Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Iconic Photographs: Kent State University


“Obviously everybody is saying, they need to kind of clarify, they need policy issues — ‘this is what we want’ as opposed to…. The other thing it needs, and I don’t want this to come out the wrong way. If we think — not needs but will happen — if you think back to the late ’60s, what is the most stirring image of all of the rebellion that happened. What do we remember? Kent State. Now, I’m not saying somebody has to get killed. What will happen, there will be a climax moment of class warfare somehow played out on screen that I think will — the same way ’9-9-9′, if you will, kind of simplifies a message — that articulates this clash. So, both the real clarification in terms of policy and unfortunately some imagery says to America, and I think those are the two things…”

-       MSNBC analyst Donny Deutsch,
giving an opinion on morning television that what the Occupy Wall Street protest needs is a Kent State moment, 14 October 2011
The Kent State moment:

·         By May, 1970 opposition to the war in Vietnam was escalating.  In 1969 the My Lai massacre of 504 women and children by US troops had been exposed.  Nixon had been elected President in 1968 on a promise to end the war; instead, on 30 April 1970 he announced to a national television audience that US troops had invaded Cambodia.  The invasion of Cambodia had been concealed from Congress, The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence.  Instead of stopping the war, Nixon was covertly widening it.  Protests sprang up on many campuses across the US.

·         On 4 May 1970 a small protest of 500 students took place at Kent State University.  The protest was in an area called The Commons, a grassy knoll at the cenre of the campus. University officials had banned the protest.  The university had called in the Ohio Army National Guard to assist.  Calling upon the protesters to disperse, they were instead met with thrown rocks. his happened twice.  After the second volley, the troops used tear gas, which was thrown back at them by the students.  A group of 77 National Guard troopers advanced on the students with bayonets fixed.  The students were driven from The Commons to the car park area but, uncertain as to what to do next, the troopers began to move back towards The Commons.  Some students followed and threw rocks and tear gas canisters.  At this point a sergeant turned and fired at the students with his .45 pistol.  29 of the 77 guardsmen fired their weapons at the students, discharging 67 rounds of ammunition, killing 4 students and injuring 9.

·         The guardsmen later justified the use of live ammunition by saying that they were in fear of their lives.  This was discredited by reason of the distance between the guardsmen and the students.  The closest injured student was approximately 25 metres from the troops, the closest deceased student was approximately 90 metres away.

·         Fourteen year old runaway Mary Ann Vecchio had been visiting Kent State University that day. Undergraduate photojournalism major John Filo photographed her kneeling in anguish over the body of one of the slain students.  The photograph was published around the world and became the symbol of the tragedy.  It also became instrumental in further focusing opposition to the war

·         Vecchio was accused by Florida’s Governor Claude Kirk of being planted by the Communists. She later ran away from home again, was sent to a juvenile home and was arrested for loitering and marijuana possession. She later admitted that the picture “destroyed my life”.

·         In response to the shootings, 900  campuses shut down as part of a student strike.  Students at New York University protested under a banner that read “They Can’t Kill Us All”.

·         Five days after the shootings a demonstration of 100,000 people in Washington protesting the war and the killing of unarmed student protesters turned violent. Nixon was taken to Camp David for 2 days for his protection.   According to Ray Price, Nixon’ speechwriter:  "The city was an armed camp. The mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, dragging parked cars into intersections, even throwing bedsprings off overpasses into the traffic down below. This was the quote, student protest. That's not student protest, that’s civil war." The Administration also called in the 82nd Airborne for protection.  Charles Colson, Nixon’s Counsel between 1969 and 1973, commented "The 82nd Airborne was in the basement of the executive office building, so I went down just to talk to some of the guys and walk among them, and they're lying on the floor leaning on their packs and their helmets and their cartridge belts and their rifles cocked and you’re thinking, 'This can't be the United States of America. This is not the greatest free democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself.

·         Nixon had earlier referred to student anti-war protestors as “bums”, causing the father of Allison Krause, who had been killed at Kent State, to declare “My daughter was not a bum.”

·         Charges were brought against 8 of the guardsmen who pleaded self defence.  In 1974 the charges were dismissed, the judge ruling that the evidence was too weak to go to trial.

·         The original John Filo photograph was airbrushed by an editor in the early 1970’s to remove the post above Mary Vecchio’s head.  Both  images remain in use to this date.

·         John Filo received a Pulitzer prize for the photograph.

·         Some other photographs of the Kent State events:

Troops advance

Mary Vecchio is seen at extreme right running towards the body on the ground.

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