundreds of students joined together during two days of symbolic anti-war violence against property on May 1 and May 2, 1970. Our militance was born of anger and despair not long after President Nixon announced to the nation his intention to ignore over 500,000 peaceful anti-war protesters in Washington, DC.
Nixon dared to ignore our cry of love and peace just as GW Bush will surely ignore the 1,000,000 women who cried out for women’s rights and freedoms only last week. Just as Bush provokes our growing anger and action in 2004, Nixon provoked our protests in 1970.
Like most anti-war activists in 1970, I was personally affected by the war in Vietnam. I attended my hometown friend’s funeral and burial only 10 days before I was shot through my right arm here on May 4. My own protest flag was as black as my angry sentiments and dark as the future of my generation consumed by war and abuse of power in Washington.
I remember my anger, my despair, here on May 4, 1970. If we were militant in 1970, our anti-war actions against property were insignificant compared to the death and destruction each hour of every day in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970.
Our militant anti-war action against property, a few windows and a suspicious ROTC building fire, was followed by two days of Ohio National Guard violence against Kent State University students. Invited by the vicious Republican campaign rhetoric of Ohio Governor James Rhodes, the Ohio National Guard attacked peaceful students and stabbed them with bayonets the night before our 1970 massacre.
The next day, on May 4, leaders of the Ohio National Guard followed orders to fire 67 gunshots into our crowd of unarmed students under the noonday sun.
As long as there have been students in America, from the colonial years of the 1600s to the present day, students have continued to act as the conscience of America. Just as we acted as the conscience of America and took dramatic actions to stop the criminal Republican President Richard Nixon, now is the time to once again join together and take another united stand...
Thirty-four years ago, on these hallowed grounds of Kent State University, our generation of Kent State students dared to take a defiant anti-war stand during an earlier unjustified war of foreign intervention. Hauntingly similar to the current disastrous US war in Iraq, we understood only too well that our political and military leaders were pursuing a bloody imperialist war based upon greed, arrogance and the cruelest abuse of American government power...
Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon unfortunately listened blindly to impossible advice from their generals in the Pentagon. For 10 miserable years, the sweetest years of our youth, a dark cloud of war in Vietnam plagued our generation. Our dearest family members, schoolmates and childhood friends were plucked away from home by the US government’s military draft.
Thousands of precious lives were wasted and thousands of families suffer forever grieving the loss of cherished family members who were sacrificed far away in the jungles, swamps and rice paddies of SE Asia. In Vietnam and here at Kent State and elsewhere, our generation paid a very dear price with life and blood.
Among many tragic errors of leadership in Washington when we were young, the greatest miscalculation made by our earlier war-hawks during Vietnam was their failure to anticipate the greatest anti-war movement in US history. Motivated by overwhelming feelings of love and concern for our fellow-citizens dying each day in Vietnam, our generation dared to speak and act boldly and our motivation was primarily based upon love of our fellow citizens. And so we acted for peace born of love.
Like today’s courageous protesters, our generation of anti-war activists was demonized as “…the worst type of people…in America…worse than the communists”. We were called unpatriotic, anti-American, un-American and worse. America: love it or leave it. My country right or wrong. We heard these and other abuses but still we persevered forward to demand peace and freedom.
Similar to the present crisis, our generation was attacked by our government not just with bullets here at Kent State and at Jackson State, Orangeburg College, Southern University and elsewhere. We were attacked by a government program exposed by anti-war activists. COINTELPRO was the earlier secret version of the Patriot Act.
If you seriously seek the truth about Kent State 1970, investigate the crimes of the Nixon administration’s COINTELPRO program, specifically the Garden Plot Plan and you’ll begin to understand the close cooperation and united actions taken by Ohio Governor James Rhodes and his fellow-murderer Richard Nixon.
President Nixon maintained a longstanding personal vendetta against Kent State anti-war students since we repeatedly disrupted Nixon’s campaign speech at Akron University in October of 1968—the worst disruption Nixon faced anywhere in 1968.
Here on these sacred grounds, 17 months later on May 4, 1970, Nixon got his revenge. Nixon and Rhodes and COINTELPRO joined together at Kent State University here in Ohio.
Out of 1200 Ohio National Guard troops sent here by Nixon and Rhodes, only 76 guardsmen attacked us with tear-gas and bayonets. Among our 76 well-armed attackers, only the dozen members of Troop G—the Kent State death squad—fired 67 gunshots into our crowd of unarmed students. Troop G, experienced killers with a bloody previous record of gunfire against African-American civilians in Cleveland a few years earlier, followed the verbal orders of commanders to kill here on our campus...
It is clear that on May 4, 1970, Troop G went on a 24 minute hunting expedition into the heart of this beautiful campus—a hunting expedition for human prey. Anti-war students were tear-gassed, chased, identified, located, targeted, aimed at and shot down in cold blood...
Mission accomplished. But the Kent State massacre, four dead, nine wounded and the only national student strike in US history pushed our nation to the edge of anarchy and disruption in May of 1970. Governor Rhodes and President Nixon are dead and gone now--together again--burning in hell. But we remain. We are still here at Kent State in this 21st century.
We remain to sing our song of peace and our cry of love against hate and war...
Again motivated by love for our fellow-citizens, our American soldiers dying each day, we should also cry out against the slaughter of innocent civilians in Iraq... Aren’t the 10,000 dead Iraqi citizens more than enough payback for America’s September 11 tragedy? If not, how many more? How many more?
Kent State and America. War and peace. 1970.
Kent State and America. War and peace. 2004.
Only 10 days before I was shot and wounded here on May 4,1970, I stood at the gravesite of my friend Bill Caldwell, age 19, who was killed in Vietnam. Along with my anti-war friends and KSU roommates, we swore a solemn vow to pursue inspired anti-war actions...
As Julian Bond once stated here so eloquently, “Time fades and distance diminishes”, but we should never forget May 4, 1970, at Kent State University. And we must never forget the sad lessons of war in Vietnam.
Just as we cherish the memories of Allison, Sandy, Jeff and Bill, and our friends who died in Vietnam, we should cherish our fellow-citizens dying each day during the unjust war in Iraq. And let us especially cherish those among us, our family and friends, before they become future martyrs...