May 4, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. Over a four day period, from May 1 through May 4, special events are scheduled, with each day having a different focus on the events of that day. The campus will hold a candlelight vigil, among other special events, in remembrance of the four students who were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a violent student protest.
Those of us of a certain age remember this terrible day. I was young but this was back in the days of the Vietnam War and the anti-war protests that were regular stories on the evening news. In the pre-cable news days, the three alphabet networks provided news broadcasts at dinner time. Baby boomers grew up seeing reports of the war each evening, often with video, and always with death counts. Those stories included anti-war protests, often led by college students. To say it was a polarizing time is to understate the national mood.
The Kent State University anti-war protest on May 4, 1970, was organized to protest President Nixon’s announcement made on April 30 about the Cambodia Campaign. A joint effort between the United States and South Vietnam, thirteen major operations were carried out in eastern Cambodia. The campus protest was very large and the Ohio National Guard was called in. Student protesters turned violent and four students were killed by the National Guardsmen. Nine students were injured, some permanently paralyzed. The response to the actions of the National Guard was as divided as opinions on the war. Some people thought the guardsmen overreacted while others thought the guardsmen were protecting themselves from the items, like rocks and bottles that were being thrown at them. Universities, colleges, and high schools across the country closed down due to student strikes. President Nixon campaigned on ending the war when he was elected in 1968 and protesters felt that the operations in Cambodia were an escalation of the war.
So, when the announcement by Kent State was made on February 10 that anti-Vietnam War activist Jane Fonda is to be a key speaker featured during the 50th commemoration events, the reaction by people old enough to remember those days was predictable. Today’s college students think of Fonda as a comrade in the fight against climate change. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will draw a large crowd of supporters. The irony of the school’s choice of Fonda, though, is not lost on baby boomers. She was known as an anti-war protester and made headlines with her arrests during protests. While America’s sons and daughters were being killed by the North Vietnamese, Fonda traveled to Hanoi in July 1972. During that visit, besides making radio announcements over the Voice of Vietnam radio asking U.S. pilots to stop bombings, she posed on top of an anti-aircraft gun. Simply put, her actions provided aid and comfort to the enemy.
Jane Fonda is scheduled to speak on Sunday, May 3rd at the university’s Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center. Fonda will discuss her life in social activism while reflecting on the history and legacy of that day on campus. Ironically, President Todd Diacon hopes the events of the commemoration will show “the need for civil dialogue and the dangers of polarization.”
“It is our great responsibility and honor to welcome the nation and world to our campus,” said Kent State President Todd Diacon in a statement. “Together we will remember Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, and honor Kent State and community members who have kept their memories alive for 50 years. We will listen to, and learn from, noted speakers, experts and performers, all while we absorb the lessons of the importance of free speech, the need for civil dialogue and the dangers of polarization.”
Fonda is being paid to speak and her perks are worthy of celebrity status. David Crosby and Joe Walsh (who attended Kent State) are donating their time to perform at benefit concerts but the red carpet is being rolled out for Ms. Fonda. She just a woman of the people. Some parents or grandparents of students must be aghast that the university is paying for her to be there. Her contract says she will “participate in an interview with Kent State media, respond to moderated questions, and take part in a private reception.”
The university also provided a contract that states the $83,000 being paid to Jane Fonda to speak during the commemoration covers her airfare. But the school also will provide Fonda with a one-bedroom suite and one single room at a first-class hotel for two nights as well as meals and a “dark-colored town car” during her stay.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, objects to the choice of speaker. He calls for her invitation to be canceled. Like many of us, he thinks she “betrayed our service members.” The school’s advisory committee disagrees.
Kent State’s 18-member May Commemoration Advisory Committee, made up of students, faculty, university leaders, May witnesses and survivors, have said previously that Fonda is a “fitting voice of activism that spans many generations young and old and aligns with the pillars and vision of the 50th commemoration.”
Proceeds from benefit concerts will “support the newly created May 4 Legacy Scholarships, which will carry the names of the four students killed when the Ohio National Guard fired on Vietnam War protestors May 4, 1970.”
Some Vietnam veterans think that Fonda was just young and naive about her visit with the North Vietnamese. There is no doubt she was leading a life of comfort and privilege, even at that time. She wasn’t just acting as a protester, though, she actively supported the North Vietnamese by spreading their anti-American propaganda overseas. She took her actions to another level. Now she is honored for her traitorous acts. She is being held up as a person of wisdom, for heaven’s sake. Someone who can speak of lessons learned.
Shame on the leadership of Kent State University. Hanoi Jane should not be a person to be honored during this commemoration.