Inquire, Learn, and Reflect: The May 4 Memorial of Kent State University

ProtestorsIn the spring of 1970, the United Stated was a country sharply divided over the ongoing Vietnam War – and the friction many times showed up dramatically on college campuses in the form of protests. In the majority of cases, the dispersal of college protestors occurred with numerous arrests and minimal harm – but on May 4, 1970 one such event erupted into perhaps the most tragic event of the era. The unpopularity of the war had grown to an even more agitated pitch when on April 30 President Richard Nixon announced the Cambodian Campaign, a military invasion of neighboring Cambodia for the purpose of routing the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong or “Charlie”), which were using the area as a staging ground for attacks on US troops in Vietnam. One reaction to the announcement came in the form of nationwide student strikes that occurred on both the high school and college level, building in intensity over the weekend of May 1st to 3rd. Such was the case at Kent State University in Ohio, where the mayor requested help from the National Guard to quell the unrest. On Monday, May 4, 1970, around 1000 students of that school converged on the University Commons to protest both the presence of the troops at their school and the recent “escalation” of the war.

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A Display Remembers the Events of May 4, 1970
Photo credit: PapaDunes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

In response to the raucous gathering of protestors, national guardsmen began to lob canisters of tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd – and faltering in that effort the troops at first appeared to be retreating. However, quite suddenly they wheeled, knelt and unleashed a volley of 67 rounds that killed four students and permanently paralyzed another. In response to the tragedy, high school and college strikes escalated, involving approximately 4 million students who were further motivated by the lyrics of a hit song released by the group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – entitled Ohio. Controversy continues to this day concerning the motivation of Companies A and C, 1/145th Infantry and Troop G of the 2/107th Armored Cavalry, Ohio National Guard (ARNG) for unleashing such a deadly volley of bullets, when most critics agree there was no ominous threat to their lives. Did the troops act on their own, or were there specific commander’s orders given to fire on the students? A civil suit filed on the behalf of the mother of Jeffrey Miller, one of the four students killed that day, led to a federal trial (1979) that eventually exonerated Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes, Kent State University President Robert I. White, and 27 National Guardsmen. When the judgment was later reversed through the process of appeal, the plaintiffs accepted $675,000 in damages. In response to another separate indictment (1974) by the federal government, eight of the guardsmen were eventually declared innocent of depriving the students of their constitutional rights.

The accused guardsmen testified that they fired on the students in self-defense, even mentioning that they heard gunfire that made them fear for their lives. However, recent research revealed in 2010 seems to contradict that claim, providing interesting audio evidence that the troops actually fired in response to an order given by the commanding officers. The same audio recording has revealed that a firearm, possibly a handgun, may have been discharged at a very crucial point prior to when the guardsmen opened fire. At the time of the shootings, the FBI examined the same recording, but came to no conclusion that a firearm had discharged or that the guardsmen had receive orders to fire at the protestors.  At the very most, the Scranton Commission organized to examine college unrest concluded that the “indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” Despite the new evidence, it is very unlikely that the federal government will reopen the investigation, because a “double jeopardy” clause in the Constitution prohibits government authorities from re-trying the surviving soldiers involved in the tragedy.

Often referred to as the “Kent State Massacre,” the 40-plus years since the event have made Kent State University very unique when it comes to memorializing non-violence. Originally in 1971, the school chose to establish a “living memorial” through a Center for Peaceful Change, which was later renamed as the Center for Applied Conflict Management – with an undergraduate program in peace and conflict studies (sponsored by the center) that was established in 1973. Although a sculpture entitled the “Kent Four” was erected near the School of Art, the college seemed reticent at first to erect a permanent memorial – but a formal recommendation finally came in 1984. Designed by Chicago architect Bruno Ast, the May 4 Site and Memorial received its official dedication on the 20th anniversary of the shootings – amongst some controversy. The memorial is essentially a plaza that rests on a 2.5 acre piece of land adjacent to the locality of the famous tragedy, including four black granite disks that lead directly north to four free-standing pylons situated in a wooded area. Near the sidewalk, a plaque bears the name of the four students who died, as well as the nine others that were wounded. Before any visitor can step on to the plaza, they are greeted with a quote engraved in the stone floor – “Inquire, Learn, Reflect.” The memorial is surrounded by 58,175 daffodil bulbs that represent the lives that were lost in the Vietnam War, and recently a May 4 Visitor’s Center (see video above) received its official dedication on the anniversary of the shootings.

