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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Before I started attending Kent State in the fall of 1975, I was a kid living in small-town Ashtabula, Ohio, on the northern edge of a county by the same name, which had lost 26 servicemen in the Vietnam War. Our state total was 3,094, ranking us fifth in casualties.

I don’t remember seeing a single anti-war protest growing up that wasn’t framed by the console of our TV. We were a working-class town full of boys with no college deferments whose first flights would be to Vietnam. By the late 1960s, it seemed you couldn’t drive in any direction from our house without passing the home of a boy who had gone to Vietnam. My mother was on perennial casserole duty in those years, delivering a warm dish to one of three types of gatherings: a send-off, a homecoming or a wake.

Nobody in our house was going to protest the war. Like most of the adults in our town, my parents would have seen that as an unforgivable act of betrayal.

When I was 12, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on a crowd of Kent State student protesters and passers-by. Four students died there on May 4, 1970, and nine others were wounded. Five years later, I was a freshman there.

My parents never doubted that I would be safe, but for different reasons. My father expected our town’s legacy of service to keep his eldest daughter’s politics in check. My mother believed that a president would never turn on his citizens again.

It’s all coming back to me after watching the eighth episode of “The Vietnam War,” the 18-hour PBS documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I’m a professional in residence at Kent State now, teaching journalism, and the last half-hour or so of that episode, which includes a segment about the May 4 shootings, prompted me to show that segment to my students. Watching it through their widened eyes, listening to their reactions, was instructive. We journalists pay attention to language.

President Richard Nixon dismissed the press coverage of the ’68 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam as instigated by “those dirty rotten Jews from New York.” On May 2, 1970, two days before the Kent State shootings, Ohio Gov. James Rhodes compared the protesters to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. “They’re worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes,” he said. “They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”

Earlier in the documentary, John Musgrave, one of the most frank veteran voices in the film, recalled his “deal with the devil” after the first time he killed a Vietnamese soldier.

“I said I will never kill another human being as long as I’m in Vietnam. However, I will waste as many gooks as I can find. I’ll wax as many dinks as I can find. I’ll smoke as many zips as I can find. But I ain’t going to kill anybody. You know, turn the subject into an object. It’s Racism 101.”

In July, here in Ohio, President Donald Trump called immigrants “animals” who “slice” and “dice” teenage girls. This should surprise no one. On the day he announced his candidacy, he described Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.

Last week, referring to black NFL players peacefully protesting racism, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now; he’s fired’?” He has called journalists enemies of American the people.

We know how this works.

If we see you as an “animal,” we don’t have to think about your children, whose lives you are trying to save.

If you’re “disrespecting” the U.S. flag, we don’t have to consider what it means to be a black man in America.

If you are an enemy of Americans, we must attack you.

I am haunted by the observation of a young student paying attention to this president’s every word.

It never ends, does it?” she said to me after class. “There will always be those in power who want to believe that some of us aren’t really human.”

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

 

3 Responses to ‘It Never Ends’

  1. When you elect a person who publicly demonstrates no morals and no filter on what he says, you can expect the same treatment from people who need a leader to follow, because the alternative that they are responsible for their own actions terrifies them.

  2. A boyhood friend and neighbor of mine in Jackson, Miss., was unlucky to have been drafted(something Trump avoided by complaining about a sore heel), while I was fortunate enough to have gone to college and had a very high number when selection of whether one got drafted based on birthday was a determining factor. During college I vaguely recall hearing about My Lai, but was too distracted by life and school work. Later, in the 70’s I would learn that my friend had been among those soldiers who rounded up the villagers, forced them into open pits, and incinerated men, women, and children for suspicion of harboring the so-called Viet Cong. He was interviewed after returning from duty in a PBS documentary about serving under Lt. Calley—I was shocked to know fully his role in the massacre. He was just following orders to kill the villagers—just another of many other black men unfortunate not to be able to have the right to control their own destinies.

    He looked confused as though he were in another dimension. The interview would later reveal the reason why—he was taking so many prescription drugs to cope with the trauma; he also mentioned how his son was killed by gang members not too long ago before the interview in their front yard in a neighborhood in Jackson not to far from where I grew up. About 20 years later he committed suicide.

    Having moved to another section of Jackson while in junior high school, before my friend would be called up for that fateful date with shipping off to Vietnam, my family and I lived not too far from the home of Medgar Evers. A few years later he would be murdered by a racist and member of the KKK. Reagan would later on campaign in Miss., thinking like Donald that the people there who looked and thought like he were “good” people.

    And now, we have a most vile person in the Oval Office too absorbed with himself, too busy counting his money, that he can’t understand the difference between right and wrong; incapable of understanding the difference between good and evil. And a Congress equally confused.

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