In his book Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the1960s Antiwar Movement Carl Oglesby writes of a time that is still broadly misunderstood and often poorly remembered. Just last week at the CPAC scrum the nation was treated to the opinions of “Joe the Plumber” who, among other things argued that members of Congress should be shot for opposing the war in Iraq—apparently re-imagining the good old days when wwar protestors could be gunned down in America.
“Student reaction to Nixon’s April 30, 1970, invasion of Cambodia-Operation Rock Crusher-was immediate and massive across the country’s campuses,1 nowhere more so than at Kent State, my first school. Ohio governor James Rhodes ordered a brigade of the National Guard onto the campus to restore order. He warned the Guardsmen that the students were “scum.”
The situation at KSU had been tense for a while. In April, having crashed a trustees meeting to demand that a war-related research project be ended, the SDS chapter had lost its charter.
Then on the night of May 2, two days after Cambodia, either an angry student or a provocateur had torched the ROTC building.
The Guard were summoned to restore order but only brought more disorder. Student-Guard confrontations immediately became violent. On May 3, Guardsmen bayoneted several students.
At 12:30 P.M. the next day, May 4, without warning, Guardsmen fired sixty-one shots in thirteen seconds point-blank into a group of about two hundred students, murdering Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, Jeffrey Miller, and William Schroeder and wounding nine others.”
I think the word “provocateur” is the most interesting moment in this passage.
In May of 1970 my father was president of the State University of New York at Albany and he had just been named the new president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. That month, yes, a provocateur incited students to firebomb the ROTC office on campus. That “provocateur” was in fact working for the FBI. The story briefly made the national news before it disappeared.
I went to see the Nixon-Frost movie on Saturday and Joe the Plumber was still fresh in my mind. I was aware that Nixon used all the resources at his disposal to undermine the antiwar movement in the U.S. and he used federal agencies to incite violence.This part of the campus protests is poorly understood and much more work needs to be done on this treasonous aspect of the Nixon administration.
Meanwhile Joe the Plumber reminds me of another group of plumbers –you know, those dudes over at the Watergate hotel.