“Here, what happened was that on April 30, 1970 President Nixon announced a military incursion into Cambodia — boots on the ground. Why he did that I do not know. Maybe it was to make a point to the Russians and the Chinese but if so he grossly miscalculated the effect here at home.”
“You can’t forget Kissinger, said Agnes. He was Nixon’s prime motivator and he was completely amoral.”
“I haven’t paid much attention to Kissinger.”
“Trust me. He was responsible for a lot of death.”
“Anyway,” I said. “It touched off nationwide protests. I felt a little smug because I’d known about the clandestine war for over a year by then. But then when the Ohio Guard shot and killed four students I was horrified. Not only by the death but I was afraid all us soldiers would be tarred with the same brush. And we were.
“Then, on the 26th May, Nixon stopped the no-longer secret bombing of Cambodia….”
“At least he said they stopped,” broke in Agnes. “I never believed it. I’ve seen the pictures. The bomb craters. The French underground press wouldn’t leave it alone for months and months.”
“Apparently many Americans didn’t believe it either because this was only the first of a series of violent reactions on college campuses across the nation. More students were killed, some bayonetted. That really was a turning point. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming. We’re finally on our own,” I’ll never forget Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. Their song “Four Dead in Ohio” hit the charts within two weeks. To say the mood on college campuses darkened, grossly understates the reality. On many campuses classes were cancelled for the remainder of the term. Some graduation ceremonies were not held.
“Then there was the HardHat riot in New York City a few days later.”
“Hard Hat riot, what was that about?”
“In France there may have been a tradition of socialist support for student movements but here it was the polar opposite. New York City construction workers hated the college students and anybody else in the anti-war movement even though they mostly fought it and were killed in it. They resented privileged young people who didn’t get drafted. So one of the Kent State students was from New York City and the mayor ordered the flags flown at half staff. There had been some skirmishes between the hard hats and demonstrators for several weeks but this day there was a big street demonstration at noon and the hard hats waded into the crowd swinging hammers and crowbars.
My God, where were the police?” Agnes asked.
“They stood by and watched. They were sympathetic to the construction workers. Then the longshoremen joined in with the hard hats and it got completely out of hand by the end of the day. Then the next day there were demonstrations against Mayor Lindsey for being a communist sympathizer.
“That night Nixon came on the TV with some mealy-mouth words of sympathy for the protesters but the next day there was a huge demonstration against the war in Washington DC so Nixon’s words fell on mostly deaf ears. I watched this all on TV because the riot control squad was on full alert and confined to quarters.