Kent State 37 Years Later
This is the keynote address Cindy gave on May 04, 2007, at the commemoration of the Kent State Massacre.
First of ail, I would just like to say that I am not only in favor of impeaching George Bush and Dick Cheney, but of trying them for war crimes and locking them both up in Guantanamo for the rest of their lives! I also agree with Tom (Hayden) that an “anti-war” movement is basically a self-destructive movement, because when our objectives are achieved, the movement is over. That is why we must call ourselves a “peace” movement so our movement will never end. There will always be a need for people who commit their lives to peace as strenuously as they commit their lives to the anti-war movement.
I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to have been invited here to speak on this historic occasion with the other speakers who have also felt the sting of war and the pain of loss and lingering regrets. I am indescribably moved to be adopted into the Kent State family and invite you all down to Camp Casey in Crawford this August to join our family!
Before the program started I took the chance to climb the hill and spend time at the places where Allison Krauss, Jeff Miller, Bill Schroeder and Sandy Scheuer each fell and I would like to share some thoughts that I had up there with you.
My first thought was of the randomness of violence. The four students who were killed that day just happened to occupy the same space as a National Guard bullet at the same time. Unlike those wounded, some pretty badly, those that perished that awful day were struck by the bullets in vitally important parts of their bodies. The places where the four fell, never to get up again, are marked in memorium to the stupidity and permanence of violence. One day, I hope to travel to Sadr City, Baghdad to see and stand in the spot where my son, Casey’s, brain collided with an insurgent’s bullet, taking his life by the same shapeless and dark entity that stole the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, on the same day: April 04.
This same entity took the lives of the young people here thirty-seven years ago, and at: Jackson State a few days later, Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and the myriad of South American countries that the USA has violently intruded in over the years. This thing, this force is hatred fueled by ignorance; hatred exploited by the corporate war machine and hatred perpetuated by the corporate prostitutes that run our government. Hatred that is systemic and endemic in our society because we don’t see the other side as human—or we see our “enemies” as less human than ourselves. Kent State is not the first place that bottles, sticks, and rocks have been met with bullets and tear gas—it happens still notably to our Palestinian brothers and sisters and before in Northern Ireland among other places where people are oppressed.
I am sure when the students at Kent State were met with the Ohio National Guard many years ago they only saw riot gear and the faces of “the man.” I just hung up the phone with a Vietnam combat veteran who at the time had just returned from a tour of duty in ‘Nam. He recalled being ashamed and disgusted that he wore the same uniform as the National Guard who slaughtered the students. Soldiers do have hearts and souls and especially during the Vietnam quagmire many of them understood that their government was as Martin Luther King Jr had said three years and one month before the slaughter here: “the biggest perpetrator of violence.”
I am also equally sure that the National Guard troops did not see the students who were their age, their color, their nationality, as their brothers and sisters. Being so far away they could not look in the eyes of the young people they were about to murder and see the heart-light there that matched their own.
Just as in My Lai, Haditha, Fallujah, etc, no one was ever punished for the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated here on this sacred ground thirty-seven years ago today. If there is one lesson we failed to learn in 1970 that we must learn today, it’s that wearing a uniform, badge, or a five-thousand dollar suit does not give a person the right or authority to kill another human being.
1970 was a very turbulent time for this nation and our world, but people, especially you young people, you need to realize that in this age of corporate control of the media and the corporate fascism that rules America, it is more urgent than ever that we put warm bodies on the streets to stop BushCo and the war machine.
I was 12 years old thirty-seven years ago today. I was aware of the news, but I was probably more concerned about my softball batting average and eagerly awaiting the end of another boring school year. Little did I know, suspect or even fear that I would give birth to a wonderful baby boy named Casey in nine years and 25 days. If I thought about it, I would hope that my children would grow up in a country that rejected war and violence—but not only did I not think of those things, I didn’t plan for a future without war or violence. This is why it is so urgent to do it now for your children and my own unborn grandchildren that are already so precious to me.
I was honored with the opportunity to stand vigil in the spot where Allison Krauss fell. I thought of her mother and the pain she felt when she heard the news and her pain every day since May 04, 1970. I thought of another life uselessly, tragically, violently, randomly and stupidly cut short. I thought of the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis who do not have memorials to their Bush wasted lives. I renewed my vow to work for peace for Allison for the rest of my life. Because in the great tradition of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, St. Joan of Arc, Rachel Corrie and Marla Rudzicka, Allison stood her ground against injustice and for her sacrifice we will all be richer.
Before we can purge our country of the hatred that is fed by greed, we must purge our own hearts of the hatred that is fueled by bitterness. Let’s stand peacefully, yet firmly and fearlessly in the face of the war machine that devours our children with their blood soaked hatred.
One speaker before me said that Jesus never started a war. Well Jesus never started a religion either, no matter what the Catholics or Baptists think; but what Jesus did start was a non-violent revolution that has been bastardized by the religious right. Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, but not your Christians, they are nothing like your Christ!” It was proved here and elsewhere during the Vietnam anti-war movement that we cannot fight wars using their tactics or methods: we don’t have the firepower that they do and we have no soldiers or generals. Our country fights wars against drugs, poverty and terror and our struggle is technically a war against war but we are humans as are the people we allow our government to kill in our names using our tax money. We need to forge a non-violent revolution for peace and struggle to see the heart-lights in the eyes of our enemies so eventually we will prevail.
Buddhists have a saying that people die twice: once when there bodies die and once when the last person who remembers them dies. We must not allow our nation to forget the sacrifices of Casey and Augie (Shroeder, KIA 08/03/06, whose mom, Rosemary Palmer spoke) and the lessons of Iraq and the criminal Bush regime as we apparently forgot the lessons of Kent State, Vietnam, and the criminal Nixon regime. However as long as there is one of us still standing, shining our heart-lights and working for peace: Allison, Jeff, Bill, Sandy, Augie and Casey will live forever!
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan who was killed in Bush’s war of terror on 04/04/04. She is the co-founder and president of Gold Star Families for Peace and The Camp Casey Peace Institute