Yeah, yeah, I know all my geek friends are celebrating Star Wars Day today because, I don’t know, there simply aren’t enough ways to fellate George Lucas for bringing a tiny measure of joy into their lives? Whatever floats the boat, right? Personally, I prefer getting with some lady friends on International Fetish Day and kicking back for a day of stimulating conversation, but that’s me.
But I have an issue with May 4th being used to pimp some light-weight entertainment that needs no such pimping, ’cause it has a much greater significance for me. And that’s due to four people and a date.
First off, the date. May 4th isn’t that big of a deal for me (up to 1970, that is), but the day before, May 3rd, is. That’s my birthday, and on May 3, 1970, I turned 13. Yay! Teenager at last, and right at the end of the Swinging 60′s. Becoming a teenager is when it all changes, right? Well, hell, it didn’t change much for me: I was still a book reading geek, and a psychological mess, but now–I was all that and a teenager! If this had happened 20 years ago, I’d be walking around my high school a few years later wearing a black trench coat and dark sunglasses. As it happened in the early 1970′s, I was just a mess.
One of the things I did back then, because I was a geek, was keep up on what was going on in the world. And that meant watching the news. We didn’t have CNN or MSNBC or Faux Noise to keep us entertained with 24 hours of BS; we had an hour of local news in the morning (I remember it being about 6:30 AM), then another about 4:30 PM, and then 30 minutes at 10 PM, and that was on all three channels plus the local, which was WGN. And on the major networks we had a half hour of national and world news from 5:30 to 6 PM. And that was it. Oh, we also had newspapers and radio, but TV was the shit, kids.
And on my 13th birthday there was a little something going on–it was called protesting the war. Nixon had order the invasion of Cambodia on April 30th, and unlike today, when a president did something you didn’t like, you started protesting, and that went double if you were in college. So that weekend (and it was; my birthday was on a Sunday) a number of colleges were pretty much shut down due to protests. Some of them were pretty bad, though not so bad that you needed, you know, to declare an emergency and do something like, oh, say, call out the National Guard.
However, that’s just what happened in Ohio, at the quiet college town of Kent, Ohio. The National Guard was called into Kent, Ohio, because . . . well, hey, “radical revolutionaries” were all set to blow up the hell out of the town and college, and only Micheal Bay as the right to blow shit up, right? It was no big deal: the Guard arrested some people, tear gassed a few more, bayoneted someone . . . on my birthday the Governor of Ohio said the student protesters were un-American, called them dirty revolutionaries, and said their goal was to destroy higher education in Ohio, something the Republicans are in the process of doing all over the country right now. (Oh, did I go there? My bad.) Students were called brown shirts and communist, and the governor did a great job of being pissed off and pounding his desk.
How did the students react? Protest, mofos, that’s how. The call went out: on May 4th there would be a huge protest at noon, and when the day rolled around about 2,000 people showed up. So did the Guard, who said, “Time to go home, kids,” and pressed their point home with a little tear gas. They fixed bayonets and a group of 77 Guardsmen marched on the group. This went on for about 20 minutes, at which point the Guardsmen looked like they were marching away, giving a bit of a victory to the protesters.
And then, at 12:24, PM, shit got real.
We know now that an order was given. We know that once that order was given, Guardsmen turn, took aim and fired their M-1 Garands into the crowd, expending 67 rounds of .30-06 Springfield ammo at a muzzle velocity of 853 meters/second (if you don’t know the math, that’s fast). 13 students “caught rounds” as we like to say, ’cause “were freakin’ shot” doesn’t sound as clinical.
Most of those were wounded. But “all” ain’t the same as “most”, and when one starts cracking off rounds into a crowd, you gotta expect some, shall we say, “Collateral Damage”. Here’s how the “collateral damage” stacked up, and since these people weren’t living in the Cyberpunk game world, festooned with shitloads of body armor, it didn’t turn out well:
- Jeffery Glenn Miller; age 20; distance 81 m (265 ft); shot through the mouth; killed instantly.
- Allison B. Krause; age 19; distance 105 m (343 ft); fatal left chest wound; died later that day.
- William Knox Schroeder; age 19; distance 116 m (382 ft) fatal chest wound; died almost an hour later in a hospital while waiting for surgery.
- Sandra Lee Scheuer; age 20; distance 120 m (390 ft) fatal neck wound; died a few minutes later from loss of blood.
Needless to say, hearing this put a bit of a spin on my head for some reason. I didn’t know why, but I know it did. Now, it didn’t turn me into some crazy, ready-to-toss-bombs freak, but I grew up (was growing up) in a semi-conservative–and dare I say, racist–family, and hearing my parents and grandparent go on about how “those dirty hippie deserved to be killed” didn’t exactly leave me feeling I was among friends.
So I started reading more. A lot more. More current affairs books. More science fiction that had “opinions” (if by “opinions” you mean “I discovered Harlen Ellison”). I read James Michener’s Kent State: What Happened and Why, about a dozen times in the coming years. I changed my opinions about the country’s institutions and developed a very healthy distrust of all things to which we’re suppose to “show respect”.
In short, I went my own way. I didn’t become a crazy radical–okay, maybe crazy, but I already was. But it turned me away from what I might have been, and help push me towards what I became.
So that’s what May 4th means to me. And always will.
Oh, and lastly: Fuck Star Wars. ’Cause I grew up with real science fiction.