Forty years ago, during Vietnam War protests at Kent State University, National Guard troops were called in to control the student protesters. Members of the National Guard opened fire, killing four and wounding nine others. Few were part of the protest. One of the murdered students was walking to class.
The events of the day and the analysis of the events from a historical perspective were captured in the USA Today story “1970 Kent State shootings are an enduring history lesson.”
After reading the story, I’m not sure what the enduring history lesson is.
I do know that the campus attitude toward the War in Iraq is so different from what the campus attitude was toward the Vietnam War. A key difference is that during the Vietnam War almost everyone had a direct connection to the war and that was, in large part, due to the draft.
During the Vietnam War, college males knew that they could be drafted as soon as they graduated — or if they dropped out or were on probation. College students had classmates, boyfriends, or brothers or other relatives who could be drafted, had been drafted, or had enlisted to avoid being drafted into the Army. Almost everyone had a personal story about someone who was serving in the military or had taken measures (from going to medical school in Mexico to fleeing to Canada) to escape the draft.
Now on college campuses, any military conflict — Persian Gulf War, the War in Iraq or the War in Afghanistan — is much more removed. The students follow developments in the media, but few have that direct connection to a war because of the elimination of the draft.
On the University of Florida campus this semester, students protested against a proposed increase of fees to fund renovation of the student union. Their protests led to the proposed fee being dropped. The students also protested over alleged excessive use of force by police in dealing with a graduate student who had blockaded himself in his campus apartment. That incident is now under investigation.
Maybe one of the historical lessons is that people rise up to protest those issues that connect with them on a personal level. Sometimes those protesting know the risks involved. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes even those not involved get caught in the gunfire.