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How Not to Remember Kent State---Bill Ayers Gives this Year's Keynote on May 4th

On May 4, 1970, an event took place at Kent State University in Ohio that shook our nation apart. If you were around in that era, you remember it well.

As an antiwar demonstration of thousands of students took place on the campus’ main lawn, as in the background a wooden ROTC building that an activist had torched burned to the ground, shots suddenly rang out. As the Wikipedia entry accurately states, it “involved the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard … The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the Cambodian Campaign, which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.

There was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of four million students, and the event further affected the public opinion—at an already socially contentious time—over the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.”

Nationally, this past anniversary- marked each year by an official commemoration at Kent State University-went relatively unnoticed. Two years ago- the 40th anniversary-was widely covered. Yet, it is etched in our national memory. You can still hear Neil Young’s song, “Ohio,” on the radio, as  recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with its refrain “Four dead in Ohio,” and “Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming” repeated throughout the song.

There are, as is usually the case with an incident of this kind, different assessments of why the National Guard shot real bullets at peacefully demonstrating students. Even an official commission established by the Nixon administration to investigate the question concluded that “Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given, and there was inadequate fire control discipline on Blanket Hill. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”

The most clear-sighted and objective assessment of the incident is that written by two Kent State professors in 1998, although the debate continues. Each year, including a few days ago, an annual event is held at the University. This year, the two main speakers at the University’s official commemorations were PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill, and the leftist hero of our day, Oliver Stone.

But according to the Akron Beacon-Journal, at the rally held on the outdoor campus site where the shootings took place, the “keynote speaker at Saturday’s annual May 4 commemoration” was none other than Bill Ayers, the founder of The Weather Underground, a defender then and now of 60’s terrorism, and a man legitimized by his role in Chicago mainstream politics and as a friend of President Barack Obama.

Speaking to 350 students at the rally, Ayers argued that there was no relation between the bombings his group carried out in the 60’s and 70’s and that of the Tsarnaev brothers in Cambridge, Mass. on April 15th. Ignoring that in fact police officers were killed in still unsolved bombings attributed to Ayers’ group, he argued that unlike the recent attack in Massachusetts, no one died as a result of the Weather Underground’s bombings. Moreover, as everyone knows, had the bombs his group was assembling actually been used at their target, Fort Dix, hundreds of recruits and their dates at an army dance would have been all dead. It was not their intent to blow themselves up while making the lethal weapon that only led to the death of a few of the group’s leadership. It was in fact the mark of arrogance that led Ayers to tell the assembled Kent State students that “he lost three friends in the Weather Underground, including his lover, Diana Oughton.” As the reporter noted, Ayers “did not explain how they died.” To tell them why they died, he said, would have been “inappropriate.”

Acknowledging that had they succeeded it would “have been a catastrophe,” Ayers then turned the argument around, claiming that on that same day, “John McCain murdered civilians,” and he and others committed war crimes every day they fought in Vietnam, in an “illegal war in which 6,000 people a week [were] being killed.” For good measure, Ayers added that “The United States is the most violent country that has ever been created.”

Ayers continued to argue that his group only succeeded in creating “property damage,” while the United States was regularly committing war crimes. Calling himself an “activist” who does not believe “in the myth of the ’60s,” Ayers depicted himself as a “town crier” who tells the people that “all is not well.”

When Ayers finished, the concluding speaker was Tom Hayden, the founder of Students for a Democratic Society and principal author of its first manifesto, “The Port Huron Statement.” A former Democratic assemblyman in California, Hayden has recently emerged as an unreconstructed leftist, moving away from his years of pretense of being a liberal mainstream Democrat.

Clearly, Kent State should be remembered, and its lessons learned. The official university commemoration, however, has become something else. Rather than an occasion for remembrance and thought, it has become a vehicle for the current far left to use the event as an excuse to try and once again build an anti-American leftist political movement. The university brings Oliver Stone to help in that effort, and others, if not the university,  invited Bill Ayers and Tom Hayden to be this year’s rally keynotes.

Ayers, who still believes in the Weather Underground’s program to “bring the war home” and who advocates revolution in the United States, is not the kind of spokesman any university should be bringing to its campus to help students comprehend the tragedy of Kent State. Instead of promoting reason and understanding, the administrators of Kent State University invited a trio of leftists, who side with those unnamed and never apprehended activists who burned the ROTC building to the ground.

Who, I wonder, will they bring on May 4, 2014? I shudder at the thought.