In October 2009 I received an e-mail from one Jonathan Hartley that reproduced the header of my Common Dreams essay of May 7, 2004, " What Really Happened at Kent State " followed by this paragraph:
"What really happened at Kent State was that the truth was murdered, and the vicious, evil, immoral march of Marxism around the world found its first foothold in America. But the truth can't be buried, because even after all these years, we are going to preserve it forever. The misinformation and lies won't stand. I teach my 14 year old about the brave people of that town who endured a year of intimidation, assaults and persecution at the hands of communist militants. A year of abuse before something was finally done to defend them from the "liberators of mankind." All of the Kent State traitors owe an abject apology to the people of Kent State and to America. And they should have been prosecuted for murder."
[last sentence printed in red]
My first reaction was to respond: "Were you in Kent in May of 1970? Can you name some "brave people of the town" and document the persecution they endured? Just who would you prosecute for murder?" But I quickly realized the futility of challenging Mr. Hartley. I can't square his truth with my experience, but nothing I could say would change his mind.
I lived in Kent through the protests. It's true that misinformation and lies circulated around town: the SDS is going to blow up the Main Street Bridge on Friday; Black Panthers have taken over Hudson (a neighboring town); the rioters are controlled by communists from a Soviet submarine in West Branch Reservoir; Allison Krause "was so eaten up by venereal disease she would have died anyway."
It's also true there were outsiders on campus, perhaps hoping for glory by organizing the students to some newsworthy action. If so, they failed miserably: whatever other words might describe the student protests, 'organized' is not one. For that matter, the response of the university and the local, state and national officials can hardly be described as 'organized' either.
The ensuing events, though unplanned, were certainly newsworthy, but they arose more from misunderstanding and mismanagement than from communist plots or authoritarian repression; more from internal dissonance than outside agitation; more from official arrogance, bureaucratic disorder and student frustration than calculated organization or communist militants, more from rumor than reason, more from fear than fact.
Truth wasn't murdered at Kent State. People were murdered; people were wounded, hurt, frightened and bewildered, and much damage was done across the community and university.
At a forum at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent on May 2, 2004, a Kent veteran of Vietnam spoke out:
"I'm still trying to reconcile my hometown to what happened here ... I can't understand ... [near tears]... understand it, and it's not finished yet. Kent State is my Vietnam Wall .... and Kent State belongs to everyone in this country, in the world .... And now we're still going through the same thing in Iraq to obtain peace.... In 1972 I voted for Nixon. But May 4 followed me everywhere. People would say "Where are you from?" and when I said "Kent Ohio" they always said, "Oh, that's where they shoot students." ... It needs to be embraced. I can't be responsible for all the babies and bombs of Vietnam, of Iraq. But we have to take it ... we have to walk with it."
Finally, in 2010, we have an opportunity to take hold of some truths about what happened here and seek some rapprochement we can live with. This year Allison Krause's sister Laurel and their mother Doris have initiated a Kent State Truth Tribunal to document the personal narratives of participants and witnesses to the campus events of 40 years ago. Stories will be recorded in downtown Kent May 1 - 4, and will be available as streaming video on the web site www.MichaelMoore.com . (more information: https://truthtribunal.org/about )
The Krause family is seeking restorative justice, not Bad Guys to blame, or traitors to prosecute. They hope to shed light on the causes of and responsibilities for the tragic events of May 4, and clarify the role of protest and civil rights in our democracy.
Also this year, in another unique project, Kent residents are being invited to submit fabric squares reflecting their memories of May 4 to create a community story quilt that will engage people and get them talking about healing, hope, and peace.
It is a strong metaphor: truth as a quilt assembled from patches of personal memories and pieces of shared dreams, stitched together with mutual respect and kindness into a usable reality that protects and warms us.
The Kent veteran was right: we need truths about May 4 we can talk about, take in our arms , and walk with into the future.
But he also reminded us: "And now we're still going through the same thing in Iraq to obtain peace."
... and who should be responsible for the babies and bombs of Iraq, of Afghanistan?