Three of the most powerful photographs in our country’s history are the product of our war in Vietnam: the 1968 Eddie Adams photo showing the the curbside execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon; Nick Ut’s 1972 photo of nine-year-old Kim Phuc aflame from American napalm; and John Filo’s 1970 photo of the young runaway Mary Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State.
Today is the 42nd anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. Someone asked me if I have any reflections. Nothing that can’t be called banal, really. The protests never affected my conduct of the war; neither did the deaths of those kids.
I suppose that’s my reflection: there wasn’t enough blood to change anything. There were too many sides. You can’t stop a war without a revolution.
Authority cannot abide disrespect; it reminds us of how tenuous the established order is. We authorize our agents to do what they have to do; the authorities rely on the citizens at home to disapprove of the ones on the street. It’s easier when we don’t have to kill the ones on the street to keep them under control.
Maybe that’s the real legacy of Kent State—the decision to develop weapons and tactics to control crowds without killing them. Militarized police. Nobody wants to call in the Guard, it’s an admission of having lost control. I suppose it’s instructive in terms of prefiguring the scale of protest required to change things these days.
I don’t know. I’m tired. If you think at all, eventually you think too much.