Their killing shocked the nation, as it should have. Four innocent, God-fearing Americans from the Heartland, gunned down in cold blood by an armed militia. It's been a while now, but the questions still gnaw.
Who was ultimately responsible for the assault, and why have the perpetrators not been brought to justice?
Was there a large-scale cover-up?
Could the U.S. government, even the White House, bear some responsibility for the killings, or the apparent cover-up?
Why were there only rubber-stamp investigations, and not a real probe?
Will there ever be an official apology?
After all this time, the family members and friends of those who were murdered are still voicing their pain, still desperately in search of answers. Here's what one of them wrote just this week: "[N]o one has ever been held accountable. When courts fail to bring justice to the injured and when governments prefer to neglect their role in such tragedies, families sometimes turn to alternative means of gathering the truth." Most recently, she wrote, she's been working with a citizens' tribunal and with a few hardy journalists in an effort of getting to the bottom of what happened that afternoon.
It always hurts to learn of people who lose their lives inf a senseless fashion. But injustice can make those deaths burn for years, even for decades.
Jeffrey Glenn Miller, William Knox Schroeder, Sandra Lee Scheuer, and Allison Krause (it was Krause's sister Laurel who wrote the plea for answers, quoted above) were killed 44 years ago on this date -- May 4, 1970. They were gunned down when members of the Ohio National Guard abruptly opened fire on demonstrators protesting U.S. military action in Cambodia. After all these decades, we still don't know who ordered that the shots were fired, or why. (The four victims, all aged 19 or 20, were not even involved in the center of the protest but were struck in the massive volley nonetheless). The chilling effect that the shootings had on legitimate anti-war protests spark bigger questions that also remain unanswered.
It's an interesting coincidence that the 44th anniversary comes at the same time that another senseless killing of four Americans is at the top of the news. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods were killed on Sept. 11, 2012, at the U.S. diplomatic compound at Benghazi, Libya. Just like that day 44 years ago, the news was heartbreaking. On the week it happened, I wrote of my extreme dismay over the loss of Stevens, a true American idealist who knew he was risking his life but thought he could make the world a better place by his service in Libya.
A few of you may have seen the headline "4 dead Americans" and even thought this was a post about Benghazi! But while the tragic loss of four American lives is their shared bond, it's worth mentioning Benghazi in the context of Kent State -- only to briefly note a few key differences. While no probe has ever been able to get to the bottom of why Kent State happened, many of the key questions about Benghazi have been investigated again and again, and most (like why the U.S. military could not respond quickly enough) have been answered, in public and under oath, by top officials. The mistakes in security that took place before the attacks have been identified and corrected. There probably should be a better discussion about the U.S. role in Libya and the wider region, then and also going forward, but that's not the conversation that anyone seems interested in having. I'm also baffled by how little chatter there is about the Libyan terrorists who actually killed our citizens, The only shameful actions related to Benghazi committed by any American, from what I've seen, are the Americans trying to score cheap political points off their murder.
On May 4, 1970, four innocent Americans were killed on American soil, by American troops. And even though it happened 44 years ago, before a lot of folks around nowadays were even born, the effects have stayed with us all these years. Neil Young, in the memorable song "Ohio," asked, "How can you run, when you know?" -- and those words have always stayed with me, and inspired me.
But let's be honest: People did run...and it's not surprising. The realization that you could be killed for protesting the government -- coupled with other massively illegal operations against legitimate dissent, such as the FBI's unconstitutional COINTELPRO -- had the desired chilling effect, and campus protest began to dissipate as early as the fall of 1970s. In the years since, the federal government and local authorities have taken countless steps to curb the public's right of free assembly and curb dissent -- militarizing police forces, creating Orwellian "free speech zones" at public events, "kettling" protesters to block their movement or carry out mass arrests, and coordinating their actions to shut down the Occupy protests of 2011. All part of a tide that began on this blood-soaked afternoon, two score and four years ago.
That's why I've written about what happened on Kent State on this day ever since I started blogging nearly a decade ago, and probably will until the day I die...or until we get better answers. Because Neil Young was right -- you can't run if you know.