Tin soldiers – a history lesson worth remembering

A day that lives in infamy can be summoned to memory with the words “Kent State.” If you are not familiar with this term, please Google it as it reveals what could happen today, by showing what did happen in May, 1970.

In short, President Nixon called out the national guard to keep a protest of college students at Kent State University in Ohio from turning into a riot. The dilemma is these “tin soldiers,” as they were termed in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s powerful song “Ohio,” were armed. So, when one of the protesters was alleged to have thrown a rock, a guardsman opened fire and was joined in fire by the other guardsmen. Four college students were killed and nine were injured.

Nixon is remembered mostly for resigning before he was impeached for Watergate (in essence running a burglary operation from the White House), yet his calling out the national guard on college students is a horrendous decision. To understand the magnitude, picture your child being faced down by the national guard.

I mention this today as during an interview with Margaret Atwood, who wrote the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she said totalitarianism first occurs when a leader has troops fire on protesters.

What scares many is the possibility of our current President calling the national guard on a group of protesters is not a stretch. It is also not a stretch for one of the armed militias that feel empowered by this President doing the same.

It is interesting that two dystopian books are going through a concerned revival. One is “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the other is “1984.” We need to be strident in protecting our rights to assemble and protest. We need to be civil in these respects, but it is well within our rights to question our leaders. And, we should not be shot at.

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33 thoughts on “Tin soldiers – a history lesson worth remembering

  1. I’m not sure we are at the point in this man’s presidency that we need to be worried about the possibility that he will order troops to open fire on protesters. It is possible, yes, but at this point it is a needless worry — no? There’s enough in what he actually does to keep us on the edge our seats without worrying about what he might do. But, in the end, you are right: we need to be ever alert to any possible threat to our right to assemble and speak freely.

  2. I read The Handmaid’s Tale when it first came out. I think that after reading and hearing so much about it lately, I need to pick it up again. It seems that a few plots of dystopian and “what if” books written a while ago are now appearing alarmingly possible.

    • Janis, there is a new mini series on the book which began filming before the election. You are right about the context of the book appearing similar to today. Turkey is a good example of a President becoming increasingly more totalitarian in a democratic society as a result of a failed coup, which may have been orchestrated. Keith

  3. Yes, I well remember Kent State, and this post is timely. Hugh is correct that it is not, perhaps, one of the most imminent concerns, however … I have been closely watching the situation at U-C Berkeley, where in February, amidst violent protests, the university canceled an appearance by white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos. Trump tweeted, “f U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Then just ten days ago, 21 were arrested during protests between Trump supporters and non-supporters. And now radical Ann Coulter vows to speak on April 27th, even though the university canceled and re-scheduled that speech, fearing violence. Protests are bubbling to the surface and threaten to become ugly. So yes, I think this is a timely reminder, and I will not be surprised if the situation in Berkeley ends in tragedy, though of course I hope not.

    • Jill, I hate to see what is happening at UCB. Bill Maher raises the point that universities have become too zealous in defending liberal thinking. I believe they should allow speakers who hold opposing-to-the-norm views. People can vote with their feet or choose to attend. This is a reason I read columnists with whom I largely disagree. I find some common ground or reinforce my arguments.

      I personally find Ann Coulter’s opinions not to my liking, nor the flippant manner in which she conveys them. But, I do support her right to espouse them.

      I hope protesters avoid violence as that is not how to to heard and plays into the hands of our combatting be leader. Keith

      • I agree with you that everybody, even extremists like Coulter and Yiannopoulos, has a right to free speech. However, I also see the university’s concern over safety, and I am not sure where the balance between the two can be found. The protests and violence at UCB may be only a harbinger of what is to come in cities around the nation if the hatred and vitriol is not stopped soon. One must ask, at some point, should there be some limits on freedom of speech, but then that takes us down a path I prefer not to venture on … think Turkey. Relying on humans to use good sense seems to be rather futile, and to a large extent I blame the ‘man’ who spews hatred with every daily tweet.

      • Jill, I would say about the danger is we need cooler heads at the university and other places of authority, to tell people they have a right to protest, but must do so peacefully. When free speech is strangled, everyone loses. On other blogs, I have discussed peaceful protest and discourse working through the system and some have vilified me, surprisingly. They want to blow up everything and start anew, but that is not a productive option. We need leaders to be calming and not condone violence. Yet, our President’s ego will take issue with anyone who sleights him. So, others have to be the adults in the room. Keith

    • Erika, this was a tragic event that could have been avoided. While Nixon had a few great accomplishments – opening up China and establishing the EPA. eg – he was a paranoid man and made mistakes because of this – having an enemies list, spying on people, and authorizing a burglary to get information. Keith

      • That’s the dangerous thing about having an instable person at such a position…. I know this was more than tragic and please forgive me if this is inappropriate but what came to my mind was: “And I thought my birth was the only tragic thing happening in May 1970…”

  4. Dear Keith,
    I can envision DDT thinking about calling out the “National Guard” to manage a protest if he thought he could get away with it. After all he is being sued by protesters who were assaulted at some of his rallies with encouragement from DDT.

