The Spectre of Cinco de Mayo
The day almost got past me. Today is Cinco de Mayo, but it's also the 50th anniversary of one of the most shocking events in my memory.
I got on the treadmill this morning and decided against listening to podcasts about writing and searched for something else to occupy my mind.
I'd like to recommend a podcast to you. There's a guy named Bruce Carlson and he has a podcast called “My History Can Beat Up Your Politics.” I love this podcast and I listen to it on a regular basis. What Bruce does is, he talks about today’s political events in terms of similar events in American history.
I stumbled across Bruce’s podcast today and I didn't even realize it was fifty years ago today until I thought about it for a few minutes. Today is a special day for a lot of folks like me who grew up in that era and never really knew or understood why and how it happened.
Fifty years ago today, four students were killed at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard.
At the time, I was 18 years old. I was a student at Georgia Tech - an architecture major at the time.
It was shocking news. It stood before the Panorama of the Vietnam War. Many of us were concerned that we might get drafted and have to go serve in some place we'd only heard about a couple of years before. But we knew people were fighting and dying there. I’m still convinced that my naivete would have gotten me killed the first day in country. I knew people who were killed and others who were never the same afterward.
What really happened there? You know, they still don't really know how it started.
If you know me, you’ll know that I have a music connection to almost everything and this is no exception. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wrote a song about this event. According to Bruce, David Crosby gave the news to Neil Young, who went off by himself for a couple of hours and wrote a protest song about it. The name of the song, of course is “Ohio”. It's a classic song by a band noted for their amazing vocal harmonies. I’ve played that song in five or six different bands. It's still a song that resonates with me. The flip side of the record was “Find the Cost of Freedom”, which was also applicable to the event.
At the time, I didn't really understand what happened and why. I was completely clueless. I thought that's crazy – college kids killed on campus in Cleveland. How could this be true?
But the more I think about it, I see a lot of things happening today that could be leading us to confrontations just like this.
It's a classic example of two different groups of ordinary people – both emotional, both passionate about their beliefs – and nobody willing to stop and think about the collision course they were on.
Where were you when this happened? Many of you were probably not borne yet, but many were like me, just trying to find myself and learning how to live as an adult.
Where was I? In May of 1970, I was a freshman at Georgia Tech and terrified of the prospect of flunking out. I was too focused on getting good grades and getting through finals in my first year of college to even think about politics. Maybe you were in the same place I was.
I didn't really have an opinion about a lot of our national direction or why we got involved in a fight ten thousand miles from here. I just thought I needed to get through college and get a good job and that's really all I thought about (okay, except for music and girls).
But today – fifty years later – I think we still need to consider the lessons learned at Kent State.
Maybe the most important thing to remember is that we should listen to our heart and brain, but not our emotions. Yes, it might be the hardest thing to do. Have you ever made a decision while angry or upset? I know I have. As we get older, we (for the most part) should learn how to respond rather than to react.
Sometimes, we have to have the courage to ask, “Is this concept really worth somebody's life?”
Yes, there are concepts that are worth blood, but I still believe that most of the time, there's a peaceful way to resolve conflict. But, sometimes we rush right past those other ways into battle. In our emotional state, we rush right past a peaceful solution and go right to an incident that results in blood.
Now, from my perspective as a senior citizen, I see things a little bit differently than I did fifty years ago. Back then, my emotions reached out and identified with the students – my peers. Today, I'm kind of in the middle. Today, I see an avoidable tragedy. It was inevitable, but avoidable. Two ideologies rushing toward each other like two trains on the same track – the result being death for four students (two of which were on the way to class and not participating in the protest in any way) and lifelong injuries for nearly a dozen more.
I don’t care which theory of politics you adhere to or where you stand – left, right, center, up, down, or sideways. But history does repeat itself, and we can learn from it if we will.
I do want to urge you to think about today and what happened at Kent State and why it happened.
Maybe you can be the person who helps someone calm down and settle a dispute peacefully instead of escalating the emotions and setting a course for a giant collision. I hope I can.
Cheers and Regards,
Note: If you'd like to learn a little bit more about Bruce Carlson, check out his website at MyHistoryCanBeatUpYourPolitics.com. His approach is to talk about politics in context with history.
You can also check out his podcasts. I subscribe on iTunes, but Bruce recommends Stitcher.com. Bruce’s podcasts are well worth listening to if you are willing to take the time – maybe while exercising or commuting. It’s a great way to fill downtime.
I've been listening to Bruce for many years now and, during that time, I've tried to figure out his political leanings. Is this guy conservative or liberal or what? And after all this time, I still don't know. He's the most unbiased reporter of events I've ever heard. This podcast is an excellent place to get neutral perspective on some of the political events that we see happening today.