Reflections on War & Peace: 50 Years Since the Kent State Massacre

Students protest Vietnam War at Kent State University. May 4th, 1970

On the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre at Kent State University, we pause to remember.

Please examine closely the two photos that accompany this post. They changed my life forever. They collimated my activism.

The year was 1970. The month was May. The day was the fourth. The country was the United States of America. The site of the event was Kent State University.

An iconic photo captured the moment when four white students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard.

It was an incredible milestone in the body politic of America.
The students were protesting the Vietnam War.

It was when students could be drafted and sent to fight in this horrific and unpopular war.

Yes, there was a time in America where young people could be drafted into military service. Their lives were interrupted and some people never made it back from Vietnam. I remember as a teenager watching fellow young people go to war.

I remember, as a 16-year-old student at the Key School in Annapolis Maryland, joining students in protesting the war in Vietnam.

The brilliant late singer Bill Withers wrote an antiwar song entitled, “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.” Even today, I remember these lyrics:

He said getting shot at didn’t bother him
It was getting shot that shook him up

The Vietnam War “shook me up”. I realize there are people who are reading this Facebook post who were not even born when this war occurred. Vietnam became a turning point in the youth of my era.
We wanted peace instead of war.

Now, 50 years later and more than 50,000 lives lost there are those of us who believed that the Vietnam war was both unnecessary and a life changer.

The Vietnam War changed America forever. It was the war in which America lost its innocence. It was the war that revealed that both old men and corporate greed were willing to sacrifice their youth for profit.

The second photo that accompanies this post helps me to discover my humanity.

It is of a young nude girl who is running. Look at her face, the pain on her face I have seen this pain many times since then. I saw it in Vietnam, Iraq, South Africa, Mozambique, and in the streets of America. It is a pain that is associated with injustice and oppression.

This photo became for me a symbol of why the Vietnam War was wrong; A little Vietnamese girl burned by napalm.

Again, I remember the lyrics of Bill Withers:

Strange little man over here in Vietnam I ain’t, I ain’t never seen
Bless his heart, ain’t never done nothing to
He done shot me in my shoulder.

For me, those aforementioned two photos I will never forget. On the 47th anniversary of the Kent State massacre, I wrote these words:

“Every generation must produce its own leaders. Every generation must find its own voice. Every generation must pave the way for the generations to come”.

On this anniversary I am reminded that far too many people have died as a result of senseless wars.

The purpose of this remembrance is to remind members of my generation that the lessons of war must never be forgotten. We owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren for them not to become the cannon fodder of future wars. The late President John F. Kennedy once said, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind”.

I end this poignant remembrance with these words delivered by President Abraham Lincoln:

“The world will little note, or long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”.

Some things we must never forget. Like wars that interrupt people’s lives and corporate greed that wants us to.

Stay Woke. Stay Alert. Stay Strong. Stay Alive.

Stay committed to causes greater than yourself.

Vote in November and remember those who were killed fighting for peace and justice.

Carl Snowden leads the African American Caucus in Anne Arundel County. He is a life-long activist and columnist for the Capital Newspaper and The Arundel Patriot.

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