3 May 2020   Leave a comment

Fifty years ago, students at Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State University in Mississippi were shot and killed as they protested against the Vietnam War. I was a junior in college then and it was a decisive event in my life. The killings followed a string of violent acts–the assassinations of President John Kennedy in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr in 1968., and Robert Kennedy also in 1968. I also had a number of friends who were killed in the war. I did not serve and, to this day, I do not know what I would have done if I had been drafted into the military. I was, however, active in the anti-war movement and have a deep respect for those who protest against government actions as I am well aware of the scorn protesters usually receive when they oppose the government.

Today I witness some Americans protesting shutdowns ordered by many governors who see the action as necessary to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. I find myself with little sympathy for many of those protesters, but I certainly understand their frustrations and anger as the shutdowns have caused considerable economic pain. I find myself wondering if I have turned into the curmudgeons who thought that the young Vinnie was unpatriotic, indeed, traitorous.

But the images of some of the protesters make it difficult for me to sympathize. The image below is of a protester in Illinois who held up a sign with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei“, which was the sign hanging over the entrance to Auschwitz (the initials JB refer to the Jewish governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker). I find it hard to believe that the protester did not know what she was doing, but she was certainly unaware of the total disgust (and fear) that most people felt at the sign. The irony of her mask, which many veterans of World War II held as a clarion call in the fight against the Nazis, likely escaped her.

The second image is of protesters in the state capital of Michigan. There were weapons in the civil rights movement (African-American students at Cornell University were armed when they took over the administration building and the Weatherman did employ bombs in their protests against the Vietnam War), but most of the anti-war protesters in the late 1960s were largely inspired by the Age of Aquarius. The Michigan protesters were likely celebrating their understanding of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, but one cannot help but think that the bearing of weapons was also an attempt of intimidation.

Something has dramatically changed since I was 20 years old, and those changes bring me great sadness. I often felt that the government had betrayed the American people during the Vietnam War. Now I fear that the American people are betraying themselves. And I am not sure where this all leads.

Posted May 3, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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