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“Inquire, Learn, Reflect” – Click for Larger Photo
Photo credit: jleberle / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

If monuments dedicated to non-violence are intended to be cathartic in nature, there is no better example than the May 4 Memorial at Kent State University. The very history of the memorial, which includes the recent addition of a visitor’s center, is very heavily steeped in the human need for healing and consolation. Whatever your opinion is on the Vietnam War Era, the monument speaks to the heart of matters – including the heavy loss of life that took place on the battlefield. Memorials are more than just inanimate objects occupying time and space without a purpose, since they speak profoundly in a universal language that needs no words. Peace symbols in particular speak outwardly to humanity concerning the inward need within all of us for tranquility. A monument to those that have passed away as victims of terrorism – whether they have died at home or abroad – would speak to this need in a very special way. Such a marker goes beyond simple recognition of those that have died, announcing the universal need for amity amongst the human race. Please join us in our efforts to promote such a statement on peace by clicking the link below and signing the petition to which this website is committed.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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Georg Zundel and the Concept of Peace Research

PeaceEver wondered what would happen if ground breaking scientific research, a genuine concern for philanthropy, and the study of peace were to come together in one person? Then look no further than Georg Zundel of Germany. Born on May 17, 1931 in Tübingen, Germany, he was the son of a painter and the grandson of the German industrialist Robert Bosch, who invented the first magnetic-electric ignition device for engines. As a respected biophysicist, Zundel dedicated his life to research in hydrogen bonding, achieving worldwide notoriety and eventually receiving the Great Cross of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany in 2003. Throughout the Cold War, he was involved in scientific research with both the East and West, bridging the gap between political and cultural differences. His highly-respected work has been integral to the understanding of the electrical field that is discharged through the shifting of hydrogen protons during the process of bonding. Passing away in 2007 at the age of 76, his intellectual legacy carries on through the Berghof Laboratory of Physics and Technology he founded in 1966 – now known in environmental sectors around the world as Zundel Holding GmbH + Co. However, he is perhaps better known for his dedication to the concept of world peace – and the propagation of peaceful institutions.

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Zundel Came From the College Town of Tübingen
Photo credit: Photo: Andreas Praefcke / Foter / CC BY

Fully aware of the immense power in hydrogen that could be unleashed through fission and fusion, Zundel was a young scientist during the years of World War II and the reconstruction that followed in the wake of Nazi Germany’s collapse. Horrified by the destruction evident in the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, he joined with other German scientists in opposing the use of science for the production of nuclear weapons. Throughout the 1950s, he was a driving force within a post-World War II peace movement that swept through Europe – distributing flyers, organizing demonstrations, and speaking on the subject publicly. He was a strong supporter of the Göttinger 18, a group of 18 German scientists who issued the Göttingen Manifesto of April 12, 1957 – an appeal to the leaders of West Germany protesting against the development of nuclear weapons.  Including three Nobel laureates, the group also spoke out on the international stage against the Cold War that had emerged between the Soviet Union and the United States. Zundel stood by the manifesto as the guiding light for his own dedication to peace and opposition to nuclear proliferation. Professionally and privately, he was a strong adherent to the belief that a peaceful world had “to be a world without nuclear weapons and that scientists carry a responsibility to inform the public about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction.”

During the 1990s, he was a founding contributor to the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES), an organization dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons and the promotion of responsible and sustainable uses for science and technology. But even prior to his activism through INES, Zundel was very energetic in launching organizations on his own accord. In 1971, he founded the Bergof Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise that is to this day still owned and managed by members of the Zundel family. Originally established as the Bergoff Foundation for Conflict Studies, it is billed as “an independent, non-governmental and non-profit organization dedicated to supporting conflict stakeholders and actors in their efforts to achieve sustainable peace through peacebuilding and conflict transformation.” The organization envisions a world that is able to transform politically and socially without the use of violence, because change can occur when the various groups involved in a conflict “constructively engage with each other.” With an international board of trustees and a multi-national staff that works with associates around the world, the primary emphasis is on conflict research.

As noted at the website for the Berghof Foundation, conflict research addresses “the deeply rooted structural causes of conflict,” with the particular hope of developing “innovative approaches to the peaceful transformation of violent and protracted social conflict.” These efforts come together in a continuously updated publication called the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation – a resource known around the globe for academicians and peace promoters to discuss and exchange ideas for successful conflict transformation. Since the date of its first publication in 1999, the handbook has been dedicated to 3 overall goals:

  • fostering critical discussion both among and between academics and practitioners;
  • bridging the gap between theory and practice in the field of conflict transformation; and
  • including a wide range of voices and perspectives from different regions throughout the world, as well as from multiple disciplines and faculties.

Specifically intended to speak to an international audience for the purpose of presenting state-of-the-art and cutting edge knowledge to the transformation of “ethnopolitical” violence, the handbook is published primarily in English, but certain articles have also been translated into seven other languages.

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Zundel Has Voiced His Opposition to Nuclear Weapons
Photo credit: Museum of Photographic Arts Collections / Foter

Around the world, humans study many things – science, biology, math, language, art, sociology, engineering, and (yes) even the history of war itself. We have data bases addressing “this,” editions of books elucidating about “that” – and explanations concerning solar flares, the speed of sound, electricity, classifications in plant life, journeys to the bottom of the sea, the chemical makeup of gunpowder, and a zillion other topics of study. Why not place peace under the microscope and discover what chemical elements come together to create the optimal environment for its existence? If we can spend trillions of dollars on weapons for waging war and mass destruction, why can’t we spend an equal amount for the creation of instruments for the purpose of “waging peace”? Why is it we honor reactive measures for confronting terrorism, when it should be approached aggressively through proactive methods that foster things such as empathy, multiculturalism, religious tolerance, and human rights? We hope you agree with us – and that you will also join us in sponsoring a national monument to the victims of terrorism. Please click on the link below and sign the petition to which this website is dedicated.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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