Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Find the Cost of Freedom

We live a lot of our lives these days at the top of our voices. Each of us seems to have a TV talking head we turn to for the truth, like some kind of oracle who always uses the definite article when truth is often so ephemeral and illusory that the reassurance of its constancy is paradoxically a lie.

We've watched large turnouts by Tea Party Patriots who, we are told, love their country but fear their government and in many places last week by those angry, profoundly angry, with our government and how it handles, or fails to handle, basic human rights and issues of human dignity. Disagreement is not new nor is the violence too often connected with it. There were wide scale draft riots in Northern cities as the War Between the States, perversely often called the Civil War, created larger and larger levies of conscripts and those who could afford a three hundred dollar deferral fee managed to avoid the draft while the sons of the poor and the immigrants were sent to the Killing Floor.

By this time forty years ago, in one form or another, the United States had been in, and had soldiers dying to defend, the Republic of South Vietnam for nearly a dozen years. On this date, forty years ago the dissent across the nation, as a whole generation simultaneously stopped believing in the government became a self-fulfilling prophecy as four students at Kent State University died in acts of panicked violence by soldiers of the Ohio National Guard who had been summoned by the state's governor to protect property and prevent the very violence they visited upon the students. Four decades on, there is no right or wrong, just dead and dying. Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20, Allison B. Krause, 19, William Knox Schroeder, 19, and Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20, all never lived to see May 5, 1970.

There was a well-known image from that tragedy, a photo taken by a Kent State photojournalism student, John Filo of a young woman, actually a fourteen year old runaway, Mary Ann Vecchio, screaming over the lifeless body of Jeffrey Miller who had been shot in the mouth. Lowell, we were talking the other day about mopic cameramen witnessing history at Tarawa; and here we have life imitating art, imitating life. What you do is important because someone needs to bear witness without blinking or turning away, and that seems to be you.

The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most enduring images of the anti-Vietnam War movement that continued without surcease for the rest of the decade and into the next. What's often overlooked, because it was practically ignored when it happened ten days after Kent State were the deaths of two students killed by police at Jackson State University. The two young people who never grew older that day were Philip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior pre-law student and James Earl Green, who was 17.

As scary as we can be to one another when we talk loudly to the point of screaming, it's when we stop talking, I become afraid. And too often, too abruptly, we've stopped talking in this country.
"Find the cost of Freedom, buried in the Ground.
Mother Earth will swallow you, lay your body down.
-bill kenny

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