    This is why any protests by non Trump supporters need to be peaceful in nature.This way he has no justification to act on his impulses.

    Ciao, Gronda

    • Gronda, if for the simple reason our laws allow for peaceful protest. Since I do not expect leadership from our President, others have to fill the void. This man’s ego won’t permit sleights and he is already showing disrespect to our allies. When I think of our leader, the word adult does not come to mind. Keith

  5. Note to Readers: There is a disturbing similarity to Nixon and Trump that should be highlighted. Nixon kept an Enemy’s List and worked with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to have dossiers on each. A key trait of Trump’s is to remember those who slighted or disagreed with him, which has made it difficult to fill positions with competent and experienced people. There remains about 500 openings of Senate approvable positions. Which means this White House is not very deep in capability. Trump has always been a litigious man, so he is prone to shoe his displeasure in demonstrative ways. There may be a future similarity in that they may have both committed impeachable offenses. The latter is already keen on cover up like the former.

    • Thanks Linda. The one key difference is Nixon at least saw a bigger picture and had experience and experienced people helping him. He did a few good things, but his Presidency will be remembered for the negatives. Trump is just dangerous. Keith

  6. I can remember the Kent State shootings w/o Google.

    At the time, I was a grad student about to present a sketch of what would become my PhD thesis at a selective scientific symposium. Way back then, publishing something before getting a degree was somewhat unusual. I was eager to give a good talk in the very short time given to each speaker.

    I happened to glance at a newspaper shortly before my talk. There was a headline about Kent State and that iconic photo of a woman kneeling beside a dead protester. Seething with anger and revulsion and shame, I briefly considered starting my talk by asking for a minute of silence for the victims. But I did not know how many people in the audience had heard or seen the news. I did know that I would be likely to bungle the task if blank stares indicated that I would need to tell people what had happened. Previous speakers said nothing about Kent State, so I somehow staggered thru my talk w/o mentioning it or revealing my inner turmoil.

    While the tin soldiers’ horrendous overreaction to a rowdy protest had ruined the start of my career, I was still alive. I could start thinking seriously about what little I could do to oppose a descent into fascism. Decades later, I still need to think about that. No easy answers.

    • Many thanks for the historical and personal reflection. What do you say about the unmentionable? We do need to call out such behavior when we see it. That is the only way to expose it. Thanks, Keith

  7. Kent State. I remember a documentary on our BBC and reports in the newspapers, and the images which remained in my memory are the statements by members of the public or that came out on the radio in support of the national guardsmen. The fearful divide and the passions released.
    And now in this age the social media gives access to the hate-mongers and toxic-minded to stir the devil’s brew.
    Cool heads are essential at this time. An audience of stone-faced folk staring in silence is more effective; those who court controversy relish the abuse, it feeds into their martyr complex.
    As for your current president I suspect ill-health may have him leave the stage as he becomes aware that a nation is not like a corporation.

    • Roger, I like your coin of the phrase “Cool heads are essential.” On your final comment, during an interview with Reuters yesterday, Trump said he thought being President would be easier than running his company. Therein lies part of the problem. He keeps harping back on his winning, as I firmly believe he wanted to win more than he wanted to be President. Keith

      • Oh no! He said that in public!!?? (sound of head gently impacting on wall) I’ve accused him of being amateurish, I never thought he could right out and publically through his own mouth confirm it!! (head now slowly impacting with coffee table- wife tells me to stop as I’m spilling her tea- she’ll understand once I explain why)

      • Roger, don’t hurt yourself over this stuff, as there will be more to come. You need to remember him saying “who knew healthcare could be so complicated?” The answer is most everyone. Keith

      • Part of me is saying ‘I don’t believe it!’, while another part is whispering ‘Aww c’mon, you saw it a mile off!’
        I did say originally back in after the result that a chance should be given to see if they could pick up speed and ‘learn on the march’, that seems to be turning out to be a hopeless dream.

      • Roger, my thoughts have been let’s give the guy a chance, but I matched that with low expectations. He has failed to meet even that low bar. His choosing of Bannon and then Pruitt revealed a lack of substance about the important matters facing us. And, then he proceeded with a level unmatched level of chaos, lying and incompetence. And, he has little interest in knowing the job. As David Brooks said tonight on PBS, he is a man with words. Keith

      • Seems to show all the hallmarks of someone who strove to get somewhere at any cost without paying much attention to the detail of what was to be done when arriving.
        Best wishes
        Roger

      • Roger, while he has been overall successful, his biographers and financial reporters note his business record is spotty. He is not big on due diligence which at times has bitten him in the fanny. For example, he set up Trump Mortgage in the middle of the housing crisis. Of course, it failed, but why did he not see it coming since real estate is his business? He wants wins, regardless of the details, which is why he did not care he would be screwing people if his health care bill passed. Keith

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