MONTREAL - You might remember the photograph: a long-haired girl kneeling over the lifeless body of a young man on the campus of Kent State University, her arms outstretched, her face looking up and screaming to the world. The picture was taken just after noon on May 4, 1970, after Ohio National Guardsmen fired on a student protest, killing four.
It was an image that would mark my generation. It came to symbolize the deep and sometimes ugly chasm in America during the Vietnam War, and for one side of the divide, it came to symbolize all that was wrong with the country. Kent State was the rallying cry. Neil Young could have written the caption for that picture - "This summer I hear the drumming / Four dead in Ohio" - when he penned the words to Ohio just weeks later.
Kent State and Vietnam, Nixon and Agnew. And Trudeau. Thanks to him, Americans of draft age had another option besides going to war or going to jail.
Things would be different. We'd remake the world, we said. We'd end that war and all wars.
Of course, the revolution was never televised. The revolution never happened. But to a 15-year-old growing up in suburban America, it still seemed like a glorious possibility then. To student activists in Montreal, in Paris, in Mexico City and elsewhere, there was a notion of something big yet to come.
It was a long time ago. We've since turned in our protest signs and signed on for fixed-rate mortgages. But sometimes I wonder whether our experiences of those days had some effect on our world view today, whether they are still part of us.
Over the years I would tell people that I had a connection with Kent State, that it was a pivotal moment in my young life. I'd recall that on May 5, the morning after the shootings, I defied my parents and my teachers and walked out of my Grade 9 class to march against the war and against what happened at Kent State. And on that first march, and on the anti-war marches that followed, I not only defied the authorities in my world, but stopped believing in them. I'd have hurtful arguments with my father about the war, and our relationship would never be the same. Kent State was a turning point for us.
I'd also tell people about the boy in that famous picture, the young man lying dead on the ground. That's Jeffrey Miller, I'd say. We grew up in the same neighbourhood.
That's the story I had been telling. But I began finding it hard to connect the dots between 1970 and the 21st century. As a 50-something looking back, it didn't feel like my own story anymore, even as I told it. Too much had changed. The same people who were fomenting revolution in the old days were now telling me on Facebook that Obama's health care plan is a socialist plot.
Was my mind playing tricks on me? I started to wonder whether I really did have that connection with Kent State. What are the chances that a shooting in Ohio would have anything to do with my home town hundreds of miles away? So I Googled Jeffrey Miller.
Here's what I found: Jeffrey Miller lived on Diamond Drive in Plainview, N.Y., on the same street as my best friend and just a few blocks away from me. He was 20 years old, and had recently transferred from Michigan State to Kent State. The protest that day, a Monday, was the culmination of a weekend of student unrest, after Nixon announced he had expanded the war into Cambodia. Jeffrey Miller was tossing a tear gas canister back at National Guardsmen when he was shot in the mouth from 81 metres away. He died instantly.
Jeffrey Miller won't be forgotten Tuesday, May 4, 2010, the 40th anniversary of the shootings. I read about a memorial dedicated to him in front of my high school. And ceremonies are planned in the spot at Kent State where Miller, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were killed, which was just named a national historic site.
But for me, May 4 is not only about Jeffrey Miller and Kent State, but about a 15-year-old’s coming of age so many years ago.
Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Gunshots+Kent+State+ricochet+across+decades/2979082/story.html#ixzz0myS4pfVG