Two Missing Photographs – CounterPunch.org
When I read the article Guardian (July 2, 2022) “It was like history itself – 48 protest photographs that changed the world“, I felt like I had been wronged. The compilation of protest photographs was spectacular, but something was missing. And what was missing was substantial.
The Vietnam War photograph was among 48 photos showing the self-immolation photo of Thich Quang Duc in 1963 and the photo of a protester placing a flower in a bayonet in 1967. But there were two images that did not just waiting to be shown from May. On December 4, 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard shot dead 4 students and injured 9 others on the campus of Kent State University during protests in response to American expansion of the Vietnam War in Cambodia. First, there’s the iconic photo of John Filo’s Mary Ann Vecchio. She kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller who was killed in the shooting of Guards bullets. She screams, arms outstretched. Equally devastating is the photo taken a few minutes earlier of the National Guardsmen on top of Blanket Hill (Getty Images) opening fire on unarmed students protesting below.
These protest photos and the reaction to it have reverberated around the world and especially here in the United States. The killing and injuries of Kent State students sent shockwaves through the protest movement and caused protests to grow exponentially across the country, closing more than 400 campuses nationwide.
Anti-communism has guided much of US foreign and military policy, as it has for decades and will for decades to come. Laos was also in the midst of a vicious air war in Southeast Asia. Some in high places in the US government believed that communism would spread like so many falling dominoes if not stopped by force.
Can photography change lives? At the time of the Kent State massacre, I was a member of the National Guard, but not in Ohio. The previous summer, I had gone out with an honor guard carrying the same type of rifle that would be fired at unarmed students protesting at Kent State, the M-1. I had also been trained in the use of the M-16 rifle which was used in massacres throughout Vietnam by American forces, and in particular during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968, where between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were killed, including children. My Lai was largely a throwback for serving members of the companies of the US 23rd Infantry Division they had seen before.
Authors Michael Bolton and Kevin Sim in Four hours in My Lai (1993) present a meticulous history of the massacre.
My Lai was only the tip of the iceberg of massacres in Vietnam. Deborah Wilson and Nick Turse in “Vietnamese Horrors: Even Darker” (Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2006), document many other atrocities that went largely unpunished during and after the Vietnam War. In 1971, Vietnam Veterans Against the War sponsored the Investigation of the Winter Soldierswho documented eyewitness accounts of massacres in Vietnam.
For a young man, who had been involved in anti-war protests since 1968 on and off the college campus I was attending at the time, the events and the reality of the guns I was about to learn to use had a profound effect . Shortly after, I became a war resister that had its final denouement in Federal District Court in Springfield, Massachusetts, when I was finally freed, decades later, from the seemingly endless tentacles that the Vietnam War and the protests had linked me. I was one of millions of men, women and children who had been deeply affected by the war and the protests and the absence of these two photographs left a gaping hole of responsibility the size of the Grand Canyon. . Men, women and children can be taken out of war and protest, but war and protest can never be taken away from them.
While those who protested clung to anti-war values in some cases, Ronald Reagan turned the Vietnam War into a “noble cause” while additionally attempting to militarize space. George HW Bush extinguished the Vietnam Syndrome, the reluctance to go to war in distant places like Iraq and Kuwait. They sanitized war and sold it to the masses at the cost of social welfare. War is now an easy sell to the mass of people in the United States. They have not flinched at the trillions of dollars spent on the lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and are more than ready to salute the over $50 billion sent to Ukraine. But tax credits for those in need here are a whole different matter, as are other welfare programs.
In a recent poll by the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago of 1,000 registered American voters, the Guardian reports (June 30, 2022) that 25% of respondents said it could “soon necessary to take up armsagainst the government. This so-called taking up arms is the most nihilistic thought imaginable and it is linked to the easy acceptance of militarism and violence. It always leads to the death of innocent people. It’s a well-choreographed script for the massacres.
Self-defense is a right, however, taking up arms against anyone or any entity, governmental or otherwise, is madness and murderous madness. For a leftist, it’s suicide!