Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 41—"The Kent State Massacre"

Assistant Editor’s Corner

By Becky Jamison

Join us on April 22 for the first annual celebration of Earth Day. Local farmers will bring organic snacks. Science majors will talk about the effects of pollution on the planet. The Union of Concerned Scientists will be giving a series of workshops in Commons. At 7:00 p.m. the Paul Butterfield Blues Band will play on the green.

Our anti-war efforts continue but once the war is over we need to make sure we have a planet worth living on. Come have fun and learn something in the process.

If Earth Day was a distraction from the war, it didn’t stay that way long.

On Thursday night, April 30, I got home from the library to see Rick, Peter and Marty engaged in a deep and serious conversation with Suki and Racer both asleep on the floor in front of them. Nobody acknowledged me. “What’s up?” I asked as I greeted each one with a kiss, lingering somewhat on Marty’s.

“The shit hit the fan,” Marty reached up for a second kiss.

“What fan?”

Rick said, “Nixon announced that American soldiers invaded Cambodia and have been secretly bombing there since March of last year.’

“Why are we invading them?” I asked. “They’re neutral.”

“Nixon believes 40,000 North Vietnamese troops are at the border,” Rick explained.

I couldn’t think of a thing to say.

Around the campus, around the country, people found plenty to say.

Eight hundred Lake Forest College students joined a spontaneous rally on campus the next day, two-thirds of all students. Marty said to the crowd, “We are asking for an immediate response by our faculty, staff and administration to the President of the United States condemning the invasion of Cambodia and asking for a withdrawal of troops. We demand that they speak out against this immoral government policy.”

The chants began. “Right on.” “Shut it down.” “Occupy the administration building.”

Marty continued, “We will not waver. We will boycott classes until they meet our demands.”

Rick came out of Commons where the faculty was meeting and took the bullhorn. “The faculty and administration are in conversation as we speak.”

“How many conversations does it take?” someone yelled from the crowd.

As long as the faculty went on with their conversation, we stayed on the green. It wasn’t an Earth Day celebration feeling, a harbinger of good things to come. It was a shit-hit-the-fan feeling. Marty kept moving, strategizing, organizing. I moved with him, interviewed students for the next edition of the paper, sat with my guitar under a tree and sang. I needed Ginger to keep the music going with me. I missed her and Jake more than ever at times like this.

Lunch came and went. Dinner came and went. Students came and went. We still hadn’t heard from the administration. What was taking so long? At 8:00 p.m., Rick informed us that they were shutting down for the night and that a small group was working to compose a letter. Delay. Delay. Delay. We weren’t leaving. We could wait them out.

We occupied the administration building that night. The next morning someone from the dining commons brought us coffee, juice and doughnuts, a perfect ending to a sleepless night.

Students began gathering again on the green next to a banner that said, “SHUT IT DOWN.” Most of the student body arrived by 9:00. They chanted, “1-2-3-4. We don’t want your fucking war. 1-2-3-4.” “Out of Cambodia now.” “We’re not leaving.”

Marty took the bullhorn. “We demand accountability from the faculty and staff. We will occupy for as long as we need to. We will boycott classes. WE WILL SHUT DOWN THIS COLLEGE.”

Five weeks until graduation. I could hear Marty’s sense of doom in every word. Shut it down. Get us out. End this war. Don’t make me choose.

The chants got louder. More aggressive. SHUT IT DOWN. WE’RE NOT LEAVING. OCCUPY. It was anger, fear, fatigue, a fierce rage at the war that kept going on and on and on.

Someone took the bullhorn. “Where are they? How long does it take to write a letter?” I could feel the energy rising and changing. We could take over this campus if we all moved at the same time. We were strong enough. We were willing. We would put our bodies on the line.

Then the group parted and grew silent as the President of the college, accompanied by Rick and at least one hundred staff and faculty members, walked through. The President walked up the stairs of the administration building. Marty handed him the bullhorn and he addressed us. “I am proud to be your President. You demonstrated your passion and your dedication to making this world better.” Then he read a letter demanding an immediate withdrawal of troops from Cambodia and an end to the war in Vietnam. It was signed by 90% of the faculty and administration. What about the other 10%? Did they not care?

On college campuses all over the country, protests flared. As rage and anger over the deception increased, students rioted, took over college buildings, and demanded an end to any complicity with the U.S. government. The anti-war movement was alive and well. So was the war.

Vietnam didn’t own the violence. Cambodia didn’t own the violence. It was everywhere. Students had had enough. We tried it non-violently. You didn’t listen. Now we will show you that we mean what we say.

The most violent protest was at Kent State University in the small town of Kent, Ohio, where students held rallies protesting the war, the bombing and the ROTC training programs on campus. Monday. May 4th. A noon rally was organized at Kent State to reclaim the campus from the National Guard sent in by the governor. By noon, more than forty percent of the student body was there. The guard ordered them to disperse. “You have no right to assemble.” No right? Who took away that right? Did they amend the Constitution when I wasn’t paying attention? It’s our right. It’s our duty.

Shots rang out and when the carnage was complete, four students, Allison Krause, Sandra Lee Scheuer, Jeffrey Glenn Miller and William K. Schroeder lay in pools of their own blood, dead, shot by their own guard while peacefully protesting the war. Nine others were injured. Less than two weeks later, police killed James Earl Green and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs at an anti-war protest at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi. The war had come home. We were killing our own. The problem isn’t Communism. It’s the right to peacefully assemble.

Assistant Editor’s Corner

By Becky Jamison

In response to the horrible events of the past week, the college administration has cancelled classes for the remainder of the week. In addition, the faculty voted to allow students to boycott classes for the rest of the year. If you choose that option, you will receive the grade you currently have. Professors will be in class for any students who wish to continue.

We remember the students killed at Kent State and Jackson State. Those killings will not deter us.

More than seventy-five percent of the students at Lake Forest boycotted classes following the killings at Kent State. We were angry. We were many. We were loud. We felt powerful. In the end, we were powerless. Wars don’t end because we yell. Wars end because it’s no longer politically or economically expedient for the government to continue. We would keep yelling anyway.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 50,963

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