Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

Article updated 5/4/2015 - As I type this my heart still aches for every soul killed or wounded, not just at the Kent State massacre, but in that great monstrosity we call the Vietnam War. Now, 45 years later on this May 5, 2015 anniversary of the Kent State killings, the U.S. is embroiled in multiple wars and racial tension is at a breaking point. Nevertheless, my desire to build a just and peaceful society remains steadfast. My original post, written in 2006, follows:

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I’ll never forget hearing the news that National Guardsmen shot 13 students at Kent State University, killing four - Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, and Sandy Scheuer. I was only 17 on that fateful day thirty-six years ago, but I had gone out on strike with fellow high school students over President Nixon’s illegal invasion of Cambodia, an incursion that set off huge demonstrations all across the United States and indeed the world. On May 4th, 1970, I was sitting at home listening to Pacifica Radio’s coverage of the national student protests when the news broke - Guardsmen had fired live ammunition into a crowd of antiwar protesters at Kent State University. I was blinded by tears of rage and sorrow listening to that broadcast, the war had indeed “come home” for U.S. citizens - only now the blood of peace activists and students flowed in the streets.

vallen_kentstate“America is Dead” - Mark Vallen. Pen & ink, May 1970 ©. I made the drawing in my high school sketchbook at the age of 17.

Though I was far away from the mayhem and bloodshed at Kent, those shootings affected me deeply, and that week I created a number of pen and ink drawings in the sketchbook I always carried with me. My fury over the war poured out onto those pages - and I guess I have never stopped drawing my outrage and opposition to war. On this thirty-sixth anniversary of the murders at Kent State, I present two youthful drawings taken from my high school sketchbook. The first drawing depicts the shock and horror that was Kent State, with the sketch inspired by newspaper photographs. The second, a dark portrayal of a U.S. soldier who met his end in the jungles of Vietnam, was based upon an illustration by underground cartoonist Ron Cobb.

"Vietnam" - Mark Vallen, pen & ink, 1970. After Ron Cobb

"Vietnam" - Mark Vallen, pen & ink, 1970. After Ron Cobb

I can’t help but experience an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu when viewing the political landscape today. Once again America is being lead by an unpopular president who has the nation embroiled in a costly, unpopular, and ever widening war.

Again, Americans find themselves spied upon and wiretapped, with dissent all but criminalized. I pray that the outcome to this horrendous mess turns out better than did the nightmare of Vietnam, but it’s hard to be optimistic at this late date.

Still, there are glimmers of hope. As in the 1960s, artists, musicians and writers have been among the first to voice dissent. Immediately after the killings at Kent State, Neil Young wrote Ohio, one of the most chilling protest songs ever written. This past April, Young released a new album that is destined to be an antiwar masterwork, Living with War (listen to it here.) One can only hope that Young’s latest example will inspire legions of contemporary artists and musicians to take a stand, and that his song, Let’s Impeach the President, will soon become a reality.

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Further reading: Kent State 1970: We Need a Serious Look at What Happened and Why. May 4, 2015.

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