According to Friday's Cleveland Plain Dealer, the tape captured the command "Retreat!" As the guardsmen moved back up Blanket Hill, pursued by rock-throwing protesters, photographer Norman was left behind - apparently too busy taking pictures to realize the guardsmen were pulling back - and quickly was in the midst of angry protesters.That seems to be focused pretty much on facts, which are either true, partly true, or not. Not much room for an accusation of revisionism there.
The tape captures one voice saying: "They got somebody," and a few seconds later, male voices shout: "Kill him!" Kill him!" There is then the sound of a .38 caliber revolver shot, followed by a female voice: "Whack that [expletive]!" Three more handgun shots ring out at about five-second intervals, and soon thereafter - in just 13 tragic seconds - 29 of the 77 guardsmen fire a total of 67 rifle shots...
Well, I had some bias at the time as well. I sided with the protestors, read James Michener's condensed account of the events in Reader's Digest, and wondered what would happen to me, a hippie pacifist, if the fascist Nixon government proceeded in killing innocent students who only wanted to end an unjust war. I figured that these were flower-in-the-gun-barrel types. Michener, BTW, later came to darker conclusions, according to the NYTimes.
James A. Michener, the author, who concluded in his own study that the killing of four Kent State University students by National Guardsmen was an accident, now believes a conspiracy may have existed among guardsmen to fire on the antiwar demonstrators, United Press International reported last weekThe information from the tapes is new. But surely the other information, about the student violence leading up to the protests, the visits by Marc Rudd and Bernadette Dohrn, the SDS presence and declarations of war - not in general, but at Kent State specifically - the previous arrests for violence...surely that information was available at the time as well?
Yet it was entirely news to me this week. Michener, as unrelentingly liberal as he was, must have nonetheless made some reference to the preceding events. Though the NY Times may have reported that the last protest at Kent State was a panty raid in 1958, I didn't read the Times. Heck, my hometown newspaper was the Manchester Union Leader, and William Loeb must certainly have published a stirring defense of the Guardsmen, right on the front page. But then, I was already pretty sure that everything Loeb wrote was twisted so far that it was a lie, and probably disregarded any counter-information about Kent State that came my way. Probably just a case of taking a few innocent facts about the protestors and inflating them to look like dark communist plots.
So I must have known, but erased the memory, letting it fall away in very 1984 fashion. That's pretty scarey to me, because I began my two decade-long march across the political spectrum just a few years later. So not only had I forgotten it by 2010, I had forgotten it by 1978. And actually, by 1973, as we shall see later.
That two decade-long march, with, I think, gun control being the last issue to fall, was haunting, even painful. Yes, the left was going too far with some of their idiot ideas. Yes, they attributed all fault in conflict to conservatives, taking no ownership for any escalation on their part. Yes, they denied realities of human behavior and found pathological reasons behind every action of those who disagreed with them, but I always held to the point that they weren't totally insane, because they were right sometimes. Conservatives had indeed been fascists at times, and that bore watching; so these overheated leftists couldn't be entirely dismissed. And events like Kent State were my evidence for that.
I hated where I was being driven intellectually. I hated the very thought of being associated with those horrible people. The ones I knew were gentle enough, but everyone of my background knew, everyone knew, that if you pushed those conservatives far enough the nutcases among them would rise up and get violent, and the nicer people would just let them. Or worse, would become maddened mobs shouting for blood themselves. Lee Harvey Oswald was quite obviously a conservative nutcase, because hey, he'd been a Marine and liked guns, so how much more evidence do you need? To gradually absorb that Oswald was a man of the left took some time for me, even after learning all the solid biographical information about him.
The excuses I made for violent people of the left... I'm a clever guy, and can make good excuses.
I should be more patient and understanding of liberals, shouldn't I, given my own history?
Here's the take-away thought: liberals regard as ridiculous the accusations that conservatives make, that these movements are infiltrated by communists, marxists, and other off-brands of leftist. This is because they know that 90-95% of the people they encounter who ascribe to those views are nothing of the sort, who even disagree publicly with the 5-10% who seem determined to find a revolution somewhere. The flaw in that argument is that infiltration seems to be a preferred tactic on the left, and 5% is often just fine with them. Why the extreme left does that and the extreme right doesn't I don't know. But it is a peculiarly effective method of asymmetric warfare. Environmentalism isn't a particularly radical or alarming idea, yet they've got plenty of marxists trying to wrestle the movement to their own end. Unionism and social justice are pretty middle-American ideas, but both have barking mad Trotskyites in them. Heck, even panty raids, a pretty mild form of protest against...something-or-other, seems to have had incidents of student activists using them to set the stage for later rebellions. Contrast this with the farther-right groups: Birchers don't infiltrate movements of the right, they argue with people and tell them they are dupes. Randians can't even succeed at taking over the libertarian movements, let alone conservatism. They argue. Even the Tea Parties, with their hardly-radical ideas of smaller government and eliminating corruption, have had difficulty taken over from the Republican establishment despite superior numbers.
It's a powerful tactic. Most movements have volunteers who assent but basically only show up on weekends or with small checks. Full-time activists showing up in volunteer organizations are going to quickly have a disproportionate influence, and the rank-and-file are going to be pretty relieved that someone else is doing the work, because they've got leaves to rake and jobs to go to.
Maybe I'm trying to talk the right wing into trying this infiltration tactic, I don't know. It seems to work. Nah, there's something about it that is essentially dishonest. Can't go there.
I sang this song with Carroll County. Now that you know, as Paul Harvey said, the rest of the story, listen to the personalization of it, the call for war. We were so sure we were the ones who wanted peace, and some of us were willing to get violent to prove it.
The song feels different tonight.