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Paul Krassner

Paul Krassner

Posted: April 16, 2010 12:29 PM

Kent State Anniversary Blues

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In my book, Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs: From Toad Slime to Ecstasy, Freddy Berthoff described his mescaline trip at a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in the summer of 1970 when he was 15. "Earlier that spring," he wrote, "the helmeted, rifle-toting National Guard came up over the rise during a peace-in-Vietnam rally at Kent State University. And opened fire on the crowd. I always suspected it was a contrived event, as if someone deep in the executive branch had said, 'We've got to teach those commie punks a lesson." Actually, President Nixon had called antiwar protesters "bums" two days before the shootings. While Freddy was peaking on mescaline, CSNY sang a new song about the massacre:

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming

We're finally on our own

This summer I hear the drumming

Four dead in O-hi-o...

Plus nine wounded. Sixty-seven shots - dum-dum bullets that exploded upon impact -- had been fired in 13 seconds. This incident on May 4, 1970 resulted in the first general student strike in U.S. history, encompassing over 400 campuses.

Arthur Krause, father of one of the dead students, Allison, got a call from John Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, who said, "There will be a complete investigation." Krause responded, "Are you sure about that?" And the reply: "Mr. Krause, I promise you, there will be no whitewash."

But NBC News correspondent James Polk discovered a memo marked "Eyes Only" from Ehrlichman to Attorney General John Mitchell ordering that there be no federal grand jury investigation of the killings, because Nixon adamantly opposed such action.

Polk reported that,

"In 1973, under a new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, the Justice Department reversed itself and did send the Kent State case to a federal grand jury. When that was announced, Richardson said to an aide he got a call from the White House. He was told that Richard Nixon was so upset, they had to scrape the president off the walls with a spatula."

Last year, Allison Krause's younger sister, Laurel, was relaxing on the front deck of her home in California when she saw the County Sheriff's Deputy coming toward her, followed by nearly two dozen men. "Then, before my eyes," she recalls, "the officers morphed into a platoon of Ohio National Guardsmen marching onto my land. They were here because I was cultivating medical marijuana. I realized the persecution I was living through was similar to what many Americans and global citizens experience daily. This harassment even had parallels to Allison's experience before she was murdered."

What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Now, 40 years later, Laurel, her mother and other Kent State activists have been organizing the "2010 Kent State Truth Tribunal" scheduled for May 1-4 on the campus where the slaughter of unarmed demonstrators originally occurred. The invitation to participate in sharing their personal narratives has been extended to 1970 protesters, witnesses, National Guardsmen, Ohio and federal government officials, university administrators and educators, local residents, families of the victims. The purpose is to uncover the truth.

Laurel was only 15 when the Kent State shootings took place. "Like any 15-year-old, my coping mechanisms were undeveloped at best. Every evening, I remember spending hours in my bedroom practicing calligraphy to Neil Young's 'After the Goldrush,' artistically copying phrases of his music, smoking marijuana to calm and numb my pain." When she was arrested for legally growing marijuana, "They cuffed me and read my rights as I sobbed hysterically. This was the first time I flashed back and revisited the utter shock, raw devastation and feeling of total loss since Allison died. I believed they were going to shoot and kill me, just like Allison. How ironic, I thought. The medicine that kept me safe from experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder now led me to relive that horrible experience as the cops marched onto my property."

She began to see the interconnectedness of those events. The dehumanization of Allison was the logical, ultimate extension of the dehumanization of Laurel. Legally, two felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, and she was sentenced to 25 hours of community service. But a therapist, one of Allison's friends from Kent State, suggested to Laurel that the best way to deal with the pain of PTSD was to make something good come out of the remembrance, the suffering and the pain. "That's when I decided to transform the arrest into something good for me," she says, "good for all. It was my only choice, the only solution to cure this memorable, generational, personal angst. My mantra became, 'This is the best thing that ever happened to me.' And it has been." That's why she's fighting so hard for the truth to burst through cement like blades of grass.
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This piece is published in High Times magazine. Paul Krassner's latest book is an expanded edition of his 1993 autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut, available at paulkrassner.com.