Right here – Get set – Point – Fire!

May 4th, 2007 marks the 37th anniversary of the shooting deaths of four students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. It seems few remember those who were felled by bullets during national anti-Vietnam war protests triggered by President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Today it’s the heinous shooting deaths of 32 students at Virginia Tech by a deranged gunman that hangs heavy on the American psyche. The killings at Virginia Tech represent a monstrous crime – but we must never forget the students gunned down by their own government at Kent State.

Sculpture by George Segal

[ In Memory of May 4, 1970: Kent State – Abraham & Isaac – George Segal, 1978. Bronze sculpture. ]


American Pop Artist, George Segal (1924-2000), was so moved by the killings at Kent State that he created a bronze sculpture in 1978 commemorating the shootings. The bronze is now located in Princeton University’s sculpture garden. Segal was an American painter associated with the Pop Art movement who became best known for his sculptural works. He titled his statue, In Memory of May 4, 1970: Kent State – Abraham & Isaac, and he said of the work, “There is a strong connection in my mind between the image of Abraham and Isaac and the killings at Kent State.”

Of course the artist was referring to the Biblical Abraham and his obedient willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. Segal’s making the story of Abraham and Isaac contemporaneous to the murders at Kent State is an interesting take on the shootings. He said his sculpture was “an attempt to introduce difficult moral and ethical questions as to how older people should behave toward their children.” Segal stated his belief that the shootings a Kent State represented a “genuine tragedy in that both sides were well meaning, each convinced of its own point of view and unable to see the other’s.”

But unlike Abraham, the Ohio State National Guardsmen who fired the fatal volleys were not receiving commands from God, however, it now appears someone did give them direct orders to open fire on the unarmed students – wounding nine and killing four. The authorities have always maintained there were no orders to open fire, and that guardsmen panicked and began firing by “mistake.” An audio tape has surfaced that appears to be a recording of a Guard commander giving the orders to shoot. The tape is full of background noise as you might expect; your can hear general clamor from a large crowd of students, the campus bell is ringing, a young women is heard yelling something… a name perhaps, “Richard”? After the girl’s shout you can hear a man call out in a steady cadence, “Right here – Get set – Point – Fire!” Immediately there is a volley of rifle fire. It is a chilling snippet of audio, and you can hear it for yourself courtesy of the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.

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