Wednesday, April 29, 1970, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia to "neutralize communist operation bases." Sen. J. William Fulbright called the invasion "a great mistake, a great tragedy."
Astronaut John Glenn, speaking at the University of Akron in his Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate, said: "We must get the war-making power back in Congress. We cannot tolerate the president drifting us into war."
That same day Governor James A. Rhodes ordered 3,000 Ohio National Guardsmen to duty in the Teamsters truckers strike, and sent 1,200 troops to Ohio State University to suppress students protesting ROTC programs and inadequate admissions of black students.
The next day, April 30, President Nixon, formally announcing the invasion of Cambodia, said "This is not an invasion of Cambodia," and added: "My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. ... Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed."
On May 1, some 500 Kent State students interred a copy of the Constitution on campus, accusing President Nixon of "murdering" it by sending U.S. troops into Cambodia without Congress declaring war. The Black United Students group also demonstrated, demanding that KSU enroll more blacks and establish a black cultural center.
Late Saturday, May 2, Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom, apparently believing rumors that radical revolutionaries intended to destroy the town and university, called out the National Guard, who started arriving after the burning of the ROTC building was already under way.
Sunday, May 3, students held another sit-in in hope of gaining a meeting with Mayor Satrom and KSU President Robert White. They were again dispersed with tear gas and bayonets.
May 4th afternoon we townspeople were shocked and shaken at news stories and neighbors' accounts of violence and carnage on campus, and rumors that four National Guardsmen had been killed. It took about 24 hours to sort out the reality that it was four unarmed students who were dead.
But by then rumors, gossip, accusations, hostile feelings and outright fictions against the students were in full cry. It was communists from a Soviet submarine subverting gullible students; "professional agitators" were organizing and arming malcontents; the SDS was planning to blow up the Main Street bridge; the Black Panthers were taking over the town of Hudson; the KSU students were diseased, criminal, anarchists, filthy, lice-ridden "bums" or "scuzz-balls"; they deserved to be shot; "They should have shot more of them."
In the spring of 1970 an estimated 4 million students nationwide participated in protests against the war and some 30 ROTC buildings were burned. Students everywhere were asking questions like: Why are we having this war in Vietnam? Why invade Cambodia? Who gets to decide about wars? Why are we being taught war and killing in ROTC? Why are our protests met with police brutality? Why are so few blacks able to go to college? Why are we conscripted to fight a war we don't believe in when we can't vote and have no voice in public decisions about our lives?
Nixon, Rhodes and Satrom didn't want to talk about those questions, didn't even want them talked about. Many citizens didn't, either. Instead of giving the students a place at the table, listening to them, and working with them, we used force to control them, reviled them, criminalized them, arrested them, tear-gassed them, bayoneted them, shot them.
Thirty-eight years later we still haven't answered their questions. We haven't confronted the use of war and violence for political or economic ends. We haven't faced the residual racism and resentment of the poor in our communities; our Constitution has been freshly dismembered; our Congress cannot shake off its addiction to corporate finance or reclaim its war-making power.
We still write off anyone who threatens our comfortable assumptions as worthless, deserving no mercy. Recently, after a news story in the Record-Courier gave the Latino-sounding name of a man without health insurance who was badly injured in an accident, the reporter received a phone call demanding to know if "the Mexican was in the country legally."
We still keep young people, poor people, people of color, "illegal" immigrants away from the table, out of the public discourse; we keep them from having medical care, living wages, public transportation, basic education, saddle them with debt from credit cards and student loans, and we make sure not too many of them vote.
With six months until we elect our next president we still haven't decided some fundamental questions: Who constitutes "we-the-people"? What do we want from our President and Congress? Do we want a president who terrorizes the rest of the world with bombs, mercenary warriors, secret detentions, refined tortures, and brutal economics and marketing systems that exploit poor people? Do we want a president who makes sure undeserving "illegals" don't get anything our tax dollars have paid for?
I am not encouraged that Sen. Barack Obama's response to the "outrageous" ideas raised by Jeremiah Wright was to send the contentious pastor away from the table instead of engaging with him over the questions raised. If some people wonder whether the government infected blacks with AIDS, and some believe our government practices terrorism, we need to talk about it.
I want to think that both Hillary Clinton and Obama would try to get everyone to the table, listen to them and bring them into the process of dealing with the issues that affect their lives -- war, health care, energy and food prices, education, environmental issues. I want to think that either of them would bring students, the poor, and people of color into the conversations and help us all learn to make democracy and democratic government work for the common good.
Because if we, presently the richest, most powerful nation on earth, can't come up with some shared -- by everyone, students, the poor, the misguided and the undeserving -- vision of a world we all want to live in, we will kill everyone.